Sunday, March 08, 2009
Because a reporter is told by his or her employer to gain access to his or her new beat, they feel flattery is the best way in--hence the sweetner. As this article by Michael Calderone in "Politico" argues: "The problem...is that beat reporters 'are kind of captives to this bureaucracy, [and] they know that some laudatory pieces at the outset will pave goodwill in the future.'" The problem? Jonathan Alter, of "Newsweek" argues: "It's emblematic of the way Washington journalism often works. The problem is when a reporter puts the ease of their working relationship ahead of the interests of the reader."
The problem begins at the outset of a new administration, or when new control comes to the Congress. All reporters look to buy future cred with the power structure by writing puff pieces or flattering profiles. One way to break the conflict of interest is to have a reporter who is not covering the beat write the piece (or better yet, why write puff pieces anyway? Aren't they supposed to be the watchdogs?) Another way to break up the symbiotic relationship is to term limit reporters. Break it up by cycling reporters every year or two.
As Calderone notes, it is not a problem that this is done during the honeymoon period of a new administration, but anything after the first 100 days (although it would be great to get away from the "first 100 days metaphor") or the first six months, whichever your prefer, is doing a disservice to the reader or viewer.