This Just In: Somebody Has to Pay the Bills

Leave it to the intrepid Insomniactive to give name to a scandelette just as it vanishes from the news cylce beneath the sheer, crushing weight of  MJ’s memorial service, doubtlessly available in HD DolbySurround for a super-low PPV rate.  (Thrill-uhhh!!)   But anybody who’s still with me knows what I’m talking about when I say that we’ll call Katharine Weymouth’s latest of many headaches, DinnerGate.

Now, along comes TPM with the news that WaPo is not alone in manipulating the powerful few into paying for the product which reaches us, the enervated many.  Turns out Atlantic Media is guilty, too, and has been for a long time.  Probably not for as long as somebody in the Graham family has been giving dinner parties that aren’t exactly proletarian affairs divorced entirely from money and power, but close.

Am I the only one who feels the whole topic has more than a little of a “shocked, shocked to find gambling in this casino” feel to it?   (Casa Blanca-Gate?)   In being underoffended by the Post’s and the Atlantic’s dealings am I really showing my ethical pliability, or simply my pragamtism as a student of media business models?  Although it’s not exactly rocket surgery, Zack Roth’s paragraph is probably the most analytical that’s been proffered on the more generic topic of when dinner becomes DinnerGate:

What to make of all this? Clearly, there are degrees of egregiousness here. A corporate-sponsored event that’s off the record and closed to the media and the public seems more objectionable than one that’s open and on the record. Equally, an event that’s focused on a public-policy issue that’s of particular interest to the event’s corporate sponsor seems more objectionable than, say, having a clothing company or an airline put up money for a festival that treats everything from the global economy to indie rock, as in the case of The New Yorker. An event whose advertising seeks to lure corporate lobbyists by promising the ability to directly influence elected officials or journalists seems, perhaps, more objectionable than one where the potential for influence-peddling is at least less explicit. It’s also worth noting that when a daily newspaper risks compromising its coverage of a key policy issue, it probably does more damage than when a monthly ideas magazine appears to do the same.

Degrees of egregiousness, indeed.  But doesn’t this phrase apply to any media model in which ostensibly objective editorial is paid for by renting out the audience that said editorial endeavors to reach?   A tidal metaphor almost always works:  when the tide goes out, lots of ugly junk lies exposed on the rocks, replacing the placid serenity of the ocean’s surface which presented itself only hours before.  And folks, we saw high tide in the media business a long, long time ago.  Somebody has to pay the bills.  That’s why I have a hard time seeing public media as anything but a larger part of the overall mix ten years from now.


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