Selling the news

The most depressing, if least surprising aspect to the flap over the Washington Post’s now-abandoned plan to sell access to public officials and its own editorial staffers in the form of big-money “salons” for lobbyists was the Post’s naked fetishizing of “those powerful few” who “actually get it done” on Capitol Hill.

newspapersI live and work in Washington, so I know how it goes here. But for an organization at least institutionally committed to free and open debate it’s just sad that the Post would see its salvation in burrowing ever-deeper into its Beltway barrens by promising a “select” guest list–“typically…of “20 or less”–and trumpeting  it’s “off-the-record” solicitude.

It’s no answer to argue, as Media Memo’s Peter Kafka tries to do, that these are desperate times for newspapers calling for desperate measures:

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.

That’s taking a dive for the short-end money. If newspapers want to be contenders in the future, they should be looking for ways to bring more voices into the conversation, not fewer. They should be building applications to equip readers with their own tools for gathering and disseminating information, not looking for ways to exclude them with promises of “intimate” and “off-the-record” assignations.

Exclusivity is a one-way ticket to palooka-ville in the digital age. If that’s all the Post has got it might as well take the express and get their sooner. — TMW