Is it OK for New York Times to sell vacation packages, with journalists coming along too?

The New York Times building at 620 Eighth Avenue in New York.
The New York Times building at 620 Eighth Avenue in New York. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (WP) - It is a trip around the world in 26 days, with stops in nine countries.

Just 50 people will join this guided tour next year via a private Boeing 757.

The price: US$135,000 (S$187,000) per person.

They will be accompanied on various legs by journalists from the New York Times.

The newspaper is organising and promoting the package.

Among those scheduled to join are Times' Washington bureau chief Elisabeth Bumiller, op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof and publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

The super-luxe journey and other Times-sponsored travel packages are a lucrative source of income for the paper at a time when news organisations are under financial pressure.

The round-the-world trip - which could gross as much as US$6.7 million - is part of a range of products and services designed to "monetise" the Times' brand name.

Other news organisations, including The Washington Post, which sells T-shirts and other merchandise, engage in the practice.

But the Times' trips raise a question about ethics and access: Is the Times effectively selling its journalists to private interests? Could, for example, corporate lobbyists or political operatives sign on and seek to influence the Times' coverage?

In 2009, The Washington Post aborted an effort to produce "salons", or small private dinners, that would bring together its top editors and publisher with government officials and industry lobbyists.

The off-the-record dinners were to be sponsored by individuals or corporations willing to pay from US$25,000 to US$250,000.

Media reports about the plans triggered a public outcry.

Critics said the paper was violating its own principles by peddling its journalists to vested interests and cutting its readers out of the dinner party.