Ask the Editor: Pay to play

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, June 7th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Well, we’ve heard him once already today, but it is time again for Ask the Editor with WORLD Editor-in-Chief Marvin Olasky.

EICHER: Remember: these segments are an open invitation. If you have questions about why and how we do what we do at WORLD,  let us know.

You can email your question to [email protected]. You can either write out your question or—better yet—record your question and send us the audio file.

Today, the question of “pay to play.”

MARVIN OLASKY, EDITOR IN CHIEF: Here’s a type of question I get about once a month in various ways. The gist of it is this: “We really hope you’ll write a story about organization X. And can you tell me who I should talk to about buying an ad?”

I usually respond by saying that “separation of church and state” is not a part of the U.S. constitution, but separation of editorial and advertising is part of WORLD’s constitution. WORLD does not allow “pay to play” arrangements: That’s when an ad contract accompanies favorable treatment in an article. Other publications do make such deals, so I don’t blame advertisers for learned behavior, but we try to be firm. 

One advertiser reluctantly accepted the new-to-him notion that ad purchases in the magazine would not bring a favorable feature story—but he was angry that the ad did not protect his product from a critical article months later. So it goes: ad buys are not protection money. 

We also try in other ways to avoid conflicts of interest. World full-time reporters must not take on public relations work. Reporters may (and should) volunteer in their churches, local Christian schools, and Christian charities, but they should not advise candidates for public office and should not serve as ghostwriters. Participation in television, radio, or internet discussions dealing with stories staff members have written is fine—but it’s generally wise to avoid mud wrestling venues.

WORLD reporters are free to speak to groups and receive honoraria in return, but they should not write anything about an organization that has given them money. Some could interpret that as pay to play. WORLD staffers should not accept from organizations gifts that do not contribute to reporting needs.

We also don’t contribute to political candidates. We need to be free to criticize.

We try to avoid book endorsements, but they’re allowable when saying no would hurt a friendship, when a writer is an expert on the subject, or when the issue is a fundamental one on which the Bible clearly speaks. For example, Joel Belz and I signed the Manhattan Declaration and Nashville Statement concerning the sanctity of life, marriage, sexuality, and religious liberty.

WORLD staffers should never promise favorable coverage in return for source cooperation. We will not have a reporter write a story in which the protagonist is a close friend. Bob Dylan sang, You’re gonna have to serve somebody. Our goal is to say (with integrity) that we aim to serve God and our readers. We try to minimize the pressure to serve some bodies.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Marvin Olasky.

(Photo/WORLD News Group)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Ask the Editor: Pay to play

  1. Greetings,

    You have sponsorship (or ads?) from a christian community that shares health costs. I cannot find their website and I don’t choose to re-listen to all your episodes (as edifying as that might be!). Can you point me to that group?

    Please reply to either of both of these:
    [email protected]
    [email protected]

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