Stung by last years ‘Salon-gate’ scandal, the Washington Post has codified its policy on reporters attending sponsored events.
Howard Kurtz, a Post staff writer, reports that the Post has clarified its guidelines for how the paper will participate in conferences sponsored by a single entity--almost never--and by groups of sponsors--only under certain circumstances and only on the record.
Last July, the paper canceled a series of "off the record" policy dinners at the home of Washington Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth after it was revealed that marketing fliers for the “salons” had offered corporations access to Post journalists in return for paying as much as $250,000 to attend.
Reporting on the new guidelines, Kurtz writes Senior Editor Milton Coleman headed the review of the paper's practices with company attorney Eric Lieberman, and told him the news guidelines are “important because we don't want to be perceived as doing things in secret for money,"
According to Kurtz,
As a "general rule," the guidelines say, newsroom staffers will participate in Post conferences or events only when there are "multiple sponsors." Participation in single-sponsor events "can create the appearance that we are trying to further that sponsor's individual interest, especially if that sponsor has a direct financial or political interest in the topic." The executive editor, however, can grant exemptions -- if, for example, a company were to underwrite a conference on a topic far removed from its business.
The guidelines say that sponsors will not determine the content or structure of any event, and that The Post will decide whether the proceedings are worthy of news coverage. Post reporters can be consulted on potential guests but should not personally extend the invitations, the rules say.
Clarification of the rules looks like a good first step. But the Post will also have to make sure the rules are followed. After all, the salon mess didn’t conform to general their original ethical guidelines either.
For more on the new policy, read Kurtz's Washington Post article in full here.