The rules are not quite so clear online…

Further to John Stones’ article, Today’s paper was brought to you by… (MW August 21), one might as well ask the question: “What is editorial integrity?”

In theory, it means protecting the independence of journalism to examine subjects of its choice, free from interference by outside influences.

In practice, it means striking a balance between the demands of the rapacious and persistent sales department, to whom editorial is like a cantankerous relative, and those of maverick and churlish journalists, to whom sales are not so much necessary as just plain evil.

The perpetual paradox is that the better and more independent the journalism, the better it sells. Clever salespeople can often add a premium to their product by implying that getting it past an unhelpful editor will take extra persuasion.

In newspaper or magazine publishing, the gap between commerce and editorial, though varying in width, is usually pretty obvious. On the internet, while there is no dilution of this principle, the line which one may not cross is harder to identify.

It is no secret that websites have faced a crippling loss of confidence from advertisers and e-commerce partners over the past two or three years, but even the struggle for revenue does not mean editorial integrity is compromised.

The key factor is e-commerce. Newspapers don’t have it and the Net does. It is not simply a question of advertising impinging on premium editorial pages or perhaps some misplaced sponsorship, but a real live partner doing real-time business with readers.

Users come to the internet for a particular set of reasons, especially in personal finance. They come not so much out of general interest, as to find the answer to a specific question and research shows they want to see content on the site that is, whichever way you slice it, commercial.

It is precisely for this reason that editorial integrity is at least as important to a website – particularly one that is owned by a powerful newspaper publisher – as to traditional publishing. We go to agonising lengths to ensure it.

Giving the users what they want while maintaining editorial integrity is one of the key functions of an editor and the source of most of the “rows” referred to in your article. Long may they rumble too; for without them we’ll all be publishing Exchange & Mart.

Stephen McDowell


Associated New Media

London W1

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