Saturday, July 11, 2009

Washington Post invites the powerful to write their own news - with no editors to check their planted stories

Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander has failed to connect two serious reader complaints of uncorrected "Pay to Play" journalism.

One scandal occurs where Post owner Katharine Weymouth invites politicians and power brokers to an off-the-record party at her home (she called them "Salons" as if it were a bona fide Algonquin Rountable). The Ombudsman finally reveals on Sunday that for weeks before the event, reporters and editors objected to the plan that, "for a fee of up to $25,000, underwriters were guaranteed a seat at the table with lawmakers, administration officials, think tank experts, business leaders and the heads of associations."
  • There is no explanation of why the salons would be off-the-record, a special type of meeting where the speakers are not responsible for what they say and the reporters agree not to use what it said. It is much more restrictive than merely agreeing to be an anonymous source.
  • There was no explanation of why it was going to be paid for by the industry that was covered by the event.
  • Although the editor apologized for the way it was portrayed by Marketing, there is no explanation of why Marketing would be involved in the event if it were truly an informational meeting.

The second scandal is that the information at the Salons, as well as other pay-to-play and favored politicians, can further influence the content of the Post because there are so few editors and fact-checkers that errors are now at unacceptable levels. What is the Post's plan to address this, you might ask: Telling readers to Get Used to It.

"Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli did not disagree that more errors have appeared lately.... Post managers have few choices but to cut staff while restructuring for the future.... Small errors will continue. Loyal Post readers should continue to note them when they're small and complain loudly when they're large. But I hope they also show some patience and understanding. "

The cuts are big and small, and rightly have a devastating effect on the Post's credibility. As another example, June 8th's Travel section had photos from Bigstockphoto.com and the Florida Department of Tourism. No Post photographers took any of the pictures on the front page of the section.

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