Oh Look, Citizen Journalists Can Do Real Investigative Reporting

from the i-thought-that-was-impossible? dept

The newspaper people will tell you that if they are obliterated by the evil internets one of the big loses will be investigative journalism. If it hadn’t been for those gritty investigative journalists the newspaper hires there’d be no Watergate, no Whitewater Gate, no ‘Gates of any kind.

Of course, that’s just plain silly. Newspapers didn’t invent investigative journalism any more than they invented news or reporting news.

In fact, in this digital age where anyone willing to do the work can spill the beans to a massive audience, there is more reason than ever for independent investigators to step up to the plate. The folks at QuarryGirl, a blog dedicated to animal rights, have done just that.

Having been given a great deal of anecdotal proof that some food at Vegan restaurants around LA contained animal by-products, they decided to see if they could prove it. One might assume, as a bunch of bloggers with, potentially, no J-school experience whatsoever, they might make a hash of things. Instead, they made a plan:

Here's an outline of the plan:

  • Locate a facility that has no traces of egg, casein or shellfish in which to perform the advanced tests
  • Purchase anti-contamination equipment including industrial sterilization supplies, lab coats, uncontaminated bags, swabs, razor blades, gloves and floor coverings
  • Obtain highly restricted industrial food testing "kits" only available to the food manufacturing industry
  • Develop a regimented process to test each food item with the highest standards of inter-test cleanliness, ensuring that absolutely no food particles from one food item contaminate another
  • Select a diverse set of menu items from 100% vegan-only restaurants throughout LA (with one exception, see later)
  • Order the food for carry-out, and seal it in an airtight bag in its original packaging either inside, or very close to the point of purchase
  • Transport the food items to the testing facility intact and sealed, and perform the tests within 48 hours of purchase, keeping them refrigerated until immediately before the test
  • Develop a strict bracketing control, with a thorough analysis of the testing facility and equipment before testing: A negative control to ensure no pre-existing contamination, and a positive control test on a known-positive food product (containing all three target non-vegan items) to ensure that the tests do indicate positive results
  • Conduct the test in absolute secrecy to ensure that no restaurant would know they were providing samples, and pose as regular customers ordering take-out food in a normal way, with no disclosure that the items would be used for a test.

So, we divided up the work between us, and dedicated a Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday as well as over $1,000 of our collective money to pulling off the most extensive scientific test that we know of to find out, once and for all, if samples of restaurant food are vegan or not.

Not sure about you, but that sounds like a pretty sound plan. Find out what happened here.

This is just one example of how the inevitable death of newspapers will simply not be the information apocalypse they’d like you to think it will be.



Reader Comments (rss)

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 2:46pm

    You are confusing "good lab work" with investigative journalism. Nice try.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 3:06pm

      Re:

      There's supposed to be a difference?

       

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      Rose M. Welch (profile), Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 3:08pm

      Re:

      In this case, what's the difference between real journalism and good lab work?

      Regardless, the current MSM would just find people who were willing to be quoted saying that they believed the food was contaminated with animals, and quote that. Then they would quote the businesses denying it. Then they would announce that rigorous testing on both sides had proved both sides right, asking no pointed questions because that would show bias, and leaving the public exactly as informed as they were before they read the 'news'.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 3:46pm

      Re:

      How is this not investigative journalism?

      Good Lab Work = Investigation. If a police officer is investigating a crime, they are conducting good lab work through testing of evidence. And a journalist should be testing information before claiming it as fact.

      And they wrote a very in-depth analysis of their findings. And they appeared significantly more honest and fair in their reporting than any newspaper would have been. There would have been far more sensationalism and emotion introduced to rile up people and sell more papers. This is true journalism, because they're interested in truly unbiased information.

      Essentially, "investigative journalism" = "good lab work" ... and that's probably why the newspaper industry is failing, because they forgot that. Now "investigative journalism" = "Googling what other people have said" ... and then bitching that Google is stealing their stories.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 4:21pm

        Re: Re:

        Not at all. Good journalism is taking facts ascertained by a lab and running with them. Proving that you know how to do a controlled test isn't journalism.

        Investigative journalism would be taking those facts, and looking to find out where the meat is getting into the system Just proving these is meat in there is something easily obtained from an independent lab.

