Blog junkets

The AP does a story on the blog junkets to Justice Sunday II.

I’ve been surprised at the comments on this, with more apparent acceptance than I’d have predicted about the idea of taking money from someone who wants blog coverage. (Some of the comment carried the invisible satire tag, though.)

I certainly understand that bloggers don’t have the money of news organizations behind them and can’t afford to travel to cover events. And that is precisely the issue: Because bloggers don’t have money, it can create an opportunity for those who want coverage. The Family Research Council was quite clever to take advantage of that (and because of it, they’ve even managed to get AP coverage before their event).

Live8 did it, too, offering backstage passes and, as I remember, plane trips for those who covered it. And I was uncomfortable with that as well.

That quid pro quo — especially if not disclosed — can tell the public that blog coverage, if not the blogger, can be bought.

Of course, bloggers are hardly alone. The travel industry still gives junkets to travel writers. Editorial writers take junkets, according to the AP:

Yoest, who worked for now-Ambassador Robert H. Tuttle in the Ronald Reagan White House shortly after graduating from college in 1986, got the idea to invite other bloggers while traveling on an expenses-paid trip to blog the July G-8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. Some bloggers’ travel expenses there were paid by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, as were the expenses of some editorial writers from U.S. newspapers.

And the entertainment industry was famous for giving trips to get press.

I hope we don’t find ourselves in a position where people give things to “get blog.”

The money crunch is coming to the big news organizations, too. That’s why we hear so much fretting over how they are going to support journalism as ad and circulation revenue fall. Mind you, it is the ad revenue — which also causes fretting and fear about church-and-state and conflict-of-interest and selling-of-souls — that gives news organizations the freedom to cover news. That money doesn’t come with an assignment for a story. Then again, of course, a paper that gets a lot of tech ads decides to start a tech section to sell more tech ads (until tech dries up).

Now many of us in the j-world are talking about getting charities and citizens to pay directly for reporting. That does come with an assignment. That, too, can be gamed: foundations with an agenda can “underwrite” stories from independent journalists.

Is that much different, in the end, from a foundation underwriting specific areas of coverage on NPR. You hear those promos: Health coverage underwritten by the so-and-so foundation. Without that grant, would NPR have had the same coverage? Did the foundation affect NPR’s judgement and product? Can one answer a hypothetical?

I’m not sure where this all falls out. I’ll just repeat my own wish until we all figure it out: If you take it, disclose it.

: LATER: In the comments, a snippy journalist (redundant?) demands to know the names of journalists who took the foundation’s money to go cover the G8. The implication is that this dastardly AP reporter lied about the pure ethics of editorialists and that I spread the libel. Well, in a quick search, I find this from the Cleveland Plain Dealer [full dislosure: a paper in the company I worked for until recently] by Elizabeth Sullivan, a columnist and editor on the editorial page:

The One Campaign, aimed at eradicating extreme poverty, drew a $3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to promote its style of all-inclusive advocacy. The U.S. activists’ trip to Edinburgh was underwritten by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (which also subsidized some journalists’ expenses, including mine) and donated seats from Virgin Atlantic Airlines.

  • You raise an interesting question: When a blogger sells out, how much should he get? Surely, selling out for the price of a plane ticket dishonors the whole blogger community and depresses wages, but demanding handsome compenstation raises the status of the community and rewards us all.

    I’ll gladly sell out to anybody who makes me a sufficiently attractive offer, but so far nobody has.

  • Richard:
    The punchlines are so plentiful:
    Who would buy you?
    And what would they do with you once they got you home?
    It’s like buying a hungry doberman.
    And I saw all that with respect and affection!
    Couldn’t help myself.
    But seriously, folks….
    Yes, anything can be selling out. You can sell out when you take a job and have to do what the man pays you to do. You can sell out when you don’t criticize someone so you still get invited to their party (or get their links, in our world). But whenver you sell out, it’s never enough. Ask Faust.

  • Faust wasn’t a sincere sell-out, he intended to back out after getting all the goodies. That’s never a sound plan, of course.

  • Bennett:
    you have the surely dubious honor of being the guy who makes me laugh with your comments more than anyone.

  • There’s nothing dubious in that honor.

  • Could there be such a thing as a blog agent?

    I’ll find junkets for willing bloggers and then collect a fee from the publicity-starved entity. My job will be to match up with what I think are the appropriate bloggers for the needy clients. It’s win-win-win.

    Or maybe, I’ll publish a monthly newsletter with available junkets that bloggers can subscribe to for a fee. If you feel like taking trip, I’ll try to help you pay for it by blogging about a client at that destination.

  • Jeff,

    we had a very similar discussion over the last few days – see:

    and the links within the post for more.

  • I’d be interested in your telling me which newspaper editorial writers or editors accepted free transportation, as quoted by you from the Associated Press. And, yes, I’m asking AP, too. But you passed on the information as if it were fact; so you’re culpable, too. I’m a retired daily newspaper editor and editorial page editor who frankly does not believe any newspaper editor, editorial page editor or reporter would have ethically accepted such unethical gifts.

  • I’m just quoting the AP. If you get an answer, please let me know.

  • Somebody wants to pay me to cover their event, they can pay me to cover their event. But, they need to be aware that I am not an honest politician. For that reason I expect any career I have as a flack would be rather short lived.

    My insistence on traveling by train isn’t going to help matters any. :)

    Remember, your money buys my presence, it doesn’t buy my loyalty.

  • Andy Freeman

    > I’m a retired daily newspaper editor and editorial page editor who frankly does not believe any newspaper editor, editorial page editor or reporter would have ethically accepted such unethical gifts.

    So, what ethical gifts do they accept? And, what is it that distinguishes ethical gifts from unethical ones?

    As CNN proved, you folks regularly sell your souls for access.

    I suppose that’s better than giving them away to push an agenda, but you do that too.

    And you have the nerve to complain when others do the same.

  • Progressive Traditionalist

    C-note and a bj.
    I’ll start a blog just for you.