Ghostwriting: The ethics of using a Quentin Miller to reach communication objectives

While some of you are enjoying your summers abroad or off vacationing with family and friends, others have been occupied with the drama between rappers, Drake and Meek Mill. For those of you who have a life during the summer: don’t worry, I have you covered. Recently, I’ve been occupied with trolling the Internet and analyzing the beef between the two. It all started when Meek Mill called out Drake for using ghostwriter, Quentin Miller, to write popular tracks on his latest album, If Youre Reading This, Its Too Late.

Ghostwriting is viewed as a dishonest practice in the rap world… but what about in the communications world? The practice of writing material for another person, without a byline, in exchange for profit is common in organizations that have PR professionals working to meet communication objectives. The public is typically aware of ghostwriting when it comes to speeches and autobiographies, but in some instances ghostwriting can be deceiving.

At some point as a PR practitioner, you will be asked to write blog post, an op-ed or a speech from the voice of your client or spokesperson of your organization. Sometimes organizations need a Quentin Miller due to time restraints or because the CEO of an organization may not be the best writer. PR pros are hired to strategically position clients to receive publicity in a highly saturated world of endless content. The ethical dilemma comes down to what the content is, how it is delivered and the transparency of the message.

Content

In the world of academia and medical journals, it is never acceptable to have a ghostwriter. It is unethical to distort medical facts to sway the opinion of the reader towards or away from a certain pharmaceutical drug or medical technology. Distortion of medical facts is punishable by law. However, by time the case reaches court the damage may have already been done onto readers who read published ghostwritten pieces in high impact factor journals. Having a ghostwriter develop content for a medical journal also lessens credibility since the credentials and qualifications of the ghostwriter are typically unknown. This also places mistrust on the person whose name the article is under.

Delivery

Back in 2013, Samsung was fined $340,000 for paying people to write online comments praising their company and dissing their competition. Clearly, this draws the line in terms of PR ethics. Organizations should not deceive their audiences by paying ghostwriters to post fake reviews. Some suggest TARES (the PR ethics code of blogging consisting of truthfulness, authenticity, respect, equity and social responsibility) be enforced to prevent further deceitful communication efforts.

Transparency

It is crucial that the communications professional works closely and collaboratively with the person hosting the byline name. If the audience understands that there is another writer involved with the published blog, article or speech, then ghostwriting can be considered ethical. It is also important that the article accurately reflects the ideas of the bylined name. Consultation and approval by your client or CEO must be completed prior to making the piece public.

This guest blog post was written by PRowl Account Executive Olivia Noble. 

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