The Washington Business Journal produces frequent scoops on the doings of D.C. tycoons. From the granular brand of biz reporting—-for example, a new restaurant opening east of the river—-to tax policy and other big-ticket matters that come before the D.C. Council, few stories on local money slip through the Journal’s reportorial net.
The paper’s source base, too, is only getting deeper. Late last year, Journal Publisher Alex Orfinger became chairman-elect of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, a status he’ll hold until this December, when the “elect” part drops from his title. In that capacity, he will help divvy up the chamber’s $3.5 million budget and influence the group’s lobbying priorities, among other matters that his publication will be quite interested in.
Good thing there’s an open channel of communication between Orfinger and Jonathan O’Connell, who covers D.C. biz for the Journal. “Alex will sometimes kick us information about things, like what the members are talking about,” says O’Connell.
Says Journal Editor Mike Mills: “We don’t have any kind of rules on what he should or shouldn’t tell us. We’re going to try to get information from any source.”
The downside to having your publisher in bed with the Chamber of Commerce, of course, is that your readers might think you’re in bed with the Chamber of Commerce. No worries there, says O’Connell, who points to a story he wrote earlier this year on the biz lobby. It started with this elbow: “D.C. businesses groups bellyached for months about how the Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act would cut into bottom lines and prevent growth, but now that the idea is official, how much of a problem will it be?”
Orfinger, too, swears that his side job won’t tilt the Journal. “Our first and absolute priority is to provide good information on what is happening with businesses in the city and the region, to provide fair, objective, and accurate information,” he says.
It’s just that the information will often have to come with a full disclosure or 200. A story in the current issue, for example, discusses how aides to Mayor Adrian Fenty protested in front of the chamber’s offices. It contained this (rather strange) qualifier: “(Washington Business Journal Publisher Alex Orfinger, chair-elect of the chamber, was not involved in the matter.)”
Say what? “We were just trying to point out that that story didn’t come from Alex,” says O’Connell. Journal people say that they’ll exercise similar transparency if the story does indeed come from their publisher.
Whatever the case, Orfinger’s straddling routine may well distinguish the Journal as among the most prolific publishers of disclosure parentheticals in all of journalism. O’Connell estimates the paper publishes about three pieces per month that mention the chamber in one way or another. And the disclosures will have to keep running for quite some time: Orfinger will step down as chair in December 2009, at which point he’ll become a former chair.