Friday, December 14, 2012

Washington Post, Metro Team Up for PR Stunt

The notion that the Washington Post is in bed with Metro is a hard one to shake off, but starting at 8:30 this morning, it looks even worse.

That's when the Washington Post, through its Washington Post Live PR brand, is hosting a "media event" called "Conquering the Commute," and, ironically, the horribly named event is sponsored by Metro!

Also sponsoring is the American Public Transportation Association, a lobby group, and the Greater Washington Board of Trade, a regional business association.

The event ostensibly "will gather experts, to discuss how transportation updates and investments are crucial to the health of the region and to highlight the latest in smart improvements that create jobs and keep DC-area commuting efficient."

The speakers appear to offer a predictable,  monotone selection of views.

To have Metro, one of the dumbest organizations in the region, sponsor an event on "smart improvements" is risible. Watching Metro, the same transit system that's cutting service, team up with the dying Washington Post is just kinda sad.

But it doesn't stop there. Two members of the Post's objective editorial staff are scheduled to be moderators. They are Robert McCartney, a local columnist, and Dr. Gridlock, who allegedly covers Metro objectively.

I wrote McCartney, who wrote about this blog some years ago, asking if he thought there was any conflict for Post editorial staff to participate in a Metro-funded event.

He referred all questions to Mary Jordan, the Post's editor for conferences and special reports, the mastermind of the Post Live events. She did not respond.

Another Washington Post event organizer said the following in an email:

I'd like to first give you some context about how these events work. This sponsorship follows all of our conference guidelines. We have multiple sponsors for this event, this discussion covers additional transit topics other than Metro, no one from WMATA is on any of the panels, and they do not have any say in the content of the event. As to your question about how much WMATA paid, as a general rule, we never discuss how much sponsors and advertisers pay.

I asked Metro how much they paid. They did not respond.

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, a media watchdog group, which criticized an earlier Post Live event (Post response),  shared some thoughts on these kinds of events via email:

It seems like there are a few distinct concerns from a journalistic point of view. Who is sponsoring the event? Do the invited speakers represent the full spectrum of points of view on the issue? And does the event sponsorship raise concerns about who is invited, and who isn't? It would certainly be easier for the paper to maintain its independence if it chose to steer clear of convening public forums sponsored by industry or government groups that have a clear stake in the policies being discussed. 

I wonder if the Post--and commuters of all kinds--would be better served if the Post attempted to reassert itself as an area watchdog and produced good, hard-hitting news about Metro, for example, instead of participating in what is basically a money making PR stunt paid for, in part, by Metro.

Maybe the coziness between Metro and the Washington Post is something that just bothers me, but I wanted to make sure it was noted.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Site Meter