Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Transparency and the Value of the White House Press Corps.

Obama: “This is the most transparent administration in history, and I can document that is the case.”

Obama: “And with that, what I want to do is clear out the press so we can take some questions.”

Poynter:  It’s easy to claim the title of most transparent administration in history, if you define “transparency” as “releasing 100 percent of the things you want to release.”

  With all this transparency, one might excuse David Weigel's column in Slate questioning the need for a White House Press Corps.  He starts with the pool report from earlier this month, detailing negotiations to have pool coverage of an event.
“All we're asking for is a brief exception, quick access, a quick photo-op on the 18th green,” Henry told Politico’s Dylan Byers. “It's not about golf—it's about transparency and access in a broader sense.”
And yes, they're talking about the President's golf date with Tiger Woods.

It's not just lack of access (Obama has held 35 press conferences and taken questions after 107 events - his predecessor held more than 100 press conferences and took questions after 355 events in his first term), but the lack of tough questions from the White House Press corps in the daily briefings. 
Weigel looked at the questions the White House Press Corps asked after the State of the Union Address, and found, basically, three general queries in the weeks since.
  1. "How will you pass this?"
  2. "How do you respond to this?"
  3. "Remember when you said this?
Tough questions, all.

And covering a President full-time is expensive.  Reporters in the pool for the golf outing with Tiger paid around $3500 for the privilege of reporting... nothing. (The only interaction with the President was off-the-record).  Costs can be as high as $33,000 per person for a three day domestic trip (to California), and the President's three-nation trip to Asia last fall ran an estimated $35,000 a head.
  It's gotten to the point where major news organizations are wondering if traveling with the President, or even having a credentialed White House Correspondent, is worth it.
“It costs some of our [news] organizations millions of dollars a year to cover the president,” said Ed Henry, head of the (White House Correspondents Association).... “Would we like to find ways to make it more economical and efficient? Yes, we would.”
“All of these trips are important because you don’t know what hasn’t happened yet,” said Cameron Barr, The Post’s national editor. News organizations “have to balance the cost of not being with the president and missing something important.”
The Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib commented - “when the president is doing the president’s business, our inclination is to be there... You do wonder at times, is this worth it?”

  Is it worth it?  Probably not, if you're not bothering to get real news, or even something that's not already in the pool reports or wire service feeds. The real question is will the press make it worthwhile and valuable by actually doing real journalism?

Sources -  Who Needs the White House Press Corps?Slate
Traveling reporters get bill, but little news, when Obama's on the RoadThe Washington Post
Is the Obama administration really the 'most transparent' ever?Poynter

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