The Washington Post Nixes Pay-to-Play Salons with Lobbyists
Within an hour of its editorial staff posting its side of the story on an influence-peddling mini-scandal, the Washington Post has added an update saying its publisher, Katharine Weymouth, has canceled plans for "off-the record salons." Earlier this morning The Post responded to a story from Politico on a flier circulated Wednesday by the newspaper's business arm to lobbyists and association leaders that seems to announce a pay-to-play model for meetings with Obama administration officials, Capitol Hill legislators, and the paper's editorial gatekeepers.
According to Politico, a lobbyist from the healthcare industry gave a reporter the "astonishing flier" that markets "off-the-record, nonconfrontational access" for $25,000 to $250,000.
... the lobbyist said he felt it was a conflict for the paper to charge for access to, as the flier says, its "health care reporting and editorial staff." (Politico)
The website also quotes part of the flier:
"Underwriting Opportunity: An evening with the right people can alter the debate," says the one-page flier. "Underwrite and participate in this intimate and exclusive Washington Post Salon, an off-the-record dinner and discussion at the home of CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth. ... Bring your organization’s CEO or executive director literally to the table. Interact with key Obama administration and congressional leaders." (source)
In its own story, WaPo said the newspaper's editorial staff would not participate in the July 21st salon hosted by Weymouth.
The Washington Post's executive editor said this morning that the newsroom will not participate in a plan by the paper's publisher to charge lobbyists as much as $250,000 for off-the-record gatherings with Obama administration officials, members of Congress and the paper's reporters and editors.
Marcus Brauchli knocked down the idea after fliers were circulated by the paper's parent company ... "We will not participate in events where promises are made that in exchange for money The Post will offer access to newsroom personnel or will refrain from confrontational questioning," Brauchli told the staff in an e-mail. "Our independence from advertisers or sponsors is inviolable. ... There is a long tradition of news organizations hosting conferences and events, and we believe The Post, including the newsroom, can do these things in ways that are consistent with our values." (WaPo)
The Post's article concluded with a brief discussion of the potential hypocrisy of such an editorial model, a paper that reports on the questionable ethics of influence peddling in the nation's capital while dabbling in such exchanges itself.
Political and media analysts suggest the flier indicates a move by The Post's business side to generate revenue and it's actions are another sign of how the newspaper industry is scrambling to remain financially viable. Indeed WaPo staff writer Howard Kurtz's final words on the first flier response story are "The Post Co. lost $19.5 million in the first quarter and just completed its fourth round of early-retirement buyouts in several years, prompting Weymouth to look for new sources of revenue."
BlogHer CE Kim Pearson has chronicled the changing face of news and its impact on newspapers, asking "What if We Lose the Boston Globe," and reporting on the Christian Science Monitor abandoning print, and Clay Shirky's "thinking the unthinkable" about the future of the news industry." In addition, in March the nation watched the end of another major newspaper hard copy editions, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
From The Post's update on the salon's cancellation:
"Absolutely, I'm disappointed," Weymouth, the chief executive of Washington Post Media, said in an interview. "This should never have happened. The fliers got out and weren't vetted. They didn't represent at all what we were attempting to do. We're not going to do any dinners that would impugn the integrity of the newsroom."
Twitter has been flapping on this story all morning with tweets such as "WaPo cancels embarassing plans for paid-access "salons." How many other elite media outlets are selling access?" (RTM) and the hash tag #WapoDeals.
And finally, but probably not, this gem, a YouTube parody is already online.