Monday, April 5, 2010

whither the white house press corps?

Will twitter, facebook and whatever new big thing is just waiting around the corner mean the death of the (relevance) of the White House press corps?

And does it matter that power can take its message directly to the people?

We've noted here that news orgs, in an attempt to conserve resources, have been folding their Washington bureaus, thus diminishing the number of journalistic filters nosing around the heart of our nation's government. On the other hand, do reporters who are invited into the inner sanctum of the Washington press corps always get the job done? (Note: the run-up to the war in Iraq)

The Daily Beast's Lloyd Grove tackles the question of whether news that's direct-from-white house-to-your house is not only going to clear out the chairs in the briefing room, but also undermine the public's right to know:
For as long as there has been a White House, a healthy tension has existed between the president, who seeks to convince the citizenry with calibrated messages and images, and the middlemen of the Fourth Estate, who traditionally convey, interpret, rebut, deride, and otherwise filter those messages and images. Every so often, the president takes his revenge, as Obama did on Friday, mocking skeptical reporters who have been questioning the positive impact of health-care reform. "Can you imagine if some of these reporters were working on a farm and you planted some seeds and they came out next day and they looked—Nothing’s happened! There’s no crop! We’re gonna starve! Oh, no! It’s a disaster!" Obama told a town meeting in Maine. “It’s been a week, folks. So before we find out if people like health-care reform, we should wait to see what happens when we actually put it into place. Just a thought.”

Until relatively recently, middlemen like [CBS senior White House correspondent Bill] Plante had the upper hand, and the media filter was robust—notwithstanding persistent and clever attempts by various White House communications gurus to bypass the journalistic kibitzing. But these days, as Plante acknowledges, the filter is fraying.

And the MSM’s relevance is up for grabs.

At the very moment that social media and enhanced technology are proliferating and gaining audience share by the tens of millions, giving President Obama powerful interactive tools to communicate directly with the public, the old media are in a world of hurt.

With their audiences eroding along with advertising revenue, long-established television and print outlets are painfully cinching their belts. They are shutting down Washington bureaus, firing hundreds of experienced journalists and—as with a planned presidential trip this Wednesday to Prague, where Obama will sign an arms-control deal and meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev—not even anteing up for the usual White House press charter. Members of the press corps who wish to cover the visit will have to make their own way to Prague by flying commercial.

Two screens (I mean pages) later, the last word goes to veteran White House correspondent, 89-year-old Helen Thomas:

Thomas, at 89, might have slowed down a bit since her wire-service days, but she’s still combat-ready with a sharply honed question. “The difference between a news conference and interviews is that the questions from the ‘rabble’ will come from left field,” she said, “and they will ask something that will really startle him” and push the president off his talking points.

Thomas is naturally skeptical of the new media and all the Facebooking and tweeting. “I think we’re all suffering from the real lack of true communication,” she said. “We can be ignored totally—almost. The White House feels they have other ways.” She also lamented the proliferation of bloggers, some of whom are formally accredited to the White House.

“There’s no accountability for a blogger,” she scoffed. “They can ruin lives, reputations, and once you send something into the air, it’s going to land, and there’s nothing that can curb them from saying anything they want. Everybody with a laptop thinks they’re a journalist, and everybody with a cellphone thinks they’re a photographer.”

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