There was a time, in the period 1910 to around 1925, that the leading sporting journals in America fell over themselves trying to promote the latest and greatest fishing fad, even if that fad itself did little to help the angler catch fish. Some of the greatest writers of the era took part in this; they would receive free lures, rods, and reels and then write about them in the magazine. Dixie Carroll, Larry St. John, Sheridan R. Jones, and others all took part in this game (which, if my email inbox is any example, still goes on as I am constantly bombarded by companies who want me to imbed links to their wares in my bog articles).
This is why the article below, from the May 1918 issue of Outdoor Life, is so refreshing. In it, the magazine calls shenanigans on the idea that space would be devoted to shilling goods for companies. I wonder if this "shot across the bow" forced the other magazines to follow suit, for by the mid-1930s a fishing writer could hardly mention the tackle they were using by name in an article.
The Square Deal
OUTDOOR LIFE has always stood for the Square Deal. It has been fooled, just like each one of us has, at times; and when something has “been slipped over" on us in the 'shape of an erroneous account of a. gun's merits, an extravagant statement of what a certain fishing lure has done, or a delusive story of a guide or a hunting country, then, more than ever, have we realized the grave responsibilities that rest with the sporting magazine publisher. For if he publish such misleading matter (which generally comes from a writer who has received a gun from the manufacturer free on condition that he boost it in the press, a piece of fishing tackle on the same consideration, a hunting trip to be paid for in publicity, or some other article or service in exchange for his literary influence) the publisher is a direct accomplice—not always wilfully, of course — of the author of the story who would dishonor the publication he writes for merely to pay off a personal debt to his gun maker, guide, etc.
We believe in the praise of the really praiseworthy by the traditional Sir Hubert — but the parasite imitators must go, and to this end we have decided, in the mutual interests of our patrons and reader — in the furtherance of the Square Deal, in short — on a censor policy as drastic and far reaching as that of Uncle Sam in his dealings with those whose actions are open to reasonable suspicion. The indefensible and pernicious abuse of publicity from which we have suffered in common with all other publishers is, at least in our case, going to be eliminated, cost what it may.
The keystone of OUTDOOR LIFE'S foundation is the Square Deal to everybody and it is going to be kept conscientiously clean. As before stated, we believe in giving praise where praise is due—and conversely, we believe in conservative criticism of actual short-comings. But exaggerations of either will find no place in our pages. Truth needs no embellishment and tolerates no suppression or modulation. So perfectly demonstrable facts alone will be admitted to our columns. As a radical departure from obtaining and universal custom this may work some apparent hardships on advertisers — and some very discouraging ones on the irresponsible space filling writers — but what you see hereafter in OUTDOOR LIFE you may believe without hesitation. For it will be true!
To that end we shall hereafter decline to publish any reading matter wholly devoted to the laudatory description of any outing accessory, commodity or service. Our paid advertising space is the proper and legitimate vehicle to carry that. Reading matter (wherein merely incidental reference to the things above mentioned will be permitted, subject to editorial limitation) will not contain any names or addresses of manufacturers, owners or vendors, except where such information is given in answer to a question asked, or where such manufacturer's or owner's name is linked with, or forms a part of the name of the article. It will be our pleasure to impart such information on special request by private letter or in our “Answers to Correspondents" department. we reserving the right to express therein our personal views, confining same strictly to answers of direct questions asked. Conservative praise or censure of a guide or hunting country will be permitted in authors' articles descriptive of an actual outing, subject always to editorial revision.
Our position and policy are clear. We play no favorites and will countenance no menace to the purity — and incidentally the quantity — of our reading pages, feeling confident of our ability to give our advertising patrons full quid pro quo in their legitimate department. In this we are assured of the full and cordial co-operation of all dependable users of publicity, and we are even more assured of the spontaneous approbation of our readers who will acclaim our efforts to give them a cleaner, better and more powerful reflex of their pleasures afield and astream—one fearless, unbiased and dependable in all things as becomes an exponent of the clean, pure and invigorating life outdoors.
Entirely too much good money and too much valuable time has been wasted in following up the recommendations of the mercenary trade spongers as to good guns. rods, fishing and hunting locations, etc. We are going to put an end to this insofar as we can. Outdoor Life will be a medium of information, not misinformation peddled out by donation hucksters for the undoing of the overtrustful. The great guild of real sportsmen, knowing itself to be honest and clean in action and statement, has heretofore taken entirely too much on trust. We aim to remedy this by presenting to our friends only that which is worthy of their trust. 0f the outcome we have no manner of doubt. American sportsmen are a discriminating class and demand the best of everything, getting it always ultimately. We aim to give them that, and will confidently abide by their verdict.
The Square Deal for ours—and theirs.
-- Dr. Todd