        It isn't the same thing. I agree with the other commentator, this is more techdirt made up news.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 4:30pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          > Investigative journalism would be taking those facts, and looking to find out
          > where the meat is getting into the system Just proving these is meat in there
          > is something easily obtained from an independent lab.

          actually, if you read the story, you would see that they did trace the food chain back to Taiwan, and conducted *interviews* to find out how the casein could have gotten into the food.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 4:34pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Which is fine - but the author of the post if focusing only on the "lab test" part of the deal, which has NOTHING AT ALL to do with investigative journalism. It isn't. It is just good lab testing, which they could have outsourced, because it didn't make a hint of difference in the outcome.

            Investigative journalism != running a science lab, no matter what "CSI" might try to make us think.

             

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              Sneeje (profile), Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 7:50pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Sorry, this thread is still pretty much the equivalent of "is not" vs "is too".

              Please explain your definition of investigative journalism and how this does not meet that definition.

              The Center for Public Integrity (http://www.publicintegrity.org/about/) seems to define it as "high-quality, accessible investigative reports, databases, and contextual analysis on issues of public importance."

              This pretty much seems to fit that bill.

               

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                Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 8:19pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                I wish I could write better, because you guys always seem to miss the point.

                Re-read the quoted sections - they are all about processing, not about investigating. Almost everything in that list could have been handed off to a private lab and the results would have been the same - there is no true investigative journalism in just processing stuff.

                "contextual analysis" is of the issues, not of the food. The food isn't the issue, it is what is in the food that is the issue, and how it got there is key.

                If Dave Title wants to make points about citizen jouralists making it in investigative journalism, perhaps he should have dedicated the majority of his post to that, rather than a boring step by step on how to collect food samples and test them.

                 

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                  Luci, Jul 5th, 2009 @ 2:09pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  What was given was just the beginning of the investigation. If you would take the time to click the link, which was provided so that they did not have to continue quoting, then perhaps you would better understand the positions of those who agree with this post.

                   

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 4:01pm

    I think you are misleading users. What if I told you the mere mortal could do your job twice as good as you can even after all those yours experience you had? You would fight too.

    Please give credit where credit is due and stop trying to make propaganda. Techdirt is quickly becoming the new boingboing, full of made up news and propaganda.

     

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    Stephen Downes (profile), Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 4:06pm

    Actually, that's rather more care than the traditional newspaper or media would take.

     

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    Newspaper employee (obviously), Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 4:42pm

    How can you compare what these people did with a newspaper? Where is the revenue, where are the reader comments. Anyone can put together a plan and a $1000. Your are jumping over a lot of details that go into producing a newspaper. Please don't generalize journalists with newspapers. And if this is the kind of news we can expect if the newspapers die off, then we are in trouble.

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 4:52pm

      Re:

      How can you compare what these people did with a newspaper?

      He didn't. He compared it to reporting. Note the difference.

      Where is the revenue, where are the reader comments.

      Huh? What does that have to do with reporting.

      Anyone can put together a plan and a $1000.

      Yes, that's the point.

      Your are jumping over a lot of details that go into producing a newspaper.

      No one said this would replace a newspaper. He was just showing that quality journalism can be done outside of newspapers.

      And if this is the kind of news we can expect if the newspapers die off, then we are in trouble.

      Wait, a thorough, careful, investigative report that revealed false advertising is a sign we're in trouble? Why?

       

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    Sailingmaster (profile), Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 5:42pm

    It's really too bad,

    that the descendants of former Town Criers can't band together for some sort of class action lawsuit against Gannett and other newspaper consortiums for putting their forefathers out of business.

    The idea just makes me laugh.

     

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    KateC, Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 6:42pm

    My concern about the investigation was that most of the ethnic Mom and Pop places might not have understood the whole concept of "vegan" in the first place, and were at the mercy of their distributors. I'd like to see a followup with the restaurant owners, etc. I'm pretty sure most of them weren't trying to fool anyone.

    You don't need J-school experience to do this sort of test, by the way. That's just silly.

