Cash-hungry Washington Post wants in on lobbyist largesse

**Updated below: How will newspapers survive? Maybe by finally coming out and admitting to the role reporters and editors have been sliding into for years now. In other words, Why sell journalism that targets the power elite when you can sell cozy access to the power elite, including of course high-profile reporters and editors? The sad news today is that the Washington Post has decided to begin charging lobbyists and executives a bundle to meet in congenial settings with media people and their lawmaker friends.

As the Washington Post flier pitching the program puts it: “An evening with the right people can alter the debate.” How true.

The flier for the program, which would charge interested parties $25,000 to $250,000 per meeting, struck one of the target audience, a health care lobbyist no less, as so dubious that he handed it off to Politico, which posted lengthy juicy excerpts, including:

“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 …

“Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No. The relaxed setting in the home of Katharine Weymouth assures it. What is guaranteed is a collegial evening, with Obama administration officials, Congress members, business leaders, advocacy leaders and other select minds typically on the guest list of 20 or less. …

“Offered at $25,000 per sponsor, per Salon. Maximum of two sponsors per Salon. Underwriters’ CEO or Executive Director participates in the discussion. Underwriters appreciatively acknowledged in printed invitations and at the dinner. Annual series sponsorship of 11 Salons offered at $250,000 … Hosts and Discussion Leaders … Health-care reporting and editorial staff members of The Washington Post … An exclusive opportunity to participate in the health-care reform debate among the select few who will actually get it done. … A Washington Post Salon … July 21, 2009 6:30 p.m.”

Politico acknowledges that newspapers and magazines have been hosting conferences for a while now as revenue, brand-building, idea-sharing vehicles. This one, though, stinks to high heaven.

**Update: The Washington Independent’s David Weigel posted an internal email WashPo editors sent to staff in response to the Politico story.

**Update II: The firestorm / Twitter barrage set off by the Politico story has spurred WashPo management to action.

Post writer Howard Kurtz got the story online as fast he could:

Washington Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth today canceled plans for a series of policy dinners at her home after learning that marketing fliers offered lobbyists access to Obama administration officials, members of Congress and Post journalists in exchange for payments as high as $250,000.

“Absolutely, I’m disappointed,” Weymouth, the chief executive of Washington Post Media, said in an interview. “This should never have happened. The fliers got out and weren’t vetted. They didn’t represent at all what we were attempting to do. We’re not going to do any dinners that would impugn the integrity of the newsroom.”

Moments earlier, Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli said in a separate interview that he was “appalled” by the plan and had insisted before the cancellation that the newsroom would not participate.

“It suggests that access to Washington Post journalists was available for purchase,” Brauchli said. The proposal “promises we would suspend our usual skeptical questioning because it appears to offer, in exchange for sponsorships, the good name of The Washington Post.”

Two Post executives familiar with the planning, who declined to be identified discussing internal planning, said the fliers appear to be the product of overzealous marketing executives. The fliers were overseen by Charles Pelton, a Post executive hired this year as a conference organizer. He was not immediately available for comment.

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