Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Monetizing Influence

For those who missed it, please see Phil Meyer's recent letter to USA Today about the perilous prospect of journalists and publishers attempting to monetize their influence without telling their readers exactly who they are.

Meyer, author of The Vanishing Newspaper, recounts the story of former Newsweek reporter Richard Wolffe. Wolffe hosted MSNBC's Countdown show after he joined the lobbying firm Public Strategies earlier this year, but did not disclose his new job to viewers.

Meyer cites this and the Washington Post's "Dinner-gate" case as examples of why journalism needs safeguards that help ensure editorial independence and credibility in a new and highly chaotic online age. He says:

If a professional such as Wolffe does not see a problem with being an advocate and a reporter at the same time, and if the publisher of the Post can be surprised by the uproar over selling access, then we are entering a strange new world. Without clear standards, journalism can't be trusted. If it can't be trusted, it won't be influential. If there is no influence, there is nothing to monetize.

This is doubly true for the nonprofit sector in journalism. As nonprofits attempt to build new sources of revenue through member events and corporate sponsorships, there is ever greater potential for conflict - or at least the potential for conflict. Transparency and great professional care will be more important than ever.

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