The Pool

It used to be that people from legacy media would complain that on the internet nobody did any original reporting. But now web-native enterprises do lots of reporting. Part of reporting is reporting on the White House, so Talking Points Memo and The Huffington Post now have White House correspondents. White House correspondents participate in the White House press pool. So now it seems that legacy media doesn’t want websites to do reporting after all:

“This is really troubling,” said New York Times reporter Peter Baker in an email to POLITICO. “We’re blurring the line between news and punditry even further and opening ourselves to legitimate questions among readers about where the White House press corps gets its information.”

Baker said he has no problem with outlets like Huffington Post, which he described “an important part of the marketplace of ideas.” But the site, he said, has a mission “to produce pieces with strongly argued points of view” and that puts the Times — or other non-partisan news organizations — “in a position of relying on overtly ideological or opinionated organizations as our surrogate news gatherers.”

This new view “we don’t want competition!” makes a hell of a lot more sense from a self-interest perspective than the old critique, so congratulations on at least figuring that out.

Meanwhile, though, the idea that Peter Baker wants to draw the line about the sanctity of old-school reporting on the subject of the White House press pool mostly seems like a sign of arbitrary tradition triumphs over basic logic in the world of journalistic ethics. The point of the press pool, after all, is that it’s basically a mutually agreed upon plagiarism pact. It’s not feasible for all news organizations to get first-hand reports about the president’s activities. But they want to pretend that they can. So they come up with the idea of the “pool reporter” and then a convention that it’s okay to mislead the audience about what happens by writing up information drawn from pool reports as if it’s original reporting. Obviously if I were to treat the work of a New York Times reporter in that way, everyone would be outraged. But since the pool members have all agreed that it’s okay, everyone plays along, even though there’d be nothing stopping anyone from writing accurate stories that say things like “according to pool reporter so-and-so, such-and-such happened.”

Instead, though, we’re worried that Christina Bellantoni and Sam Stein will pollute the integrity of the pool.