March 2008

At a time in which hard news has been taken over by reality shows and the E! mentality, why should you care how your architectural journalists conduct themselves? If, however, you’ve been assaulted by public relations cleverly masquerading as real content, or found that a user-rating Web site had been cleverly sabotaged by competitors, or gotten hooked by a blogger who turned out to be a nutburger, you might assume a more critical view of the state of the media. In the wide-open millennium, who can you trust?

Photo © André Souroujon

Architectural Record does not say, “Trust me.” We are not that naive. However, we, like our sister McGraw-Hill publications, subscribe to trusted principles that govern our behavior for our print publications, our Web sites, and our journalists, wherever they appear. Not foolproof (remember The New York Times’s reporter Jayson Blair, whose journalistic sleights of hand almost single-handedly reduced the public’s perception of journalism to rubble, despite stringent codes of ethics), nevertheless, the ethical framework established by organizations that we subscribe to broadly agree on the underlying rationale and behaviors that create believability for you, the reader.

As trite or downright corny as it might sound, journalism in this shared family of specific values seeks to get at and present the truth as closely and clearly as humanly possible. Overall, we subscribe to the “separation of Church and State,” a widely accepted set of practices that keeps the commercial interests of our publications separate from, or in healthy tension with, our journalistic efforts. We editors retain editorial autonomy, despite our friendly affiliations and healthy relationships with associations, advertisers, and trade groups. That leaves us free to tell you what we know and what we think. When you pick up this magazine or fire up our Web site, here’s what you can expect:

The avoidance of conflicts of interest. Annually, our editors warrant, in writing, that they have no vested interest in any enterprise that they write about. That means that we cannot work for or have financial interests in the companies or organizations that we write about. Period. And we cannot use our positions of influence to gain special inroads that might favor us in the future. We are not even allowed to own securities in companies that we might write about, and we have to disclose ownership to our leaders if the potential arises that we might consider the equities. Do you have to do as much?

Limits on gifts and outside compensation. Perhaps you would like to thank a writer who covered, or might cover, your own office with flattering prose. Don’t expect her to accept the gift. Our ethics limit the size to token status, all to avoid potentially conflicting loyalties or the perception of irregularities.

Restrictions on travel and entertainment. Generally, if we cannot afford to fly to see your work or to meet your clientele, we don’t go. Don’t bother to send your private jet or to buy us a ticket, unless you’re willing to send a full group of journalists representing our competition. We can’t come.

Editors alone are responsible for content. The president of our company cannot dictate what appears within the pages of architectural record. Nor the cover. Neither can our trusted partners. Nor can you. Instead, we editors determine the entire content of the publications, taking into account the range of opinions and advice from all of the above, but retaining control ourselves, to get it as right as we can. In our role as guardians of the flow of information, we agree to clearly delineate fact and opinion as best as humanly possible, so that you know what constitutes news, and how that diverges from analysis or opinion.

Content is sacred. Who, if not we, goes to such lengths to ensure that you get the facts and get them on time and unmediated? In guardianship of this content, we do not divulge our stories in advance, to you or to anyone else. And many have tried to ferret them out.

We make mistakes. And we have set up systems to receive corrections, emendations, clarifications, and additional facts from you. Regularly, you tell us we failed to get it right, but month after month, day after day, we set the facts straight and try again. If it sounds like the trials of Sisyphus, you’re not far off the mark.

We clarify the differences between advertising and editorial content. A significant amount of our efforts goes into ensuring that you, the reader, can tell the difference between the two—a continual gavotte that involves graphic presentation, even variation of typography, and the claims and assertions of our advertisers, who sometimes try to ape our publications’ styles. We don’t blame them, but editorial content is too valuable to counterfeit.

Every word we write, every image we choose, comes from us, selected with you in mind. Unlike so much of contemporary communications, at Architectural Record (and at all our McGraw-Hill publications), there is never a “message,” never a marketing or public relations slant hovering like a ghost in the background. What you see is what you get. You might like what we do, you might revile it. But you know who we are, where we work, and now you understand something about our standards. We live and work by them every day, argue and split hairs among ourselves, all for you. Our standards are the criteria that set us apart from public relations and create the value of the publications and Web sites and events that keep you coming back for more. That’s our perception.

If you wish to write to our editor-in-chief you can email him