US journalists trade independence for access

(By Deutsche Welle) In the US, journalists are sacrificing editorial independence in exchange for access to top politicians. The practice has a long history in Germany, where interviews often must be authorized before publication.

In democratic societies, the media has long struggled with the political class to define what information is fit to print. While journalists seek access to high-level officials for a scoop, officialdom often does its best to control the flow of information to journalists in order to mold public opinion in its interests.

But in the United States, the balance of power between the journalist and the politician has increasingly shifted in favor of the latter. According to a July 15 report by Jeremy W. Peters of the New York Times, political journalists in Washington are increasingly trading their editorial independence for high-level access to members of the Obama administration.

Quotes gleaned from administration officials by a reporter are not just reviewed by the publication’s editor, they are often sent to the very same officials for approval – and even redaction – before going to print.

According to Stephen Ward, there is a growing and unhealthy “pressure on journalists and … on news organizations to get the story, to be first, to be the first tweet.”

“The officials who know this are quite aware that in this era of 24 hours news, access is king,” Ward, the director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told DW. “This is just a game of access – it’s as old as journalism.”

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