There’s a lot of hand-wringing in Connecticut media and politics circles about Gov. Dannel P. Malloy accepting a trip to Washington DC and a night at the White House Correspondents Dinner from People magazine, and rightly so.
Never mind the governor’s legal and ethical judgment in letting that happen. What is People Magazine doing, paying for politicians to travel and hang out?
News outlets paying for news is considered taboo in the United States but some organizations find ways around it. Some of the big TV networks — not local TV stations — offer paydays to news subjects for “exclusive rights” to photos, with a nod, nod, wink wink agreement that the exclusive extends to the interview.
We heard reports in Newtown of at least one major network sending large amounts of food platters to victims’ houses, then following up with requests for interviews.
U.S. newspapers adhere to the no-pay standard strictly and religiously, as far as we know, although that wasn’t always true. The American Journalism Review said in a 1999 report that the New York Times got an exclusive in 1912 by paying the Titanic’s wireless operator $1,000 for his story. That’s $23,500 today.
People magazine didn’t pay Malloy for news, as far as we know, when it kicked in more than $1,000 ($42 in 1912) to take him to the decadent media lovefest last weekend. Not exactly, anyway. But what happens the next time People wants a political exclusive? Will he jump? That’s the danger — and worse, when we have to believe paid sources who are unknown, suddenly selling their stories.
All of this matters more now than in the recent past because it’s harder to tell where your news is coming from. News outlets, whether they’re TV networks, local stations, magazines, newspapers or online only, compete minute-to-minute for public attention on the Web. So we’re seeing a media convergence, but without a convergence of ethics and standards. Which Web site you’re reading does matter.
Media critics including Abby Martin rightly decry the White House Correspondents Dinner and similar events as a giant conflict of interest. “It’s not just the fact that journalists are hanging out with celebrities. It’s that they’re befriending the very politicians and corporations they’re supposed to be holding to the fire,” Martin said on a video this week.
Chumminess is not the same as paying sources, but in both, it’s the media outlet that has to be watched closely, not just the politicians. Blame People magazine for this week’s flap, not Malloy.