     

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    Mark, Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 7:25pm

    One example does not replace a profession

    "Newspaper People" are easily replaced by your average joe blogger with a couple of friends and $1000 --out of pocket; now that is silly. This is just a one time story or, if repeated, a very expensive hobby. Point made: some people did good research, exposed a lie and published it. Replace an industry? Harbinger of things to come? The article's implied information apocalypse will never come to pass. The handful of people (even a few thousand teeny little people with writing talent) who can afford to go to this time and expense, even if there are three of them working together, could not come close to competing with the skill, support, access, and accountability of the legions of professional journalists that prepare stories for media outlets old and new, around the world, every day.

    The logical extension of this article is that after newspaper people are gone the "post-newspaper-people" amateur investigative reportage the daily news blogs will carry, and we will all go to to find out what's going on in the world, will be trustworthy, reliable and even interesting. Let's not worry for now about exposure to legal action, or even copy-editing... or paid airfare to a disaster scene or warzone. After two years of this professional-journalist-free scenario the likelihood of a Watergate ever being exposed, or any kind of Gate, would be slim to nil for any number of reasons on any number of levels.

    The QuarryGirl story is a good example of people putting their effort into something they believe in, it is not the tip of an iceberg of some massive body of skilled writers and researchers replacing "newspaper people" for free or paying for the privilege. "Newspaper people" are not shaking in their boots because of this. Individual news companies have financially, greedily, screwed themselves into a financial mess. They are bad and stupid and often have disagreeable editorial positions, but they are also economic giants and they employ an enormous number of skilled people, chief among them the journalists. As one giant falls, several new papers will emerge in those markets. The business will change, new papers will adapt to new ways, but it's not going to be replaced by bloggers. Some bloggers may even earn a living working for them.

    Mr. Title, your article fails to properly tell the world about the great work those QuarryGirl folks did, you used their good story to colour newspaper people in a bad light --and let's be honest, you're actually attacking the journalists themselves here. So you get a fail for poor logic and bad taste; The author should prepare a new toned-down article about the QuarryGirl bloggers or give us a decent bloody argument for the information apocalypse, and resubmit it for our evaluation. In the meantime you owe every reader of your article a share of whatever you got paid to write this drivel for the time spent having to read it. Actually, skip my share because I got some writing practice.

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 7:52pm

      Re: One example does not replace a profession

      "Newspaper People" are easily replaced by your average joe blogger with a couple of friends and $1000 --out of pocket; now that is silly. This is just a one time story or, if repeated, a very expensive hobby. Point made: some people did good research, exposed a lie and published it. Replace an industry? Harbinger of things to come? The article's implied information apocalypse will never come to pass.

      Extrapolate much? Nowhere does Dave suggest that bloggers will replace journalists and newspapers will just go away. That's your own reading. What he says, quite clearly (I thought) was that journalists are not the exclusive holders of the right to investigative journalism. That's an important point.

      Mr. Title, your article fails to properly tell the world about the great work those QuarryGirl folks did, you used their good story to colour newspaper people in a bad light --and let's be honest, you're actually attacking the journalists themselves here.

      He did no such thing. His point was simple: that you don't necessarily need journalists to do investigative reporting and all the "you'll miss us when we're gone" claims are bunk.

      He wasn't saying that newspapers are bad. You're jumping to conclusions way beyond what was stated in the article. You can't blame Dave for your own misreading.

       

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        Doctor Strange, Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 11:22pm

        Re: Re: One example does not replace a profession

        Extrapolate much? Nowhere does Dave suggest that bloggers will replace journalists and newspapers will just go away. That's your own reading.

        When the lead line is:

        The newspaper people will tell you that if they are obliterated by the evil internets one of the big loses [sic] will be investigative journalism.

        What he's describing is a situation in which newspapers have indeed just gone away (been "obliterated") and thus, according to "the newspaper people" then investigative journalism will be "one of the big lo[s]ses." Presumably here he's not talking about a diminishing of investigative journalism, but its loss. Of course, these sensationalistic claims aren't attributed to Title, they're attributed to "the newspaper people" so it's easy to slough off responsibility for them.

        What he says, quite clearly (I thought) was that journalists are not the exclusive holders of the right to investigative journalism. That's an important point.

        And one that was never really in dispute. This kind of blatant sensationalism - setting up or selecting an unreasonable strawman and then knocking it down with a single counterexample - does not advance a single one of the arguments on this site. It's a wonder, then, that it's up here. What does the existence of a single autodidact say about the future of secondary education? What does a single investigative report say about the future of journalism? Answer: nothing at all, save that there are motivated people who can engage in an activity successfully without formal training. Again, an idea that has never really been in dispute.

