The corporate media and access journalism

Corporate Media and the Trump Family

In the midst of an on-going coup attempt, the Washington Post is continuing to publish puff pieces about Trump staffers and family.  The seemingly inexplicable nature of this has led some on Twitter to hypothesize that the puff pieces are pay back for individuals who previously provided access to Post reporters and/or who passed on information to them.

When I read this speculation from someone who is a journalist this morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I know to some people this must sound naïve, but what kind of newspaper sells positive stories for information?  The Washington Post unabashedly uses “Democracy dies in darkness” as a slogan.  Democracy dies in darkness, but reporters are making back room deals selling positive coverage for information?

How exactly do these deals work?  Is there an explicit negotiation?  Does a reporter say to Ivanka Trump, we’ll give you five 3000 word totally positive personal write-ups in exchange for a hot piece of information? 

If this kind of negotiation is going on, why isn’t that considered essential to disclose to the reader.  After all, the reader is consuming the story as if it is independent journalism, not a glamour piece placed by Ivanka Trump’s agent. 

Why is such a practice considered ethical?  Why is such a practice not a scandal, not considered as what it is, a bribe?

When our local newspaper publishes a puff piece about a doctor and his practice which looks like an article, it is at least identified as such.  I don’t even think that practice is ethical, but it at least involves disclosure for those who are interested enough to look, that the piece is bought and paid for, not independent journalism. 

There is no such disclosure for these little fluff pieces churned out in exchange for “access.” 

That would be one kind of disclosure, letting the reader know that the piece is paid for.  But, another type of disclosure is also necessary.

The assumption is that publishing a paid-for personal ad as independent journalism is worth the “access” given the reporter.  Well, I would like to be able to judge that for myself.  If the Washington Post is going to allow itself to be bribed into publishing particular stories, what was the going price?  I as a reader have a right to know.

There are a lot of problems with the current widespread practice of “access journalism.”  First of all, it’s lazy.  Reporters are too lazy to go out and establish sources for a story, so they tell themselves they have to spend endless hours socializing with powerful people at parties or retreats in the country to get information.  Second, journalists are supposed to be keeping the powerful honest, not spending weekends with them in their country estates.  No journalist is going to keep honest the people s/he is socializing with and on whom he is dependent for information.  People in power are not supposed to be a reporter’s friends.  Third, how much trust can you put in information that is intentionally leaked to you by the powerful.  There have been countless instances where “access” has resulted in journalists being turned into stenographers for those in power.  The powerful leak the stories they want to be published.

Now, evidently, we have to add to the problems of access journalism, other stories, published by other reporters that are part of some deal for access.  To portray staffers and members of Trump’s family as glamorous, hard-working innocent bystanders with a promising political future in exchange for some undisclosed piece of information is unconscionable. 

The corporate media has a lot to answer for.

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