Ethics on Business Magazine Websites

I’ll start by highlighting the obvious conflict of interest, here: my blog is carried on the website of Canadian Business magazine. In this blog entry, I effectively congratulate CB for highlighting ethics. So this is not an unbiased blog entry, but hopefully the facts I present here speak for themselves and stand on their own.

Ethics in business is clearly a hot topic these days, whether discussed using the word “ethics” itself or one of the mushier terms like “CSR” or “sustainability” or “corporate citizenship.” Even those who are cynical about the topic cannot deny that it is an important topic.

But here’s an interesting fact. At time of writing, only two major business magazines (Canadian Business and Fast Company) feature ethics and/or CSR on the front page of their websites. The Economist, Forbes, Fortune, and Business Week do not.

Here’s slightly more detail:

  • Canadian Business has both Ethics and CSR listed on the front page.
  • Fast Company has a link called Ethonomics on its front page (right at the top), which leads to a section featuring a pretty steady stream of social responsibility blog postings.
  • Forbes has a CSR blog but it is very hard to find if you start from the site’s main page. You need to click on “Leadership” (not at all obvious) and then you’ll see the link in the lower-right of the Leadership page.
  • The Economist has nothing ethics- or CSR-related on its main page, though to its credit The Economist does tackle relevant topics pretty frequently. (For an older example, see The Good Company.)
  • Fortune likewise has nothing on their main page (though if you click on the “Leadership” link, you get taken — oddly — to their Management page, which currently features a piece on philanthropy.)
  • Business Week likewise does nothing to feature CSR or ethics.

So, what do you think? Why are business magazines, and in particular their websites, so slow on the uptake? Is it lack of interest, lack of access to good content, or both, or something else?

4 comments so far

  1. Ayman Reda on

    Although myself an economist, I regret saying that economics does offer a somewhat satisfactory answer to this question. Magazines/periodicals mostly respond to the demands of the market, although ideological concerns also play a role. I do believe that readers are not attracted to such topics, and in fact may react negatively to any perceived emphasis on ethical matters. One factor is that many readers of business media may in one way or another relate to the issues tackled, and this may awaken some inactive consciences. Second, many in the business world are used to lecturing others within their respective corporate hierarchies, and so rarely accept being lectured to. Third, when the profit motive is met, why bother?
    Given the above, it is hardly surprising that the business media only cares so much for ethics.
    P.S. Please read my comment on the “Shoe Shine” topic. Thanks.

    • Chris MacDonald on

      Ayman:

      If it were purely a matter of demand, then you would expect all magazines to behave in a similar fashion — unless of course their particular audiences are different. So while, yes, demand is clearly important, it’s also clear that different editors perceive the relevant demand differently.

      Chris.

      • Ayman Reda on

        Chris,
        I do agree that the preferences of different segments of readers translates into diverse coverage of ethics. Some editors will cater to unserved groups that do favor ethical discussions. But is it just a matter of attracting numbers and raising profits? Or are some editors driven by principle?
        Ayman.

      • Chris MacDonald on

        Ayman:

        My motivational assumption re magazine editors is similar to my motivational assumption re corporate managers: they’re diverse. I strongly suspect some will feature (or refuse to feature) ethics for some sort of principled reason, whereas others will simply (and understandably) be doing what their readers desire.

        Chris.


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