Former WaPo Exec Behind Salons Flap Back Pushing Corporate-Sponsored Events

January 12, 2010 10:21 am

The former Washington Post Company executive who left amid controversy over a plan to hold corporate-sponsored “salons” is doubling down on his bid to get newsrooms more involved in profit-making ventures.

Charles Pelton resigned in September as the Post Company’s general manager of events and conferences, after Politico reported on an initiative that would have brought together Post reporters, administration officials, lawmakers, and corporate lobbyists for off-the-record discussions of policy issues — paid for by the attending corporations — at the home of Post publisher Katharine Weymouth. (We followed up with our own report on Atlantic Media’s series of similar events.)Although Pelton bit the bullet for the fiasco, it was clear that senior company execs and editors at the paper had signed off on the plan.

Still, it doesn’t look like Pelton has any regrets. Today, he’s out with a post at Paid Content headlined “How To Turn Journalists Into Profit Centers.” And here’s one of several of Pelton’s suggestions for how to do this:

If a media organization has a reporter covering the healthcare-reform debate, it should host a sponsored health-care seminar, and that reporter should suggest the speakers, program the event, and lead that seminar.

In other words, pretty much exactly what got Pelton and the Post into hot water this summer.

Some people, Pelton acknowledges, think getting involved in these types of events raises ethical questions for journalists. But…

That’s balderdash. What counts is honest disclosure about such relationships, and holding reporters and editors accountable – just like sources are held accountable – for what they produce…

There’s an easy way for news organizations and journalists to know if they’ve crossed the line: It’s when advertisers and sponsors try to dictate the content. Advertisers, in this model, still shouldn’t dictate content; journalists can and should remain independent.

Pelton, a former journalist himself, is the founder of Modern Media Partners, which is described as a “conference-and-events production and media-services company.”

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