Editorial Director and Publisher
The recipient of the second Timothy White Award is Whitney Sielaff.
Mr. Sielaff began writing about jewelry in 1989 as an assistant editor covering the diamond beat for National Jeweler. The international diamond business was dominated then by a single player – the Johannesburg-based De Beers cartel, which ranked among the largest advertisers for jewelry trade magazines, including National Jeweler.
He earned a reputation for delivering objective diamond-market coverage focused on maximizing informational value for the magazine’s readership. His investigation in an early article uncovered a program in which the company was aiding in the development of small diamond manufacturers, handpicked by the cartel based on potential for future ability to process and distribute substantial quantities of diamonds.
In a later investigative piece, he discovered that Service Merchandise, a catalog showroom mass merchant, was cheating consumers by overstating the weight of the diamonds it was selling. This ultimately led to the company overhauling its diamond marketing claims and brought the issue to the attention of the New York-based Jewelers Vigilance Committee, the industry’s self-watchdog group.
In 1998, two years after he rejoined National Jeweler as editor-in-chief, the magazine won Jesse H. Neal Awards for news and op/ed coverage of another issue he uncovered. Contrary to rules clearly spelled out in the Federal Trade Commission’s “Guides for the Jewelry, Precious Metals and Pewter Industries,” ruby, sapphire and emerald miners, polishers and dealers were systematically treating these gems to enhance their color and failing to disclose it to customers. The practice was vastly widespread. And those buying these stones in ignorance were mainly jewelry retailers, National Jeweler’s core readership. In addition to print coverage, he organized industry leaders to attempt to rectify these practices.
In 2003, he organized all top editors within VNU Business Publication’s Retail Division to create a forum for discussing issues of common concern, including a code of ethics for the division aimed at fostering the integrity of VNU’s editorial brands among their readerships. He expanded the project to include top editors and senior executive from all divisions within the company, with the goal of earning endorsement of all VNU Business Media divisional presidents. The code is now official company policy. He is now the unofficial advisor to senior management on ethics-related issues and serves in the role of maintaining the ethics policy.
Mr. Sielaff has received a Human Relations Award from the American Jewish Committee. He is on the executive boards of the Organization for Rehabilitation for Training and the National Committee for Community and Justice. And he has spearheaded scholarship programs for continuing education within the trade.
He became publisher of the National Jeweler group in 1999. In 2003, he moved back to the role of heading up content as the group’s editorial director and continues to drive ethical journalism across the magazines he oversees.
Also, National Jeweler’s policy is to run all letters submitted to the editor that are critical of or disagree with its contents – news, opinion or otherwise. The magazine regularly publishes reviews, often critical, of the industry’s largest companies and most recently began independent reviews of services in a piece on inventory management software.
Mr. Sielaff is a highly effective coach and mentor to young journalists. He has a strong record of identifying and developing ethical and talented young journalists. Many of the business journalists working in the jewelry industry today, on National Jeweler and elsewhere, started their careers in the industry under his guidance. He sincerely believes in instilling a belief in uncompromising ethics among journalists within his team. And he consistently seeks to promote those who embrace these values.
He is a graduate of Rutgers University and the City University of New York. He has served on the American Business Media Publishers Committee and currently sits on the Editorial Committee and its Code of Ethics Committee.