When the plastics industry is touched by controversy, Plastics News reports on it, and editorializes on it, as it should. After 14 years and more than 750 issues (including 15 show dailies at five NPE shows), we feel like we're an important part of the plastics industry. We expect that you feel the same.
But we're part of another industry, too - the news industry. Most of our staffers have degrees in journalism and years of service reporting for daily newspapers. Now the news industry, too, has been troubled by a series of high-profile controversies, culminating in disclosures of serious ethical problems at what is widely considered the pinnacle of U.S. journalism, The New York Times. Many in the news media have editorialized on this topic - if there's one thing North American journalists are good at, it's introspection. These recent problems are troubling to us, since they tend to stain the entire journalism profession and shake readers' confidence in the media. This column's purpose is not to analyze where the Times went wrong, nor to pile on criticism. Rather, I want to let our readers know (and remind our own editorial staffers) where we stand on important issues of journalistic ethics:
* The reader comes first. That is a cardinal rule at our parent, Crain Communications Inc., and it ought to be at every newspaper. Stories aren't written (or spiked) to make the subjects or advertisers happy. They are written to inform readers. Many in the news industry seem to have forgotten that putting out the best product makes good business sense.
* Avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest. Free trips are the norm for most of the trade press, but we turn them all down. If a source sends a gift with more than a nominal value we send it back. Our reporters and correspondents avoid freelance assignments that are even tangentially involved with plastics.
* We correct our mistakes. In these days of electronic story archives, newspapers have a shelf life of forever. When we make mistakes we correct them, not only to set the record straight, but to avoid having them repeated by us and others who cite our work.
* We practice good journalism, and produce stories any newspaper would be comfortable running. We strive to avoid anonymous sources, and we don't publish unsigned letters to the editor. Our staffers, like those on any quality news publication, do not let sources review stories before they are in print. We avoid one-source stories and rewritten releases that give readers little value.
* We avoid advertorial products that blur the line between objective news stories and paid advertising. Our readers deserve not to be deceived, even momentarily.
This is not meant as a cheering session for Plastics News. We are not perfect. Despite all our best efforts, we publish mistakes far too frequently. I don't know if Plastics News, or any newspaper, could pass a Six Sigma audit, because our parts aren't perfect every week.
Despite our imperfections, you, the reader, still have incredibly high expectations for our work. It is our privilege to try to surpass those expectations each week.
Don Loepp is managing editor of Plastics News.