        "the inevitable death of newspapers will simply not be the information apocalypse they’d like you to think it will be"

        Another strawman, more of "the newspaper people" (whoever they are) asserting that there's an "information apocalypse" coming. Is this substantiated at all? Look, there are thousands and thousands of people who work, directly and indirectly, for newspapers around the world. Is it conceivable that at least a few of them would agree that an "information apocalypse" is coming? Sure, it's practically inevitable. Is it conceivable that a subset of these might even be people who have power or influence somewhere in the industry? Yes. Does that mean this is a representative opinion of the industry? Not at all. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but you don't know either way.

        Who is extrapolating now?

        If you want to advance the debate on these subjects, then you're going to have to start addressing some of the more serious subtleties of the issues. Why waste time answering a question like "will investigative journalism exist at all if newspapers 'are obliterated by the evil internets'?" It's a stupid question. Of course some investigative journalism will exist.

        How about tackling something a little tougher and a lot more relevant: will there be more or less investigative journalism in the future? Will investigative journalism, on the whole, be more or less objective than we have now? Will we see an increase in investigative journalism in certain areas and a decline in others? Which areas, and why? Will investigative journalism become a more or less effective check on government?

        The problem, of course, is that these questions can't be answered at all with cute anecdotes and point counterexamples. You'd need quite a bit more intellectual weaponry to start attacking them.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Jul 3rd, 2009 @ 1:36am

          Re: Re: Re: One example does not replace a profession

          How about tackling something a little tougher and a lot more relevant: will there be more or less investigative journalism in the future? Will investigative journalism, on the whole, be more or less objective than we have now? Will we see an increase in investigative journalism in certain areas and a decline in others? Which areas, and why? Will investigative journalism become a more or less effective check on government?

          The problem, of course, is that these questions can't be answered at all with cute anecdotes and point counterexamples. You'd need quite a bit more intellectual weaponry to start attacking them.


          Those questions can't be answered by any "intellectual weaponry". Just reasoning in defense of one side or the other is not enough. Factual proof would be needed to be convincing and there is no way of obtaining that factual proof needed to substantiate the claims of the current newspaper industry's status qvo.

          On the other hand, this example, limited as it is, it factual proof that citizen journalists/investigators can plan and follow through a thorough investigation and then report their findings like true professionals. If this threatens the newspapers, well, that was the whole point of Dave's article: there is solid proof that investigative journalism doesn't need newspapers to exist.

          The problem is not the fact that newspapers are losing relevance. The problem is: Can they do anything meaningful about it? Yes, they can start asking for protectionist measures to prop up their dying business model, but that isn't a meaningful choice because even if they survive, they will lose all their clout and relevance. So, the biggest problem of all is that the newspaper industry doesn't know how to adapt and it's in full blown panic. What everybody else must be aware of is the fact that we shouldn't let them drag the rest of us down with them.

           

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          Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 3rd, 2009 @ 3:04pm

          Re: Re: Re: One example does not replace a profession

          What he's describing is a situation in which newspapers have indeed just gone away (been "obliterated") and thus, according to "the newspaper people" then investigative journalism will be "one of the big lo[s]ses." Presumably here he's not talking about a diminishing of investigative journalism, but its loss. Of course, these sensationalistic claims aren't attributed to Title, they're attributed to "the newspaper people" so it's easy to slough off responsibility for them.

          There have been numerous such claims by folks in the industry of "you'll miss us when we're gone!" and "no one else does investigative reporting!" That's what he was responding to.

          What does the existence of a single autodidact say about the future of secondary education? What does a single investigative report say about the future of journalism? Answer: nothing at all, save that there are motivated people who can engage in an activity successfully without formal training. Again, an idea that has never really been in dispute.

          It certainly seems in dispute when folks insist that only newspapers can do investigative reporting. We've explained why from a larger angle that's in dispute, and then folks like yourself complain "but that's just theory!" So then we show it in action and you bitch about "that's just one example!"

          I give up. You want to live in a dark hole of denial, that's your choice. But you'll miss a lot of exciting stuff that's happening.

