Friday, January 15, 2010

Conflicting Interests

Washington Post sets policy for newsroom participation in sponsored events
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 15, 2010

If you recall, there was a kerfuffle recently about the Washington Post organizing 'salons' where big-wig sponsors and high-paying toadies could hob-nob with WaPo staff in small groups in Katherine Weymouth's living room. It never happened because once word got out on this low-key high-money pimping of the staff, a hue and cry was raised. Hands were wrung, garments were rent, and heads were rolled.

Now months after that went down, new rules were established:
As a "general rule," the guidelines say, newsroom staffers will participate in Post conferences or events only when there are "multiple sponsors." Participation in single-sponsor events "can create the appearance that we are trying to further that sponsor's individual interest, especially if that sponsor has a direct financial or political interest in the topic." The executive editor, however, can grant exemptions -- if, for example, a company were to underwrite a conference on a topic far removed from its business.

I see some loopholes here big enough to drive an ADM corn fuel refinery through. But how does this affect working journalists?
Under the new guidelines, Post journalists can participate in conferences or events sponsored by outside groups, but must obtain prior approval. As in the past, the journalists cannot accept payment from governments, political groups or organizations that take positions on controversial issues. The rules also codify existing practice in saying that Post journalists -- except for opinion columnists -- should "avoid making statements that could call into question their objectivity."

So, you ink-stained wretches, if you get invited to the WaPo manse and there are bigwigs in attendance, here are the ground rules:
  • You are on the clock.
  • You won't get paid.
  • You might even be asked to carry a few trays of horsey douvers around.
It's all about maintaining appearances. WaPo might be running a bordello, but rest assured that nobody is just leaving cash on the dresser.

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