TLP: Let's Hope That at Least They Left the Cash on the Nightstand
One of the great things about being a reporter is you get to learn stuff. Another great thing about it is you get paid at the same time. You might call that a win-win.
The thing about it is you're supposed to be learning on behalf of your readers (or viewers, listeners, Web-clickers, whatever) and sharing the information in a way that helps them. That's the J-school version anyway. But here's what's going on in the real world.
The Washington Post:
News reporters are supposed to keep their opinions out of their copy. They certainly aren't supposed to sell them back to the people they cover.Journalism is one of those professions you're supposed to go into knowing that the payoff is in the byline, not the bank account. Sure, there's ego involved. The only bigger attention whores than reporters are the people they cover, which makes for some fucking delightful dynamics during interviews, if my memory is right.
Yet now there's a hush-hush way for journalists to turn their innermost thoughts into cold hard cash. A New York research firm has been trolling Washington and other precincts in search of reporters willing to unburden themselves. For a price.
Specifically, $250 for about 25 minutes of answering questions, a rate that values journalists' time and opinions as roughly the same as your average high-priced lobbyist or lawyer.
The firm, PFC Opinion Research, is rounding up reporters and editors who cover the energy sector to opine about "certain aspects of oil and gas industries," as an e-mail sent this week to journalists, including several at The Washington Post, described it.
PFC promises to pay participating journalists "in cash" and to keep everyone's name on the down low, which means the recipients can hide the proceeds from their employers and the pesky tax collectors.
The company calls its cash offer an "honorarium." But at least one journalism ethics expert has another name for it: dubious.
"If this doesn't raise an ethical red flag, nothing will," said Stephen Ward, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin. By moonlighting for the companies and industries they cover, he notes, reporters risk compromising their independence and neutrality and leave themselves open to suspicions of being bribed.
Public relations firms in Washington and elsewhere occasionally undertake "media audits" of reporters and other potentially influential people to gauge how their clients are perceived or how well they're communicating their messages, said Terry Neal, senior vice president of Hill & Knowlton, a public affairs firm in Washington.
But Neal, a former Post reporter, said it's "highly unusual" for journalists to be paid for participating in such research. "It's inappropriate," he said. "The greater public might view it as an attempt to buy a reporter off."
It's not surprising that a handful of reporters took the bait here. I imagine the stroking they get from this firm fills some self-centered need as much as the cash fills their wallets. With any luck, they'll feel fucking dirty spending it.