As our kissin’ cousins at Sneak Adtack noted the other day, the New York Times has been using its journalists as arm candy at a rapidly accelerating pace.
The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi pointed out last year that Times Journeys excursions like the $135,000-per-person “Around the World by Private Jet: Cultures in Transformation” have raised a few eyebrows, given that “[a]mong those scheduled to join the traveling party are Washington bureau chief Elisabeth Bumiller, op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof and [then-] Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr.”
But the Times’s trips raise a question among journalism ethics experts about ethics and access: Is the Times effectively selling its journalists to private interests? Could, for example, corporate lobbyists or political operatives sign on and seek to influence the Times’s coverage?
Although the question is largely theoretical, the issue has come up before in a somewhat different context. In 2009, The Washington Post aborted an effort to produce “salons,” or small private dinners that would bring together the newspaper’s top editors and publisher with government officials and industry lobbyists. The off-the-record dinners were to be sponsored by individuals or corporations willing to pay anywhere from $25,000 to $250,000.
Now comes Alexandra Bruell’s Wall Street Journal profile of New York Times chief operating officer Meredith Kopit Levien, which illustrates how tight Times marketing and Times journalists have become.
Two summers ago Levien brought Times Op-It Girl Maureen Dowd to the French Riviera for a sales pitch to Samsung.
Months later, the companies sealed a deal: the $14 million, 15-month commitment included Samsung “360” cameras distributed to hundreds of Times reporters, as well as heaps of ad space. The resulting 360 videos got prominent placement, some on the home page, and they carried a credit for Samsung.
Times executive editor Dean Baquet says not to worry, he didn’t force anyone to use the Samsung devices and “some found it really cool.” You have to wonder if some also found it cool when Banquet let a marketing executive from a financial group sit in on an editorial meeting to see “how the sausage is made.”
Regardless, the commingling of journalists and commerce proceeds apace.
Lineup of Times journalists.
There are ten – count ’em, ten – cooperators/sponsors/partners in all. That’s a lot of business to take care of.
Exhibit B from the same edition.
Random sample of a Times journalist drafted for Journey duty.
Let’s just hope the Times doesn’t start assigning those worse gigs.