Selling out for the scoop

The speed of news dissemination has reached such a fevered pitch that it isn’t just money or influence that can corrupt a journalist’s better judgment. Now, a simple scoop will do the trick.

The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post’s with United Airlines. According to FAIRNESS AND ACCURACY IN REPORTING (FAIR), the airline offered the three newspapers a scoop about its planned merger with US Airways, but only if the editors promised not to contact United’s competitors or consumer groups, even if only to lend balance and context to the story.

Washington Post financial editor Jill Dutt told FAIR that the deal was entirely defensible because getting a possibly one-sided story a day earlier was of more importance to readers than getting a balanced and accurate story a day later.

Dutt further said that she understood why the airline’s executives wanted to get their story out to “investors … before you get all the naysayers.” To that, FAIR editors wrote, “It should go without saying that it is not a newspaper’s role to facilitate companies’ corporate strategy, or to protect them from ‘naysayers.'” But some basics of good journalism go without saying for so long that editors like Dutt and her cohorts at the Times and Journal apparently forget them entirely.