          How about tackling something a little tougher and a lot more relevant: will there be more or less investigative journalism in the future? Will investigative journalism, on the whole, be more or less objective than we have now? Will we see an increase in investigative journalism in certain areas and a decline in others? Which areas, and why? Will investigative journalism become a more or less effective check on government?

          You do realize we HAVE discussed all those points? And when we do, people complain "that's just theory! let's talk about something real!"

          Amazing.

           

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      Anon, Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 8:46pm

      Re: One example does not replace a profession

      "After two years of this professional-journalist-free scenario the likelihood of a Watergate ever being exposed, or any kind of Gate, would be slim to nil for any number of reasons on any number of levels."

      Like General electric owns nbc news channels and also happens to own a subsidiary called GE military systems and in the George W. Bush years when all of the msm were on board his agenda. They told the complete objective truth without skewing with the intent to potentially profit more with their military based operations as an example of "professional journalism"(end sarcasm).

       

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    Doctor Strange, Jul 3rd, 2009 @ 2:25am

    Those questions can't be answered by any "intellectual weaponry". Just reasoning in defense of one side or the other is not enough. Factual proof would be needed to be convincing and there is no way of obtaining that factual proof needed to substantiate the claims of the current newspaper industry's status qvo.

    These questions can certainly be advanced with studies, broad-spectrum fact gathering, analysis of historical analogs, and so on. The problem is that these things can't be created with a single Google search and twenty minutes of writing. They also can't be extrapolated from a single anecdote, and nobody on either side of the debate seems apt to do the work. That doesn't stop them arguing anyway, and implying (but always with plausible deniability) that the weak argumentation will somehow shed light on these questions anyway.

    You claim "there is no way of obtaining that factual proof needed to substantiate the claims of the current newspaper industry's status qvo [sic]". What are the claims of the current newspaper industry's status quo? And whom have you appointed to represent the newspaper industry here? If David Simon is invited to testify before Congress and urges them to relax certain anti-trust provisions for newspapers, does that represent the entire newspaper industry, or just his own personal opinion?

    On the other hand, this example, limited as it is, it factual proof that citizen journalists/investigators can plan and follow through a thorough investigation and then report their findings like true professionals. If this threatens the newspapers, well, that was the whole point of Dave's article: there is solid proof that investigative journalism doesn't need newspapers to exist.

    Again, proof of something that was never in real dispute. If all you have shown is that somewhere, somehow, citizen investigative journalism to "professional" standards exists, then you have shown nothing of importance.

     

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    Rob R. (profile), Jul 3rd, 2009 @ 6:15am

    I really hope the papers get replaced by this. I honestly believe that we'll have better journalism when the huge bias is gone (bias from the obviously very liberal newspapers) and everyone from every viewpoint is able to express things and report facts from all points of view.

    No one side is always right, not even mine. Death to the newspaper industry.

     

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    Doctor Strange, Jul 3rd, 2009 @ 3:17pm

    There have been numerous such claims by folks in the industry of "you'll miss us when we're gone!" and "no one else does investigative reporting!"

    If you polled the entire newspaper industry, I can virtually guarantee you will find a few people who claim that they have personally been abducted by aliens or visited by Jesus. These sort of fringe positions ("you'll miss us when we're gone" is not a fringe position, and may well be true, but "no one else does investigative reporting" is certainly false on its face unless taken as hyperbole).

    It certainly seems in dispute when folks insist that only newspapers can do investigative reporting.

    Again, who are these folks and who appointed them representatives of the newspaper industry? Are there really that many of them that honestly claim that it is actually impossible (not just hard, not just less likely, but actually 100% impossible) to do any investigative reporting whatsoever outside the newspaper industry? Do a significant number of people - with influence - really believe that claim?

    folks like yourself complain "but that's just theory!"

    Folks like myself? You don't know me. You don't know nearly anything about me. I have never accused anyone on this site of being "theoretical" or talking about things "in theory" but if you want to lump me into some invented equivalence class of yours, I guess I can't stop you.

    You want to live in a dark hole of denial, that's your choice. But you'll miss a lot of exciting stuff that's happening.

    Wow, I'm in a dark hole of denial because I worry that losing the newspaper industry might possibly be a net negative to society, and I wonder whether there's anything we can or should do to hedge against it. Yep, that's me.

    You do realize we HAVE discussed all those points?

    Good, keep it up.

