Reporting news; keeping friends

Over the last couple of months, I have been intently watching an editorial melodrama that has been playing out at the Canadian Medical Association (CMA).

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Over the last couple of months, I have been intently watching an editorial melodrama that has been playing out at the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Its flagship medical journal, the CMAJ, has been witness recently to repeated hirings, firings and resignations of its editors and advisory board members, all from a controversy over a story that was scheduled to run in the CMAJ that questioned the ethics of some pharmacists. According to reports, the CMAJ publishers pulled a few lines from the story at the request of a pharmacists' association, changing both the timbre and focus of the story.
That's when the wheels fell off. Depending upon your news source, the journal editors either quit in outrage or were fired, and their replacements were also gone within weeks of hiring. Then, one after another, most of the advisory board members resigned their posts in protest. The controversies and recriminations continue, but it got me thinking about our own situation at Drug Discovery News and how fortunate we are.
In trade publishing—and particularly with controlled circulation publications like DDN—an ever-present challenge is reporting the stories that the readers need and want to read without annoying the people who pay the bills: the advertisers. Anecdotally, some publishers capitulate entirely to the advertiser, handcuffing their editors until they are little more than shills for the advertiser. Others reduce their publications to extended brochures or infomercials.
But for the fortunate few—and DDN is not alone in this—the publishers realize that they have to be true to their entire market, advertiser and reader alike. They understand that the readers are not mindless sheep who will accept just about anything in written form. And if they do apply pressure, it is simply to get the best story.
Likewise, the smart advertiser knows that their best marketing dollar is spent in a publication in which the reader has faith; one that is viewed with respect rather than with a grain of salt. This advertiser knows that it is not just a matter of getting your name in front of people, but also whose company you keep.
I've worked with the publishers of DDN for a long time and am glad to say that I have never been asked to modify content for the sake of an advertiser. Sure, they will recommend stories, but the final decision always rests with Chief Editor Chris Anderson and me. The publishers respect that fact and that is why I continue to work here.
But getting back to the situation in Canada: While the current controversy didn't involve an advertiser, it still sends a particularly disturbing red flag as yet again the once-sacred and sanctified world of peer-reviewed publishing is tarnished with scandal. It is perhaps another signal of the pressures journal publishers—even association-based ones—have in trying to maintain their positions in a very competitive marketplace.

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