The Washington Post has found itself embroiled in an ethics scandal involving a poorly conceived money-raising venture that the paper has moved fast to cancel and excuse:
Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth said today she was canceling plans for an exclusive “salon” at her home where for as much as $250,000, the Post offered lobbyists and association executives off-the-record access to “those powerful few” â€” Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and even the paperâ€™s own reporters and editors.
Word of this leaked after a flyer distributed to lobbyists made its way into the hands of POLITICO. Post editors claim the flyer originated from the marketing department and no editor or reporter ever agreed to attend an event where lobbyists and government officials could pay for access to the editorial staff. This may be true, but itâ€™s hard to believe such a major undertaking was planned and marketed without the knowledge of the paperâ€™s top brass.
In fact, Weymouth has admitted the paper is looking for new ways to make money:
â€œWe do believe that there is a viable way to expand our expertise into live conferences and events that simply enhances what we do – cover Washington for Washingtonians and those interested in Washington,â€ she said. â€œ And we will begin to do live events in ways that enhance our reputation and in no way call into question our integrity.â€
Sounds to me that the Post would very much like to leverage its role as a local powerbroker in order to stave off its mounting business losses. But even if no member of the editorial staff were to attend pay-for-access events hosted by the Post, is it really a good idea for a newspaper to be charging members of a community for the opportunity to meet one another? Should the Post really be facilitating and profiting from events where lobbyists and politicians can schmooze?
I donâ€™t think the answer to that is obvious. I firmly believe we still need a professional print news media and understand that untraditional revenue sources will likely be needed if newspapers are to survive. I just question whether or not the newspaper as local powerbroker/elite salon operator is really going to preserve the kind of journalistic integrity we want out of the print media. At what point does keeping the local power players happy outweigh the factual reportage of the news?
Clearly the Post is still working out the kinks in their new moneymaking scheme. Weâ€™ll see if they find a way to prop up their bottom line without sabotaging their core mission.