There is a whole lot of apologizing going on at the Washington Post these days.
Publisher Katharine Weymouth pleaded to readers for forgiveness in a letter in the paper’s Sunday edition. Executive editor Marcus Brauchli has also been chock full of sorrys to every journalist who will give him a listen, including the writers in his own newsroom.
What’s their crime? A poorly crafted plan to host a series of dinners at Weymouth’s home for Washington power brokers, politicians, Post editors and reporters, and a corporate sponsor or two. The price of entry for the underwriters: $25,000 a pop.
The reaction from competitive publications like Politico and not-for-profit think thanks was swift and unrelenting.
“Newspapers owe their first allegiance to the public,” explained Tom Rosensteil of the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism in an article in the Washington Post. “Their first obligation is to make information public and to inspire public debate and discussion…In this case, the Washington Post would be arranging events that only insiders have access to and profiting from those events. It’s fundamentally antithetical to what news organizations do.”
Ah, spoken like someone who has little concern for profit/loss, making payroll or appeasing shareholders. Truth is, the only person Weymouth and Brauchli should apologize to is the Charles Pelton, the hapless marketing executive who concepted these dinners.
Like nearly every news and publishing operation in the country, the Washington Post is overcome by red ink. Its business model is no longer viable and unless the company can identify new sources of revenue the layoffs and editorial cutbacks will march on.
I applaud Pelton for his creativity. If his now-squashed efforts had helped the Post retain talent and content, I would have been better off as a reader.
I also have no problem whatsoever with the perceived conflicts created by providing well heeled and funded corporations with exclusive access to editors and writers.
That’s because I have confidence in the quality, professionalism and ethics of the journalists hired by the Post. They are quite capable of sorting through a myriad of facts, sources and commentary when crafting a story.
Let’s not for a moment pretend that all is well in the newsroom. Yes, as Rosensteil contends publishers, editors and writers make a promise to their readers and society. My take is that they can certainly deliver on the promise regardless of where and with whom they dine.