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Salon-Gate: WaPo Ruins Smoky Backroom Parties for All

6a00d83451c79e69e201156fbfb6c2970c-500wi1“But she has never worked in a newsroom, a gap in her resume that may have contributed to her current problems.”

So reads David Carr‘s description of the Washington Post’s “relatively new publisher” Katharine Weymouth in Saturday’s print edition of The New York Times. It happens to be a description that could fit a whole lot of people in this new media world, though at the moment none are getting the blowback that Weymouth is over Salon-gate.

Short version: On Thursday Politico reported that it had come into possession of a flier advertising special WaPo ‘salons’:

“For “$25,000 to $250,000, The Washington Post is offering lobbyists and association executives off the record, non-confrontational access to ‘those powerful few’ — Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and the paper’s own reporters and editors.”

Cue media outrage.

Shortly after the news broker the executive editor Marcus Brauchli denounced the offer saying “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.”

Weymouth, herself, responded saying the flier had not been properly vetted. By the end of the day the salon’s had been canceled altogether.

Oh but it doesn’t end there. On Friday the NYT got on its A-1 high horse and gave the story front page placement. Followed by Carr’s Media Equation column, pushed up two days in order to capitalize on the debacle. More from Carr:

Ms. Weymouth is confronted with the same crisis as every publisher in the country. The Web has robbed newspapers of paying readers and advertisers, the economic downturn is cutting into what is left, and smaller, nimbler Internet competitors are learning to slake the 24-hour news thirst on their own.

Carr goes on to point out that all this “salon” chatter comes at a high cost to the newsroom, who are not happy with the current state of affairs. However, the most criticism seems to be directed more at Weymouth’s handling of the situation pr-wise, than the idea behind the salons themselves. Are they so terrible? Gawker says that WaPo was just bringing to light a practice that is common in the media world. And they may be righter than they know! Politico has followed up their story(ies) with a report that both the Wall St. Journal and The Economist hold similar events:

The Journal, for instance, is charging a $7,500 for its two-day CEO Council in November, an elite gathering that will include the paper’s top editors and high-profile speakers like Tony Blair, Rupert Murdoch, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. And for a few thousand dollars, The Economist can open the door to intimate off-the-record meet-and-greets with world leaders.

Lesson? Perhaps the real (world) problem WaPo faces is less an ethical one than merely a case of “clumsy” PR. The new media reality is a tricky one.

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