My post from the other day about the Oscar-nominated movie "The Post," and the dangers of journalists "trying to force events into the Pentagon Papers-Watergate-Washington Post narrative in cases when the actual true narrative is something quite different," prompted a comment from reader-watchdog-community member-content co-creator Lyle, who got at the important matter of incentives: "pushing scandal into the Watergate mold is how reporters get famous," Lyle wrote, adding, "Woodward and Bernstein were just more or less anonymous reporters before the break in but got famous as a result of their work. Every reporter wants that and the big bucks that come from writing your book about the scandal."
That's exactly how the incentives work. It's hard to think of a journalist who ever got a book deal, or a television contract, or a Pulitzer Prize, or a raise, or a promotion, or a better job at another publication, by saying, "you know what, this story isn't really that big a deal, let's drop it."
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that Washington journalists are getting a piece of the Trump-era economic good times:
Other journalists — ironic, cynical or simply enterprising, depending on your point of view — have embraced the moment as the wildest ride of their lives, and a lucrative one, too: The number of Washington reporters with cable television contracts, some with salaries verging on six figures, has surged.
These contracts affect those who have them: if you have a "verging on six figures" contract with CNN or MSNBC or Fox News in addition to your main job as a journalist, you may be economically comfortable enough that the economic concerns of, say, out-of-work factory workers or miners in West Virginia or Pennsylvania are remote. And you may be less sympathetic to President Trump's attacks on CNN or "Morning Joe" or Megyn Kelly. But — and here is an under-appreciated thing — the "lucrative" cable contracts also affect those print or web journalists who don't have them, because those journalists don't want to do anything that would mess up their chances of getting such a contract, and do want to do things that would increase their chances of getting one.
Since the Times raised the topic, a fun follow-up story or multimedia feature might be a list of these reporters, along with the networks that are paying them and the amounts of the payments. I bet it would get a lot of clicks, though it's the sort of thing that journalists — who usually are all for transparency — would certainly prefer not to have publicly disclosed.