Jan 15

Access for Sale?

I’ve left a couple of emails from Crain’s Detroit Business hang around in my in-box for the past few weeks because I have not known quite what to do with them.

The storied Detroit business weekly is ditching its traditional subscription model as “too transactional, too distant” in favor of a membership model that promises “more value” and the opportunity to be a “true partner in Crain’s.”

Subscribers like me start at the “Classic” level and are encouraged to choose the membership level that’s right for us. Spending $3.25 per week gets us a subscription to the publication, newsletters, the opportunity to participate in members-only webinars and discounts on all editorial events.

Popping up to $24.98 per week would give me bigger discounts, access to Crain’s lists, data and sister publications, tip sheets from editors, VIP event passes and the heart-stopping promise of “Direct Access to Crain’s Newsroom Reporters, Editors & Publisher.”

Smells like access for sale to me.

My supposition is confirmed when a quick check of the Membership FAQs spells it out even more plainly: “Just sign up for a Premier Membership and you’ll automatically be enrolled in our exclusive newsroom sessions that will give you access to our journalists so you can better understand how they do their jobs and pitch them directly.”

Pitch. Them. Directly.

Ron, say it isn’t so!

To be fair, the FAQs hasten to point out that Crain’s offers no coverage guarantees, noting that “part of our value is our independence.” But I would argue that including the promise of access as a membership perk shreds any last semblance of journalistic independence.

Perhaps this shattering is long overdue. Perhaps the notion of journalistic independence has been a chimera all along. Certainly the rise of award programs and sponsored content to supplement dwindling ad revenue were twin bellwethers.

But having cut my journalistic teeth watching Woodward and Bernstein bring down a president, I knew the power of the press. I admired the men and women who used their typewriters to expose and then correct all manner of social wrongs. And I sought out journalism because I believed in its power to transform.

Even though I crossed the divide into public relations nearly two decades ago, I’ve remained a strong supporter of free, fair and independent media. We can’t function effectively as a democracy without the fourth estate.

So that’s why these Crain’s emails have been gnawing at me. To be fair, it’s not just the east side of the state. Last fall, I was surprised to stumble across the smiling mug of a West Michigan publisher on the website of a communications firm listing him as a “strategic partner.”

Perhaps this blurring of lines, this equating newsworthiness with clicks, this monthly auto-pay for access is the next evolutionary step for journalists. Perhaps I should say yes to the Premier membership and explore the benefits of “exclusive newsroom sessions” for our clients.

Perhaps I will – but just not today.


3 thoughts on “Access for Sale?”

  1. Greg Chandler says:

    Mary Ann, I’m very saddened by what has happened to the field of journalism. When your measuring stick as a journalist is how many clicks you got on a story, there’s not a lot of incentive (other than personal/professional pride, to be sure) to do quality work. I still can’t get over MLive’s story of the year (based on number of clicks) a couple of years ago being Ginger Zee’s wedding. That was a sure sign to me that quality journalism in West Michigan is, if not dead, barely registering a pulse. Reading about having to pay for access to Crain’s journalists just makes my skin crawl.

    1. Brian Jon Greenleaf says:

      Greg, Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. This has indeed become an increasingly slippery slope. — Mary Ann

  2. Mary Angelo says:

    Frank and Andy Angelo just rolled over in their graves.

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