     

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    Sal, Jul 3rd, 2009 @ 8:56pm

    Restricted Test Kits

    Is anybody else bothered by the idea that (apparently) only the food industry can obtain certain food testing "kits?" Why are these only available to the food industry?

     

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    anon, Jul 3rd, 2009 @ 9:32pm

    They were caught so here are some more "professional journalists" who are trying to do some damage control.

    WaPo cancels lobbyist event
    By: Mike Allen and Michael Calderone
    July 2, 2009 08:04 AM EST

    Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth said today she was canceling plans for an exclusive "salon" at her home where for as much as $250,000, the Post offered lobbyists and association executives off-the-record access to "those powerful few" — Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and even the paper’s own reporters and editors.

    The astonishing offer was detailed in a flier circulated Wednesday to a health care lobbyist, who provided it to a reporter because the lobbyist said he felt it was a conflict for the paper to charge for access to, as the flier says, its “health care reporting and editorial staff."

    With the Post newsroom in an uproar after POLITICO reported the solicitation, Weymouth said in an email to the staff that "a flier went out that was prepared by the Marketing department and was never vetted by me or by the newsroom. Had it been, the flier would have been immediately killed, because it completely misrepresented what we were trying to do."

    Weymouth said the paper had planned a series of dinners with participation from the newsroom “but with parameters such that we did not in any way compromise our integrity. Sponsorship of events, like advertising in the newspaper, must be at arm's length and cannot imply control over the content or access to our journalists. At this juncture, we will not be holding the planned July dinner and we will not hold salon dinners involving the newsroom. “

    She made it clear however, that The Post, which lost $19.5 million in the first quarter, sees bringing together Washington figures as a future revenue source. “We do believe that there is a viable way to expand our expertise into live conferences and events that simply enhances what we do - cover Washington for Washingtonians and those interested in Washington,” she said. “ And we will begin to do live events in ways that enhance our reputation and in no way call into question our integrity.”

    Executive editor Marcus Brauchli was as adamant as Weymouth in denouncing the plan promoted in the flier. “You cannot buy access to a Washington Post journalist,” Brauchli told POLITICO. Brauchli was named on the flier as one of the salon’s "Hosts and Discussion Leaders."

    Brauchli said in an interview that he understood the business side of the Post planned on holding dinners on policy and was scheduled to attend the July 21 dinner at Weymouth’s Washington home, but he said he had not seen the material promoting it until today. “The flier, and the description of these things, was not at all consistent with the preliminary conversations the newsroom had,” Brauchli said, adding that it was “absolutely impossible” the newsroom would participate in the kind of event described in the solicitation for the event.

    "Underwriting Opportunity: An evening with the right people can alter the debate," says the one-page flier. "Underwrite and participate in this intimate and exclusive Washington Post Salon, an off-the-record dinner and discussion at the home of CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth. ... Bring your organization’s CEO or executive director literally to the table. Interact with key Obama administration and congressional leaders."


    The flier promised the dinner would be held in an intimate setting with no unseemly conflict between participants. “Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No,” it said. “The relaxed setting in the home of Katharine Weymouth assures it. What is guaranteed is a collegial evening, with Obama administration officials, Congress members, business leaders, advocacy leaders and other select minds typically on the guest list of 20 or less. …

    Brauchli emphasized that the newsroom had given specific parameters to the paper’s business staff that he said were apparently not followed. He said that for newsroom staffers to participate, they would have to be able to ask questions and that he would “reserve the right to allow any information or ideas that emerge from an event to shape or inform our coverage.” That directly contradicts the solicitation to potential sponsors, which billed the dinner as “off-the-record.”

    “Our mission in the news department is to serve an audience,” Brauchli said, “not serve our sponsors.”

    “We do not use the Post’s name or our journalists to gain access to officials or sources for the benefit of non-news purposes,” he continued.

    Brauchli said that Post employees on the business side — not the newsroom — would have been responsible for seeking participants for this event. Reporters, he said, would not solicit sources or administration officials. Brauchli said that he did not know who was invited or who accepted.

    Ceci Connolly, a Post reporter who covers health care, told POLITICO that she had been told there would be a dinner and that she would be invited. However, Connolly said, she “knew nothing about sponsorships and had not seen any flier or invitation.”

