At Slate, Timothy Noah holds forth on the beat sweetener, a “gratuitously flattering profile that a reporter writes about a government official in the hope that it will encourage (or, at the very least, not impede) that reporter’s access to the official in question,” including:
How can readers identify them:
[M]y test for an authentic beat-sweetener… requires the conscious reader to pause, smite his forehead, and ask: “Who the hell wrote this crap? His mother?”
And, why they aren’t unethical so much as they are self-defeating:
A beat-sweetener is unethical only in the attenuated sense that a passionately devoted artisanal cobbler might regard as unethical a handmade loafer with poor stitching. It’s lousy craftsmanship, not an ethical lapse warranting extensive debate. It is also an unwise marketing strategy. At a time when readers are abandoning newspapers and magazines in droves, it hardly behooves reporters to bore them. What’s the value of access if you have no public to share it with?
Noah also provides a chart of seven recent examples of the genre.