Trade publications produce current news, trends, and developments in a particular association or trade. Articles in trade publications may be sponsored by advertisers, and product reviews tend to present positive aspects of the products reviewed. Trade publications are the voice of an organization or industry, and as such, their articles may be biased. So can there be objectivity in trade journalism?
Trade publications occupy a sort of middle ground between the popular magazine and scholarly journal. Articles are written for (and often by) people in a certain industry, and the authors typically have specialized knowledge, but they are not generally scholars. While trade journals can be useful for research, they should be evaluated for accuracy, authority, and bias. For example, a trade publication for pork producers may give a positive view of the industry, even in light of negative economic or political facts.
Why Trade Publications Promote a Favorable Outlook
In addition to their goal of informing professionals in particular industries of news and trends, trade publications are designed to sell specific products. Articles in trade journals may be sponsored by advertisers, and advertisers want readers to form a positive opinion of the products they are selling. Suppose a trade publication publishes an article full of dismal statistics about the state of the industry. Readers who conclude that their industry is doomed are far less likely to purchase tools or other products advertised in the publication. If a trade publication article documents a short term trend, it will often include other statistics that make the long term look more favorable. Trade publishers take real risks if they publish unbiased statistics that paint a negative picture.
The Risks of Objectivity in Trade Journalism
When a trade publication publishes objective content whether or not it paints the industry in a favorable light, that publication risks backlash from advertisers and possibly from readers. A publication that puts out an article full of damning evidence about a new product or service, for example, will have a much more difficult time convincing makers of that product to sponsor online content or a trade event. Readers may have a lot of professional bias toward certain products, and if they see objective articles that question their biases, they may fight back by canceling subscriptions or letting trade association memberships lapse, decreasing the publication’s audience.
Advertisers in trade publications and on trade publication websites depend on having a strong, loyal, targeted audience, and they don’t want that audience alienated by information that questions their biases.
The Rewards of Objectivity in Trade Journalism
The Internet has put more information in front of people than ever before. Learning about different points of view has never been easier or cheaper. When a trade publication presents objective information, it assumes a certain risk, but it may also legitimize what many industry participants already think. When objective information is presented in a straightforward manner that leaves politics out, it gives readers something they don’t often get from trade publications, and that is straight journalism. This type of information can often be very valuable for starting dialogue on certain topics and for giving those who don’t always toe the industry line a voice. This can boost audience engagement and even enlarge the audience, giving advertisers and sponsors an even more engaged readership than they would have had otherwise.
It only makes sense that trade publications are positive toward their respective industries. After all, if the reader is a critical care nurse, she doesn’t want to read articles slamming her profession. On the other hand, needlessly avoiding important stories, trends, and news in the effort to keep things always positive can dampen audience engagement. Presentation of corroborated facts that are of interest to the readership, however, can spark discussion and make for a livelier, engaged audience and command respect for the publication’s bravery in getting the real story out there.
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