Managing Ethics

Situations like the denial of the Keystone XL pipeline or the July 2015 pipeline spill at the Nexen facility in Long Lake, Alberta, highlight the ethical issues that editors in the resource extraction industry consistently have to face. Environmental concerns are never left out of the conversation when it comes to coal, oil, and gas.

As an editor, how do you address these types of situations? You may be responsible for editing a news release for your organization, or an article to be published on your company’s website, or even the words of a spokesperson that will address the media. To what degree will you be able to maintain the image of your employer while balancing an ethical responsibility for transparency?

The following are the areas that you will have to keep in mind to maintain ethical practices in your editing:

Audience Ethics:

As an editor, you will  be constantly trying to understand and strategize for your audience. Your readership will obviously vary from piece to piece, so take a step back and think about who you are trying to reach. These are basic editing concepts, but they are important to address when managing ethics.

A large part of audience analysis, according to Robyn Walker in Strategic Management Communication for Leadersis understanding the differences and similarities that exist between ourselves and other people. Walker states that “[t]o be persuasive… we often need to know the common goals that we and our audience share in order to positively frame or begin a discussion.” If you are conscious of the wants and needs of your audience, you can edit a document or release that covers a resource extraction issue in a way that reflects these values.

For example, in the case of an oil leak or spill, your edits could involve being clear about what happened, explaining what your organization is doing to address the situation, and clarifying how your company will prevent such an occurrence in the future. This is a way to be ethically conscious towards your audience.

Employer Ethics:

When considering your employer’s ethics, you still have to consider your audience, but you will also need to be aware of the standards of transparency in place at your organization – a consideration that was mentioned in a previous blog post.

Companies in the resource extraction industry have to operate in an often strange area of ethics. The world needs the energy resources provided by these organizations – we use them to power our houses, our cars, our cellphones – but at the same time, public opinion of coal, oil, and natural gas extraction is generally unfavourable. In an article discussing the morality of the oil industry by energy blog MasterResource, it was found that “[o]n the homepages of the three most prominent [American] oil companies –ExxonMobil, Shell, and Chevron–there is not one single mention of the word ‘oil.'” This observation gives us an idea of the image that is created (likely led by the editing department) to frame an organization in the eyes of the public.

The ethics behind such editing decisions are vested in the values of the company. You will be responsible for following the ethical practices of your employer rather than your own when editing for the extraction industry, so it is essential that you have knowledge of what your employer thinks is right and wrong.

Personal Ethics:

A final aspect of ethics in editing for the resource extraction industry is personal ethics. You will obviously have your own opinions and knowledge of the industry before being employed in it, and these thoughts will affect how you feel about editing for big corporations in coal, oil, and gas.

Furthermore, once you’ve been employed by a company in resource extraction, being an insider in this sector will expose you to new information that may change your attitudes – for better or worse. However, if your personal ethics are in opposition to the company you are working for, you should either attempt to reconcile these differences, or perhaps seek employment in a different industry. You are not editing for yourself, and the standards you meet for editing are not always going to be in line with your own.

But in the end, it’s all about balance. You shouldn’t compromise your personal ethics for the work that you do, but you also have to keep in mind the vision and goals of your employer. If you can properly manage the ethical practices you follow while editing for this industry, you can be proud of the work that you produce.


[Photo Credit: Paul Downey]


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