Early in my editorial career (probably 1983) while working on a different magazine, I was given an assignment by Jim Z, the publisher. Assignments usually came from my boss, the editor, so getting an assignment straight from by boss's boss meant I'd better get it done.
A new advertiser told Jim that its gearboxes were being used by a power company in Tampa, Fla., and it would make a good story. The gearbox manufacturer offered to pay all my travel expenses, so the publisher told me to head down to Tampa to get a story.
Every editor should consider producing editorial as a favor to an advertiser unethical because it compromises the magazine's editorial integrity. I understood this, but my own personal integrity came into play because I wasn't about to write something with my name on it unless it met my own personal standards. Besides, escaping a brutal Northeast Ohio winter for a few days in warm, sunny Florida sounded pretty good at the time.
After I arrived at my hotel in Tampa, Walt Monreal from the gearbox company took me to dinner. Things didn't get any better because Walt didn't know what I was supposed to write about.
So the next morning he took me to the power plant, and we met with one of the staff engineers. The engineer showed me around the place, and I started asking him technical questions about the gearbox application. Fortunately, I knew enough about gearing to ask some probing questions, so I learned some objective reasons why the power plant was using that particular type of gearbox. Turns out, the gearbox used case-hardened gears instead of through-hardened gears. So my story compared the benefits of case-hardened gear teeth to those of through hardened, not about brand names or anything. Of course, I used the gearbox as my example.
So I got a good story and also a great shot for the front cover of the issue. The gearbox was situated at the top of a tall conveyor, and the background showed a panoramic view of the plant.
I also got a couple shots of the staff engineer checking the oil in the gearbox using a dipstick. Problem was, he had a huge Band-Air on his chin from having a boil removed a couple days prior. This was before the days of Photoshop, but I figured our photo expert, Ted Michols could retouch the photo. And he did. He ended up giving the engineer a goatee. Fortunately, he liked it, so all ended well.