former journalists discuss a profession in crisis

Correspondents’ Dinner: Enough Already!

In Blog on May 2, 2014 at 10:34 pm

I will freely admit that I have never been invited to the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents’ Association.  I did once participate in a demonstration outside the hotel where the event was held, but our protest was directed at the President at the time, not the journalists in attendance.

And here's one more: Front page of the Washington Post Style section, May 3, 2014

And here’s one more: Front page of the Washington Post Style section, May 3, 2014

Here’s what I’m talking about.  The dinner hasn’t happened yet, and the Post, through its blogs and print editions, has run at least 14 stories and blogs about it.  I’m writing this on Friday, May 2.  Who knows what will be in tomorrow’s paper?

I am not including in that total, two substantive pieces on the work of Washington correspondents pegged to the upcoming dinner.  Paul Farhi profiled a correspondent for the McClatchy newspapers with limited access to the President, a backbencher in a press room where a lot of the attention goes to the high-profile journalists.  Erik Wemple analyzed another media outlet – Politico – and its effort to gauge the attitudes of the roughly 200 Washington correspondents.

So what does more than 7,000 words, and endless space for photos and even illustrations, get you?  Insights on this year’s performer host, Joel McHale, (1, 082 words); tips to the President for giving a well-received speech (1,633 words), and a feature story about the history of the dinner and how it evolved (1,738 words), not including a 783-word sidebar, which includes a timeline of dinner highs and lows.

Every facet of the dinner and parties seems to have been touched –  how party-goers will use the new Uber app and car service to get from place to place; a list of celebrities attending (the list alone took nearly 900 words); briefs on stars planning to attend who show up early in DC to do other things.  Post staffers wrote about Buzzfeed and Facebook offering an alternative party for those who don’t have an invitation to the dinner or wanted something different. They announced that the Post planned to offer diners a “twitter mirror” to immediately broadcast their selfies to the world. They described the menu and fretted about food items they couldn’t decipher.  They offered descriptions of the suites at three local luxury hotels, complete with pictures, where celebrities may be staying this weekend.

But wait, there’s more!  Readers learned about a journalist making a documentary about the dinner, who’s calling it “the biggest weekend in one of the world’s most important cities.”  Blogger Alexandra Petri discusses the “Nerd Prom “where all the faceless bylines flock moth-like around the visiting luminaries they have binge-watched on Netflix.”  We also received tips on surviving the parties.

The Post even takes the time, and space, to wonder whether there may be a “dinner backlash” this year, in the context of some of the excesses of previous years.  Bob Garfield, the co-host of NPR’s “On the Media” opines, “It’s embarrassing to continually be embarrassed.”

I am not going to take a cheap shot, and compare the extent of coverage of this event with the Post’s serious coverage of other issues.  A paper can be both frivolous and substantive.  But I do wonder, who does the Post believe is its audience for these stories?

And doesn’t this over-the-top attention really reinforce the notion that the news is what your editor cares about?

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