Those wishing to contact the editorial staff of Pacific Business News (PBN–a Honolulu-based weekly covering all things business in the state of Hawaii) apparently have two options. They can call or email the paper’s reporters, editors or publisher for free, of course. This is the most traditional method of attracting a journalist’s attention.
Or they can do something novel: On the night of Thursday, Nov. 3, anyone can pony up $35 and shmooze the entire PBN editorial staff at Honolulu’s Plaza Club.
“PBN is proud to present Pau Hana with their own Editorial team!” reads an advertisement sent out a few days ago (and received by MauiTime Publisher Tommy Russo). “Another great networking opportunity brought to you by your friends at Pacific Business News. Guests will include community leaders, members of the PBN staff, plus our sponsors.”
The ad includes photos of the “entire” PBN editorial staff, from Publisher Mary Beth Lohman all the way to Researcher Lucy Tuitupou, as well as every reporter and editor in between. The two-hour Pau Hana’s $35 admission price also includes “pupu, 2 drink tickets, live music entertainment, [a] raffle ticket for door prize and free parking.”
Lohman described the event, which is part of a series of events put on by American City Business Journals–PBN’s parent company–as “really innocent.” “It’s not really anything tricky,” Lohman said in an Oct. 31 phone conversation. “We’ve done these before. It’s not anything other than a networking opportunity. It gives people an opportunity to see [the editorial staff’s] faces. The average person out there doesn’t get a chance to meet the publisher or the editor.”
Lohman added that the event is considered “off the record,” though she added that reporters who did hear of interesting story lines from attendees were free to follow up with them as they saw fit.
Of course, the idea of paying any amount of money to talk to a reporter is anathema to many in journalism. Unlicensed and unapproved by government, reporters are citizens first and foremost, available as freely and as often as possible to members of the public.
Indeed, PBN’s Pau Hana is reminiscent of the “salon” The Washington Post tried to organize back in 2009 that many journalism watchers denounced as “pay to pitch.” That event, which was ultimately cancelled due to extremely bad publicity, would have involved lobbyists paying as much as $250,000 to talk off-the-record with Post reporters at Publisher Katharine Weymouth’s home.
And while University of Hawaii Journalism Professor Gerald Kato doesn’t think the PBN Pau Hana is as egregious as the Washington Post “pay to pitch” salon, he does find the event curious.
“It’s probably not up to the level of the Washington Post offering lobbyists and others access to its reporters at off-the-record ‘salon’ gatherings, but PBN is offering up its staff for PR pitches from the business community they cover,” Kato emailed on Oct. 26. “I guess to the extent that you have to pay to attend, you could describe it as ‘pay to pitch.’ Aside from pitching stories, I’m not sure why you would pay to go since you probably could have a nice chat with any of these nice reporters over the phone. Would anybody be willing to pay 35 bucks for two drinks and pupus and a nice chat with you and me because we’re nice people? Maybe that should be the test of whether it is a pau hana with the gang or, as you put it, ‘pay to pitch.’”