Two blogs I regularly read have both had posts in the past week about the ad/edit divide. Canadian Magazines draws attention to a piece in MediaWeek calling for stricter ad/edit guidelines, but the thoughts brought up on Ed Speaks are what really resonated with me.
Stricter guidelines are good, but the editors-in-chiefs and publishers and ad sales teams are the ones who are directly affected by guidelines, who have the opportunity to push back with advertisers. For the majority of editors, though, those of us working day to day to generate content, we can only nod our heads and say, "Yes, I agree." We don't interact with advertisers so can't do much to uphold the rules, to guard our line in the sand.
My experiences have been similar to those of Ed's: either myself or friends have been asked at times to ensure inclusion of all major advertisers in a piece about such-and-such type of product, be it moisturizers or paints. Or an advertiser's product is given preference over a nonadvertiser's product: when it comes down to a decision between the two, guess who wins.
It's not so much that I think this compromises our integrity or blurs the boundaries, because I think (hope) we're all smart enough to recognize what's good for our readers, but I wonder whether these are conversations we should even be having? Should we not be saying let's have a broad range of brands so our readers have options, as opposed to so we can make our advertisers happy? Is it naive to think editors should be able to gloriously go along without a thought to advertisers, a utopian dream of sorts? Does it even matter if the end result is the same? If our readers still get a magazine that they love? In reality, we have two sets of clients: the readers and the advertisers. We have to please them both in order to survive, no?
I've written before about the importance of managing your online presence, as well as having good clips for when you're applying for a job. One way to address both is to post your résumé and clippings on a personal website.
A post on Freelance Writing Tips outlines the basics of putting together an online portfolio. If you don't know how to build a website (as most of us don't), you can use a service like Writer's Residence (run by the post's author), where you can create an online portfolio by filling in a form, or a blog tool like Wordpress.
Last week I went on a media trip – two days of sun, fun and free food. Oh yeah, and a presentation for a new product launch. When you're flown off to some exciting location and wined and dined on someone else's dollar, it's hard not to feel obligated to fit the host company's product du jour somewhere in your publication, to give it the coverage said company desires. Likewise, you're more willing to feature a product if you received a killer swag bag along with it. You start to add up the dollars, think of how much they spent on you... Sometimes you can feel indebted somehow, even just a little bit.
But if you give in to those feelings of gratitude too freely, you risk compromising your content. I've been invited on another trip, one to a place I am dying to visit, but the product just doesn't fit in with my magazine's subject matter. Believe me, I've given good, long, hard thought to it, trying to figure out what kind of story I could spin to create a reasonable place for the item while still having it make sense and be of value to our readers. But I can't accept the invitation because there's barely even a slim chance that we would feature the goods they're flogging.
I think the way to keep honest is to recognize that these gifts do have an influence, and to always step back and ask yourself why you're truly interested in featuring a product. As long as you keep the readers in mind first and foremost, your integrity should stay intact.
On a side note, a couple of years ago, Jean Godfrey-June wrote the book Free Gift With Purchase, which gives an insider's perspective on what it's like to be a beauty editor – the freebies, the events, the glamour. It's a fun read; I recommend it.
Make it easy for potential employers to find you and see what kind of work you do by setting up your own blog. A story on PoynterOnline outlines why and how.
Thanks to Kat Tancock for the tip.
Have you ever fantasized about being a restaurant reviewer – you know, because of the food you'd get to eat? On the Ryerson Review of Journalism site is a story by writer Alexandra Gill, which reveals a little of what it's like to eat for a living.
Corinna vanGerwen is a freelance editor and writer. She has worked as senior editor at Style at Home, senior design editor at Cottage Life and is the former Canadian Director of Ed2010. She has also held the position of operations manager at a boutique PR agency, where she handled strategic planning and daily operations.