    Brauchli declined to comment on whether anyone on the business side would be held responsible for the abortive plan. He said that would be a decision for either Weymouth or Stephen Hills, The Post’s president and general manager.

    But regarding future events, Brauchli said: “I would hope that everybody in the Washington Post Company is always sensitive to the importance of the newsroom’s integrity and independence.”
    Charles Pelton, The Post business-side employee listed as the event contact, seemed to dispute Brauchli’s version of events.

    Pelton was quoted by Post ombudsman Andy Alexander in an online commentary as saying that newsroom leaders, including Brauchli, had been involved in discussions about the salons and other events.“This was well-developed with the newsroom,” Pelton told Alexander. “What was not developed was the marketing message to potential sponsors.”

    According to Alexander, who called the flier a “public relations disaster,” Pelton told him: “There’s no intention to influence or peddle.” “There’s no intention to have a Lincoln Bedroom situation,” referring to charges that President Bill Clinton used invitations to stay at the White House as a way of luring political backing.

    Pelton did not return a phone call from POLITICO.

    If POLITICO had not reported on the flier this morning, Brauchli said he expects someone would have seen it before the event and, given the obvious ethical issue, it would have been canceled.


    Kris Coratti, communications director of Washington Post Media, a division of The Washington Post Company, said the flier “came out of a business division for conferences and events, and the newsroom was unaware of such communication. It went out before it was properly vetted, and this draft does not represent what the company’s vision for these dinners are, which is meant to be an independent, policy-oriented event for newsmakers.

    "As written, the newsroom could not participate in an event like this. We do believe there is an opportunity to have a conferences and events business, and that The Post should be leading these conversations in Washington, big or small, while maintaining journalistic integrity. The newsroom will participate where appropriate."

    Earlier this morning, Brauchli sent an e-mail entitled “Newsroom Independence” to his staff explaining his position.

    "Colleagues,” Brauchli said. “A flier was distributed this week offering an 'underwriting opportunity' for a dinner on health care reform, in which the news department had been asked to participate. The language in the flier and the description of the event preclude our participation.

    "We will not participate in events where promises are made that in exchange for money The Post will offer access to newsroom personnel or will refrain from confrontational questioning. Our independence from advertisers or sponsors is inviolable. There is a long tradition of news organizations hosting conferences and events, and we believe The Post, including the newsroom, can do these things in ways that are consistent with our values."

    The first "Salon" was to be called "Health-Care Reform: Better or Worse for Americans? The reform and funding debate." More were anticipated, and the flier described the opportunities for participants:
    “Offered at $25,000 per sponsor, per Salon. Maximum of two sponsors per Salon. Underwriters’ CEO or Executive Director participates in the discussion. Underwriters appreciatively acknowledged in printed invitations and at the dinner. Annual series sponsorship of 11 Salons offered at $250,000 … Hosts and Discussion Leaders ... Health-care reporting and editorial staff members of The Washington Post ... An exclusive opportunity to participate in the health-care reform debate among the select few who will actually get it done. ... A Washington Post Salon ... July 21, 2009 6:30 p.m. ...

    "Washington Post Salons are extensions of The Washington Post brand of journalistic inquiry into the issues, a unique opportunity for stakeholders to hear and be heard," the flier says. "At the core is a critical topic of our day. Dinner and a volley of ideas unfold in an evening of intelligent, news-driven and off-the-record conversation. ... By bringing together those powerful few in business and policy-making who are forwarding, legislating and reporting on the issues, Washington Post Salons give life to the debate. Be at this nexus of business and policy with your underwriting of Washington Post Salons."

    White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked Thursday in the briefing room if anyone from the White House was invited to attend the salons, and what the policy is for attending such events.

    "I don't know if anybody here was," Gibbs said. "I think some people in the administration, writ large, may have been invited. I do not believe, based on what I've been able to check, anyone has accepted the invitations."

    Gibbs said that the White House counsel would review such invitations and that they "would likely exceed" what would be considered appropriate.

    © 2009 Capitol News Company, LLC


    FD HIDDEN DIV

    p.s. on the health care bill that the democrats claim is so great for us all government officials and dependents are exempt. of course if you want an example of government health care look to the va hospitals. As for the medical database that obama wants extablished the government has a great record for data keeping(end sarcasm).

