Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Washington Post: Our Reporters Aren’t For Sale (Yet)

woodsteinWant access to the Washington, D.C., elite? The city’s hometown paper is happy to arrange that for you provided you’re willing to pay between $25,000 and $250,000. The caveat: That fee won’t include access to the Washington Post’s (WPO) editorial staff.

That distinction popped up this morning after Politico detailed an “astonishing offer” by the paper’s business staff to lobbyists–a chance to underwrite “salons” with D.C. bigshots, hosted at the home of CEO Katharine Weymouth.

A promotional flier Politico got its hands on also promised that the Post’s editorial staff would be part of the events, including one scheduled for July 21. But that part isn’t true, a Post spokeswoman told me via email this morning:

The flier circulated this morning came out of a business division for conferences and events, and the newsroom was unaware of such communication. It went out before it was properly vetted, and this draft does not represent what the company’s vision for these dinners are, which is meant to be an independent, policy-oriented event for newsmakers.

As written, the newsroom could not participate in an event like this.

We do believe there is an opportunity to have a conferences and events business, and that The Post should be leading these conversations in Washington, big or small, while maintaining journalistic integrity. The newsroom will participate where appropriate.

OK, so that’s cleared up. But let me play devil’s advocate: What exactly would be so wrong about getting the paper’s reporters or editors to to participate in one of these?

This certainly wouldn’t be the first time that the Post has been at the nexus of power, money and influence. In fact, Weymouth’s grandmother, Katharine Graham, was famous for hosting gatherings much like these at her house. And publications of all stripes, including this one, as well as Dow Jones, which owns this site, frequently charge fees to attend networking events where their editorial staffs participate.

And you’re likely to see more of this stuff, not less, as publishers search for revenue streams besides advertising to stay afloat. Any tempest you see about this today is going to look quaint in a couple of years.

UPDATE: The ensuing uproar has forced the Post to cancel the events altogether. Post execs are now busy pointing fingers at each other, although it seems clear a lot of the blame is going to be laid at the feet of the paper’s conference group and/or marketing team.

But note Howard Kurtz’s report on his employers’ reactions to the reaction: Weymouth (or her proxies) say she was OK with the idea, but not the marketing; Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli says he was OK with the concept, but not this version:

Weymouth knew of the plans to host small dinners at her home and to charge lobbying and trade organizations for participation. But, one of the executives said, she believed that there would be multiple sponsors, to minimize any appearance of charging for access, and that the newsroom would be in charge of the scope and content of any dinners in which Post reporters and editors participated.

Brauchli said he had been involved in discussions, stretching back to last year, about newsroom participation in conferences of the sort commonly staged by major news organizations.

But he said he made clear to the company’s marketing officials that Post journalists would participate only if they could substantially control the nature of any such conference. Brauchli said he was blindsided by the wording of these fliers and that they are an embarrassment to the newspaper.

In the old days, the fact that this story broke just before the long holiday weekend would help the Post. But this story will now have legs, egged on by stuff like this: