The E Word

Ethics and journalists.Am I crazy for taking on this hot potato? It’s an uncomfortable topic among many journalists because the ethics rules we used to regard as being carved in stone are blurring in the face of increased competition in the publishing industry.

Why should ethics matter to journalists — or to you? Retailers who read JCK rely on us as a conduit for accurate information. We are your eyes and ears at events that your busy schedules keep you from attending or investigating personally. This creates an obligation we try hard to keep: to bring you the news as impartially as we can.

That’s why good journalists follow a code of ethics that’s often darn hard to adhere to (I would have no problem following a code of ethics in the heavy machinery business, but offer me one of Maija Neimanis’ gorgeous brooches and watch my knees shake with temptation!).

Recently, we editors at JCK decided to reaffirm journalists’ conflict-of-interest rules, just to remind ourselves of what being a journalist is all about. (And special thanks to former Editor in Chief George Holmes for teaching me these rules almost 20 years ago.) It is not acceptable for us to take expensive jewelry gifts, to accept fees for speaking engagements or to become members of industry organizations that we cover. We journalists have to remember that though we love you guys, we are reporting on the industry and cannot be a part of it.

But there is a part of the industry we do have a closer connection to: the JCK International Jewelry Shows. Because our organization operates these shows, it has always been a sensitive topic in our editorial offices. How do we report on shows in general now that JCK produces two? Though some may question why we agonize over this, we take very seriously the traditional division that separates the business side of the magazine (in our case, advertising and trade shows) from the editorial side. We borrow from the lingo of our government in calling it the “separation of church and state” rule. All of us at JCK honor the belief that our editors should cover events, companies and individuals only when they do something newsworthy, not simply because they advertise or buy booth space from us. Our reporters are not involved in any way in selling or promoting advertising or booth space. That job we leave to our expert business staff.

But the shows have been hard on the editorial staff. For five years, we continued to work diligently to report accurately about all of the major shows, even though our organization had its own. But you know what? It hasn’t mattered. Whenever we had to report that another show’s attendance was down or that it had problems, many readers thought we were reporting the bad news only to boost our own show (honest folks, it ain’t so!).

But we’re going to deal with this potentially compromising situation anyway, because no matter how much our reporters bend over backward to be fair, we operate our own shows, and ethically that could compromise our ability to report on shows fairly. From now on, we are halting customary “show business” reporting, such as asking exhibitors how a show is going for them to gauge a show’s success or reporting on attendance figures. We will include our own shows in the change.

Instead, we will concentrate on reporting only the trends we see at shows, such as which colored stones are hot, what fashion styles are in ascendance, which companies are introducing new lines and what educational nuggets we can share from shows’ increasingly marvelous seminar programs.

Several of our ace reporters were worried about this change in editorial policy, inasmuch as trade shows have become real economic indicators of the health of the industry. So to continue to bring that snapshot to you, we will, after each show season, do a quick roundup. In the roundup, without reporting any names, we’ll let you know whether show business in general was up or down.

So that’s it. I’m eager to hear from you regarding these changes. Did we miss anything? Our address is at the back of the magazine, or keep those e-mails coming to pdonahue@chilton.net.