     

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    identicon
    FormerScribe, Jul 4th, 2009 @ 10:54am

    Right, and wrong

    As a former journalist, I think that the study done by the folks mentioned in the article can indeed qualify as investigative journalism. They decided to investigate an issue of importance to many readers, did objective work to verify the claim, disproved it, and provided a useful conclusion: don't blindly trust places that say their stuff is vegan. It could use a lot more depth and certainly some follow ups, but I can imagine many a newspaper publishing such a story and trumpeting it as an exclusive.

    The larger issue, and one that many non-journalists don't realize, is that this is a shallow example of investigative journalism. Most important investigative pieces requires a lot of time -- a minimum of months of working exclusively on that story. They require more than one reporter -- sometimes a dozen or more. And, perhaps most important, they require money -- thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of dollars. I'm talking about the investigative pieces that really shake things up, the ones that justify the existence of the Fourth Estate and the faith people like Thomas Jefferson put into it. Watergate is the archetypical example, because the stories around Watergate weren't just hidden, they were buried, purposefully buried by corrupt officials trying with all their might and power to get away with criminal acts.

    A truly important investigation is ongoing, it must fight a powerful force trying to stop, spin or otherwise negate it, and that takes people working full time on it -- I emphasize full time -- going wherever the leads take them.

    If bloggers who are trained in investigation, are good writers, and can afford to do this full time, will continue to spring up as newspapers die, God bless them and keep them. They are in fact Investigative Journalists.

    But in response to those who think they might replace the institution of professional investigative journalism, I doubt it. As the occupational category of investigative journalist withers, we all suffer.

     

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    identicon
    Bill Goergens, Jul 4th, 2009 @ 1:17pm

    Intention

    A couple of comments.

    First a minor correction: Quarrygirl.com is not a blog dedicated to animal rights. It is a blog which features reviews of vegan restaurants.

    Secondly: I don't think the bloggers responsible for Quarrygirl are trying to replace journalists ... or even pretend to be journalists. I think they had ongoing indications that some of the most popular vegan eateries around L.A. were adding animal products to their food. If you know any vegans then you know that this is the equivalent of eating something filthy. It is utterly repulsive and vile to them.

    Quarrygirl took the necessary steps to get to the bottom of the situation and warn other vegans of what they found.

    I think it is a public service. I don't think these bloggers much care about the state of print media versus the internet as much as they care about finding good, reliable, honest, wholesome places to eat.

     

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  •  
    identicon
    dancestoblue, Jul 5th, 2009 @ 2:39am

    No, they are not newspaper people

    No, the people who did this are not newspaper people, and that is a fact. And I am surely glad, because if they were they'd have jammed some garbage down our throat about the latest celebrity death or some fluff piece of garbage, maybe some big expose detailing which town has cleaner streets, Cleveland or Toledo -- I'm snoring already. Plus the newspaper didn't even write it, it's running in forty-seven other papers, they picked it up from some sleazebag outfit same as you'd pick up herpes in some dirtbag whorehouse...

    Nope, these people did not do that. They did something good, the did it with pretty tight testing and they did it without someone telling them you can't offend this advertiser or that one and they did it with a thousand bucks and they did it with panache and they wrote about it well, reporting it all fair and square, giving the restaurants a chance to respond and/or tighten up their standards.

    Nope, it's not 'real investigative reporting' from some great newspaper or other, there aren't any great newspapers left, they're all gutted, Royko long dead, the Watergate whiz kids now sitting down cheek to jowl with the rest of the scum in Washington, they've become what they wrote about in their youth, and no editorial people of conscience and courage to back up some courageous kids with a great story and the heart and the shoe leather to chase it all down.

    So this is what it's come down to then, we've got to get our good reporting where we can find it. Today, I found it at www.quarrygirl.com. I'm glad I did.

    I hope that this finds you well, enjoying the beauty in early summer.

    Peace.

    dancestoblue
    Austin Texas

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 6th, 2009 @ 7:40am

    since I doubt few of you actually read the article, it was indeed investigative journalism. They found an issue, tracked sources, called up and performed interviews with officials in another country, and informed all people involved as well as followed up with restaurants who responded. What would newspapers have done differently pray tell? Quarrygirl also has just exposed copyright violation, something Techdirt users might find slightly interesting.

     

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