I've photographed my share of "salons" in Washington over the years. Here's how it goes, when it's a pure event: A high profile organizer invites a half-dozen elected officials, a half-dozen administration officials, a half-dozen think-tank policy wonks, and a half-dozen industry lobbyists. The salons are always off the record, and the conversation flows freely, and frankly. In all of these instances, everyone comes away better informed, and, yes, relationships are built.
The problem is, when you take that last half-dozen lobbyists, and condition their "invitation" on a $25k to $250k fee, you create a really really big problem.
Enter The Washington Post.
(Continued after the Jump)
First, with the details and links. Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander, opines in The Post's 'Salon' Plan: A Public Relations Disaster, "For a storied newspaper that cherishes its reputation for ethical purity, this comes pretty close to a public relations disaster" who then goes on to say "The story, accurately reported by Politico (and former Post) reporter Mike Allen, is based on a flier being circulated by a new marketing arm of The Post." The Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth is cited in the Politico article, Washington Post cancels lobbyist event amid uproar, taking the position that "...The Post, which lost $19.5 million in the first quarter, sees bringing together Washington figures as a future revenue source."
Now, listen carefully, as this matter rises to the level of the daily briefing at the White House. (I was there Friday, and happened to watch this exchange between the Press Secretary and the reporters.)
How long before Washingtonians can book a Pulitzer-Prize winning photojournalist to photograph their wedding? These photographers have slow days, especially on Saturdays, so why not schedule them for $10k to shoot a wedding? Heck, with the newsroom interventions this salon offer seems to have been making available, it might not be unreasonable that that "standalone art" or "weather feature" hole that needed filling in the paper instead gets filled with a select from that wedding the Post booked for its' under-utilized staff photographer. Heck, they could even book a freelancer, at a day rate of $200 to do it!
What is most remarkable, is that the elected officials and administration officials likely would never have known that they were the literal bait to get the lobbyists to pony up $250k to get their message heard in a "salon" forum. Fortunately, a genuinely honest lobbyist for the health care industry felt it was a conflict of interest, and brought it to Politico's reporting staff.
The flier from the Washington Post, as reported by Politico solicits: "Underwriting Opportunity: An evening with the right people can alter the debate". It then goes on to offer:
"Underwrite and participate in this intimate and exclusive Washington Post Salon, an off-the-record dinner and discussion at the home of CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth. ... Bring your organization’s CEO or executive director literally to the table. Interact with key Obama administration and congressional leaders."If that offer isn't selling out, I don't know what is. And you don't think they wouldn't consider selling out the photo staff too? Don't be so sure.
Related: Washington Post Sells Out - More Details
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