It can be a thin line between press coverage and PR—at least, for some publications. The Intercept has posted a look at the way some outlets, such as The Hill and The Economist, are offering national convention promotional packages to political operators including access to their journalists and their readership for prices in five and six figures. Political bigwigs who pony up the fees can take advantage of these special packages during the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
“There are a lot of ethical red flags here,” says Jim Naureckas, editor of the journalism watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Naureckas notes that for The Hill to refer “to the interviews as ‘earned media’ — that is, as opposed to advertising — raises the question of whether these advertorials will even be distinguished from news coverage in the fine print. If so, The Hill is operating as a straight-up PR agency.”
I’m not exactly a stranger to the idea of journalistic quid-pro-quo. As noted, I’ve received free samples of a few inexpensive products to review on TeleRead (though I’m always careful to make clear when that’s the case). Also, I’ve been able to get into otherwise expensive conventions like Gen Con and BookExpo America on special discounted press pass rates. But I try not to let that affect my coverage of the events in question.
But when I see things like this, with fairly major-name journalistic institutions effectively selling coverage, it makes me wonder whatever happened to journalistic integrity. Is it the same thing that’s happened to the integrity of the political process overall, when we see laughable political candidates like Donald Trump taken seriously in the US, and laughable political movements like Brexit taken seriously in the UK?
I expect the majority of respected journalistic institutions, like The New York Times or The Washington Post, would blanch at the idea of prostituting their news coverage—but how can readers tell the difference from the outside?
I don’t disagree with the concerns raised here. I have long been concerned about the integrity of much journalism, certainly here in the UK.
But I think you should be careful about casually dismissing the expressed views of over half the voting population with comments like, “laughable political movements like Brexit”.
I voted to remain in the EU and have been very disappointed with much of the shallow and unpleasant rhetoric from both campaigns, particularly those advocating to leave. However, your own coverage of the EU should indicate that it is by no means a perfect organisation and it would be a brave person who would suggest otherwise. So there are legitimate arguments for leaving even if I don’t think they are sufficient on balance.
My own view is that this vote was largely a protest vote by many, many people who have suffered the effects of the economic downturn over the last 8 years and more, have seen others benefiting from the upturn in the economy and free movement and trade, but feel that they are being both left behind by it and ignored by the political establishment.
In such a situation it is no surprise that if those who are supposed to be serious-minded politicians with integrity don’t take any notice of their pain then others will gain support by touting a much more jingoistic and divisive message. It seems to me that the same is happening to benefit Trump.
I also believe that the problem has been exacerbated by the actions of journalists who are more interested in a quick sound-bite and the opportunity to stir up trouble (and thus sell newspapers) than to address complex issues properly and to show that simplistic solutions are generally wrong. More than that, when criticised for their own behaviour – recent hacking scandals here being an obvious case – they seem to feel that they should be above the law but are not prepared to properly regulate themselves. Rather than raising the quality of the debate they are dragging it down.
I realise I’m well off-topic but this blog attracts enough of those kind of cheap assertions in the comments without seeing them in the posts as well.
I’m glad to see that you’re concerned about journalistic standards and integrity. Please enhance that by not automatically demonising those who hold a different viewpoint or who are easy targets.