Information is power is not just a cliché in Washington DC.
News about shifts in the media world is generally not cause for celebration in recent years. You’re more likely to read about layoffs or bankruptcies than promising new ventures that will cover substantive issues.
So when I read about the planned launch of POLITICO’s new Trade and Agriculture vertical (see last paragraph in link), I was happily surprised to see so many good reporters and editors associated with an ambitious project that aims to cover actual news. The equation seems pretty clear—more coverage of substance is better than less. But is it really that simple?
The expansion of POLITICO Pro represents the best and worst of what DC journalism has to offer, that is, solid reporting on significant issues from experienced professionals at a price-point white shoe lobbying firms and wealthy trade organizations can easily write-off. Pro follows the model of numerous DC publications from BGov and E&E, to smaller one-man-shops like the Hagstrom Report—real news, for anyone who can afford to read it.
Don’t get me wrong, proper newsgathering is an expensive gambit and the high prices are a reality of the market. As former POLITICO reporter Steve Friess recently pointed out, for all of the hype about POLITICO’s success since its launch, “The serious money didn’t start raining…until about two years ago with the launch of…POLITICO Pro.” Only then did POLITICO start charging the big bucks to subscribers.
But it does raise the question: Does this kind of journalism actually support the public interest? It is not just a cliché that in Washington, information is power. If only the well-resourced interests can afford to get the high-quality information POLITICO Pro and BGov and others are gathering then, these outlets are just propping up the entrenched power structures that are at the heart of so many of Washington’s biggest problems.
Some will argue that these kinds of expensive, subscription-based publications have always existed and they’re right. But over time, as DC bureaus have shrunk or shuttered, reporters for these high-end insider outfits have become the only game in town. Those of us looking for coverage of an esoteric policy debate often have literally nowhere else to turn.
So while it’s great to see good reporters get an opportunity to keep reporting on issues that matter, it’s hard to know whether their work will ultimately do more to hold our elected officials to account or just help fuel an even greater drive toward total elite capture.