Matters of Principle

April 29, 2015

Editorial Director Erika Templeton tackles ethical dilemmas

We’ve heard business issues coming in from a lot of different angles this month, but one topic I’ve personally been thinking a lot about is ethics. Whether someone is creating scalable business models, designing for the bottom line, dreaming up killer marketing strategies, or working down to the essence of a brand (all of which you’ll find throughout the issue), ethics is a silent undercurrent guiding decisions along each path.

That current grows a little louder with topics like developing products to safeguard human health or protecting our industry from IP theft (also in this issue), but the ethics conversation still lacks a truly coherent voice. It is easy to assume the ethical standards we hold are the same ones governing our peers. But like the elephant of political divide that sits down to so many Thanksgiving dinner tables, so sits the misalignment of principles at the conference table.

Often, ethics only becomes a topic when ethics are breached. And often, too, it is our unspoken personal sense of morals—not a blanket policy statement or set of company guidelines—that decides when a breach has occurred. It is the conscience so inherent it becomes subconscious, and we forget to discuss it with each other until absolutely necessary.

Externalizing those ideas and putting words to them can help define our values not only for ourselves but for our colleagues, partners, vendors, and customers. And as journalists, on some level it is our duty to put words to these personal ethics as we uncover them in our reporting. Ask a real question, or muse over a tough topic, however, and suddenly the bylines disappear, sources dry up, quotes get whitewashed. We hear “My company would never let me say that,” and “It’s not a conversation that reflects our brand.” And so the conversations remain whispered at tables, or spilled over one too many drinks.

In the great, internal, ethical debate, when does professional decorum trump professional integrity? And when does integrity warrant an unseemly response? Or rather, what’s more unseemly: wavering on matters of principle, or keeping up the act? That is a question for you.

The question we ask ourselves is: Does this information add benefit to the reader, or to the source?

By congratulating the great work of people in A+D, we hope to be a small bit of gravity pulling in the tide to raise all boats in the field. But only when that praise is genuinely warranted are we doing the industry genuine good. Recently we have struggled to communicate this effectively as an organization to those who—intentionally or not—wish to undermine our core priority above all: to disseminate fair, accurate, and trustworthy information.

We all know bullies bully, liars lie, cheaters cheat. Dealing with them is just another day on the job, whatever your profession. But as journalists reporting on an industry, we have a responsibility to identify the systemic issues when we see them, begin the definition process, disseminate the message, and hope to spark a louder public dialogue that will begin to address and change these issues.

We hope you will join us.

Erika Templeton | Editorial Director
[email protected]

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