Since the Columbia Journalism Review is trying today (in a piece posted here) to sort through distinctions about what is right and wrong about fundraising events that news organizations like The Washington Post and Atlantic Media hold behind closed doors, we thought we should tell you about one of our own.
CJR holds a semiannual breakfast for The Audit, our business desk. What is similar to the Post and Atlantic and other salon-like events is that these are intended to eventually draw financial support for the news organization. In our case they are free, though we invite funders and potential funders, including some PR firms and financial institutions (Goldman Sachs and Citigroup). We don’t cover such firms, but of course we cover the coverage of them as we analyze and critique the business press. We invite a sprinkling of journalists too, but no public officials.
It can be funny what we learn when we do a disclosure like this. Some of us here assumed the hourlong breakfasts were off the record; but the invitations never said that, and others here thought they were on the record. There are good arguments either way, and we’re talking it through. It can be funny what we learn when we do a disclosure like this. Some of us here assumed the hourlong breakfasts were off the record; but the invitations never said that, and others here thought they were on the record. There are good arguments either way, and we’re talking it through. (UPDATE 8/25/10: It only took us 15 months (drum roll): They’re ON the record.)
What happens? After some welcoming remarks, we report on how The Audit is doing—its traffic, its impact, etc. (it is doing well, thanks)—and its plans for the future. Then we ask an invited speaker to make a few remarks about trends in business coverage or ongoing stories; past speakers have included Tunku Varadaragan of Forbes, Joe Nocera of The New York Times, and James Stewart, the financial writer, who teaches here at Columbia. Then we segue into a discussion and questions from the guests. The breakfasts are paid for by individual donors. We’ll soon put a list of all the donors on The Audit landing page on cjr.org, as we have intended to do for a while.
It is good to keep in mind that all news organizations, including CJR, need money to do their work. It is also good to remember that every single financial model for supporting journalism has its potential conflicts, including the advertising model. The devil is in the details, and in disclosure. (We do disclose when our stories touch on Citigroup or Goldman, for example).
News organizations charging for private lobbying moments with journalists and/or public officials is one thing. We think our breakfasts have nothing in common with that. But we believe in disclosure and invite you to weigh in with comments and questions.