Rupert Murdoch has long been under a spotlight for publishing tabloid papers of questionable news value (but I do love reading the New York Post), “controversial” for the way he launched the Fox television network, and “crafty” for the way he has built a very successful media and entertainment empire. But the scandal surrounding the hacking of phones and police bribes for dirt by his now-defunct-168-year-old British tabloid, News of the World, he’s being called a lot worse. His ethics are being questioned. Criminal charges are being filed against editors and reporters. The chance the probe could spread to America is quite real. What interests me is two things:
1. Should consumers be concerned how the news media gets its information?
2. What if books were published using information the author acquired in some unethical or illegal manner? Should it matter to consumers?
We’d like to say we believe laws should be followed by all and that the news media is certainly not exempt from the law, and yet, truth be told, the running of the world depends on a free media that reports the news as accurately and completely as possible. So if the media need to break the law to do so, I wouldn’t necessarily fault them.
Now, the ethical camp would say: How could you allow the media to act as if they are above the law? I’d say the same reason we allow others to break the law – out of necessity, for the greater good. It’s a case by case basis but if in order for us to really know what’s going on in government, we have to hack a phone or pay off a cop in the know, so be it. But of course two issues arise. First, does it make the media lazy in its reporting and instead of seeking honest ways to the truth the media just writes a check or steals information? Second, what if the media pays for bad information or doesn’t hack into the right account? What if it gets out of control, where the media breaks other laws, more severely, more frequently? Could we justify the media using violence, blackmail or Mafia tactics to get the information it needs?
I’m not of the belief the media should lie, cheat, hack, and steal its way to a scoop but on occasion, if that’s what is necessary in order to shed light on an important issue or event of the day, so be it. But to ask the media to police themselves is unrealistic.
On the issue of whether books should be published by authors who use stolen information or materials that they paid someone off to acquire, I lean towards a higher threshold. It depends on the book’s subject matter. To feed the curiosity of the masses (to get dirt on the sex life of a celebrity, for instance), would not justify using illegal or unethical methods to acquire and publish such a book. But if the book reveals what really happens in the White House (provided the secrets or data don’t endanger national security more than if the info were never released) I would say let the printing presses roll. Look at wiki Leaks or the publishing of the Pentagon Papers – did the ends justify the means? I guess it will always be debated.
Our ethics are not perfect, not only because our society is imperfect, but because the very nature of creating a perfect world is not possible. Set your standards high, but be prepared for exceptions, short falls, and downright collapses of judgment. The media and publishing aren’t immune to our unethical world. Too much is at stake for them to follow the law 100%, but there’d better be a good reason for breaking it.
It will always come down to a judgment call. Editors and writers, at newspapers, magazines, and book publishers must weigh the value and legitimacy of the information they have obtained and determine if there’s any other way to obtain the facts that would remove questions of illegality or unethical behavior.
In the end, the truth must be told, even if a lie is used to obtain it.
Interview With Publishing Consultant Mike Rohrig
Mike Rohrig is currently doing consulting work for several authors and small publishers, and is looking for something full time in publishing sales and/or marketing. He has been in publisher sales and marketing for 30 years. He offered the following insights in an online Q & A with Book Marketing Buzz Blog today:
1. You work with many independent authors and entrepreneurial-minded ones. Do you feel you are on the cutting edge of publishing? Yes, publishing has evolved over the years. The pace of publishing has moved light years ahead in 30 years. In the past, it seemed to take years to get into print, now it's a matter of days once the manuscript is finished. Is this good or bad for publishing? Hard to answer, but I will try. Today there are more and more titles being published every day. Iin my previous job with Author Solutions I saw an average of 3,000 titles a month being released, many without a marketing plan other than "If I get it printed, people will buy it". It is hard for the consumer to separate the good from the bad. Now we enter into the eBook world, which for the most part makes it cheaper and easier for the consumer to try different titles, but still authors need to have a plan of where and why their title will be purchased.
2. What do you love best about working in sales? I enjoy the process of getting the right product into the right hands. It takes time for the process to evolve and you get to become an expert on an item and then pass the knowledge along.
3. Why do you choose to work in book publishing? The ever-evolving product. All books are physically the same; it's the filling that changes on a constant basis.
4. What do you see as the future for the book industry? More titles being available, getting to market quicker. The down side is limited selection at retail, we have evolved into a Top 10 industry. Everyone wants their share of the bestsellers, but it's category publishing that is suffering.
5. Which publishers and authors do you most admire? Scholastic. I like their approach to publishing. They create categories. Through their club and fair business, they still drive for new readers.
6. What is the biggest threat to publishing and the biggest asset it has? The consumer spending more time away from reading. People are spending more time away from reading, due to other entertainment avenues. Biggest asset for publishing is still the content: no matter what format you read, you still need the content. Which also becomes the biggest threat, as it is easier to publish today. Too many below-average titles are flooding the online marketplace.
Brian Feinblum is the chief marketing officer of Planned Television Arts (www.plannedtvarts.com) but the views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and are personal and do not reflect the official viewpoints of PTA. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at email@example.com
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