Richard Edelman gave a call to action in his Jan 20th post
Already where he calls on the PR industry to draft a code of conduct that
can be enforced on members, essentially banning the industry from engaging in
pay for play/payola/advertising, i.e. the process by which a free and
independent press is corrupted with kickbacks and what amounts to advertising
is presented as news content. Mr. Edelman calls for help in drafting the
I responded with comments on the Edelman site a) volunteering to help (an offer that still stands) b) offering some additional thoughts/ideas on the subject. The comments didn't make it onto the site and I'm told by one inside source that there were problems with the comment engine last week. At any rate, I've decided to repost those thoughts here and ask for input.
The problem of payola begins on the side of those selling a message (PR people and our clients) but it doesn't end there. I believe the media must also be held to account, as there is no story here if there aren't journalists and "editorial" outfits that don't willingly accept what is dished as pay for play. Moreover, there are outfits I have encountered with increasing frequency over the years that have made it explicitly clear to me that my client's stories have a stronger shot at editorial coverage in exchange for the quid pro quo.
I think the solution is close to what Edelman suggests. A code of conduct drafted and edited jointly and openly by PR and editorial outfits/personalities. The code of conduct and resulting accreditation as press officer or journalist is open to any person or organization willing to abide by the code. Violation of the code brings a severe reprimand of some sort.
Perhaps the carrot and stick is the right approach. If there is critical mass for such a code and accreditation, Google or Yahoo!'s news feeds might be inclined to aggregate only content from accredited sources (which again is open to anyone.) A violation of this code brings removal from the list of accredited sources and thus your exclusion from these valuable distribution sources.
If nothing else, it would let media/information consumers know that anything printed in these news feeds carries some level of legitimacy to it, and it is legitimacy that is tirelessly monitored and enforced by its own community (what better way to hurt a competitor than to discover they've been cheating...)
How would you tweak this outline? What would the agreed upon language look like, and will it be amendable? Those are the details to work out, but I think the concept has merit and is worth industry discussion.