'Obsolete' White House correspondents to hold irrelevant event

The White House Correspondents Association will hold their annual dinner tonight amid what Politico is calling "an existential crisis" about their relevance in the media.

The dinner, Washington's premier social event of the year, brings together celebrities, politicians, and lobbyists in an orgy of self-congratulation and political zingers. 

But is being a White House correspondent no longer the pinnacle of a journalism career?  Politico thinks so:

Beyond the red carpet and cocktail tents, the White House press corps that will gather for its celebrity-filled annual dinner Saturday is an institution in crisis.

Over the last six years, a confluence of forces have eroded the foundation of the relationship between the White House and the reporters who cover it most regularly. Financial pressures have reduced the number of news organizations committed to daily coverage of the White House and to participating in its cycle of pools, briefings and trips on Air Force One. And technologies including Twitter, YouTube and livestreaming of events mean the White House can communicate directly with the public without going through the traditional media that still dominates the Brady Briefing Room.

In fact, through Twitter and its whitehouse.gov website, the White House already operates something akin to its own news agency, and the president gives much more face time to niche media outlets such as MTV, Telemundo and BuzzFeed than to the reporters who camp out in the West Wing day after day.

Now, even as they prepare to celebrate the relationship between the president and the media at the White House Correspondents’ Association annual dinner, some journalists are wondering if, without some fundamental changes, the White House press corps will become obsolete.

Gone are the days where a reporter would stand and challenge a president in one of the frequent Presidential Press Conferences.  Today, reporters sit and listen while White House spokesman spin the news to the advantage of the president.  Few reporters challenge the press flack, knowing that what little access they have would be cut off.

The changes have been staggering:

According to presidential scholar Martha Joynt Kumar, Obama sat for 872 media interviews through the end of January – more than double the 415 interviews that both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush gave during their full two terms. However, the vast majority were to outlets outside the Beltway who serve specific audiences and who tend to ask predictable questions welcomed by the White House. And they include interviews with people who don’t really qualify as journalists, such as comedian Zach Galifnakis and a woman named Glozell known for wearing green lipstick and bathing in cereal on her YouTube show.

The main White House press corps rarely gets such access; In a POLITICO Magazine survey, 80 percent of current press corps members said they had never taken part in a one-on-one with the president. One in six said he or she hadn’t interviewed anyone in the administration who wasn’t on the press office staff in the previous week.

We celebrate the diversity of media who are reporting on what the president is doing, but those with the closest access to what the president is thinking and planning are shut out.  It's a double-edged sword that no White House will want to change, given the huge advantage in PR they enjoy by bypassing traditional media and speaking directly to their core supporters. 

White House correspondents have become little more than telegraphers dutifully reporting mostly what the White House wants them to.  They live on handouts and talking points.  Few challenge the way things are, preferring the comfort of banality.  If the White House press corps become obsolete, they only have themselves to blame.