Wash. Post selling access?

WASH. POST SELLING ACCESS?…. It’s hardly a secret that newspapers, including the major dailies, have run into serious financial problems in recent years, and are frantically looking for new revenue streams. But if this report from Mike Allen is accurate, it seems the Washington Post‘s financial concerns have led the paper to consider a jaw-dropping scheme.

For $25,000 to $250,000, The Washington Post is offering lobbyists and association executives off the record, non-confrontational access to “those powerful few” — Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and the paper’s own reporters and editors.

The astonishing offer is detailed in a flier circulated Wednesday to a health-care lobbyist, who provided it to a reporter because the lobbyist said he feels it’s a conflict for the paper to charge for access to, as the flier says, its “health care reporting and editorial staff.”

I haven’t seen confirmation of this elsewhere — and it’s possible the Post has an explanation — but it seems the paper would like to be some kind of middleman, connecting lobbyists with politicians, federal officials, and reporters, in exchange for thousands of dollars.

Mike Allen noted that the one-page flier boasts that an “evening with the right people can alter the debate.” For the right price, lobbyists and industry officials can attend an “exclusive Washington Post Salon,” at which they will be able to “interact” with “key” Obama administration officials, congressional leaders, and Post journalists. The first “Salon” is titled, “Health-Care Reform: Better or Worse for Americans? The reform and funding debate.”

Didn’t Dana Milbank just lecture Nico Pitney about “working in collusion” with the administration? His column on these “salons” ought to be a doozy. I can’t wait to read it.

This is no small scheme. Indeed, it’s a rather dramatic breach of journalistic ethics and has the potential to do lasting damage to the Washington Post‘s credibility.

If Allen’s report is accurate, I can only hope the Post will quickly cancel these “salons.” The damage, though, may have already been done.

Update: A WaPo spokesperson sent Ben Smith an official response: “The flier circulated this morning came out of a business division for conferences and events, and the newsroom was unaware of such communication. It went out before it was properly vetted, and this draft does not represent what the company’s vision for these dinners are, which is meant to be an independent, policy-oriented event for newsmakers. As written, the newsroom could not participate in an event like this.”