How The Mighty Media Have Fallen

UPDATE: Katharine Weymouth publishes her own little personal mea culpa.

Where Have You Gone, Bob Woodward?
Where Have You Gone, Bob Woodward?

Holy COW. England’s Guardian newspaper reports an almost-unbelievable story just now about the Washington Post offering access to top Obama officials and its own reporters at “collegial evening” dinners at the home of Post publisher Katharine Weymouth — for $25,000 a plate.

I knew things were getting tough in a changing market for the established print media, what with blogs and other online services biting into their traditional business model (and revenues), but I have to say, I’m pretty well floored that this appears to be their solution to declining ad revenues and decreased circulation figures:

The offer has come to light in a flier aimed at healthcare companies at a time when the White House is planning major reform of the industry.

It promises “a collegial evening, with Obama administration officials, Congress members, business leaders, advocacy leaders and other select minds”. The flier, given to a healthcare lobbyist, also offers access to “healthcare reporting and editorial staff” at the off the record dinners.

“An evening with the right people can alter the debate,” the flier says. “Bring your organization’s CEO or executive director literally to the table. Interact with key Obama administration and congressional leaders …”

“Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No. The relaxed setting in the home of Katharine Weymouth assures it”

Each meeting costs $25,000 per organisation with one thrown in free for bulk purchases of 11 dinners for $250,000.

Like I said, Holy COW. More after the jump.

Good to know that they throw in a freebie, though: the dynamics of bulk-buying seems not to be entirely lost on the breathers of that rarest of traditional-media air over at the Post. The Guardian continues:

After the flier was exposed on the Politico website, the Washington Post newsroom quickly backed away. The executive editor, Marcus Brauchli, sent an email to staff saying that reporters will not participate in the first dinner, planned for July 21.

I’ll bet. Unfortunately, this is well within the “shutting the barn door after the chickens are all gone” spectrum. Making it worse (for the Post), even this lame post-facto averring of such scandalous behavior (someone cue Peter Lorre) would have carried more weight had the Guardian not continued remorselessly on (this really is a brutal piece, you should click through and read it all) that:

…one former Post staffer said the scheme has been under consideration since last year because of the paper’s deepening financial crisis – it lost £12m in the first quarter of this year – and that some reporters were consulted about organising the meetings.

That’s gonna leave a mark. As well it should. The Post ought to…well, in reality what they ought to have done is to never have even considered such a thing in the first place. This smacks of the absolute worst sort of elitist, inside-the-beltway, you-scratch-my-back, I’ll-scratch-yours old-boys club which is a large part of what’s causing traditional newspapers like the Post to suffer such problems of diminished readership and profitability in the first place. “Collegial,” indeed. That was an almost assuredly unwitting – but deliciously accurate – description of the sort of insider trading of access and influence that is one of the “star” media’s biggest problems currently.

The Washington Post should have known better. No, that’s not right – I’m sure the people at the Post who dreamed this little pay-to-play scheme up did know better. I think they probably just thought, as many important figures who’ve developed a sense of entitlement about their positions and perks and status, from Joe Lieberman to Mark Sanford, often think: namely, a combination of “no one will catch us,” and “we deserve it.”

And they should be pilloried from one end of the country to the other for this.