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Access journalism refers to the kind of journalism (often in interview form) done in exchange for access—meaning media time with important, rich, famous, powerful or otherwise influential people in politics, culture, sports, and other areas, or celebrities in general—is prioritized over journalistic objectivity.
Typical features of access journalism include:
- absence of demanding accountability towards the questioned respondent
- avoiding controversial topics so as to maintain access to the respondent
- pre-approved questions, no gotcha questions, softball questions
- sometimes even respondent's control over how the interview will be edited and which parts will be aired
Access journalism, in some cases, is similar to infomercials, or advertising disguised as news. The venture of doing the interview can be symbiotic–beneficial for both the journalist and the celebrity, since it can synergically bring more attention to both of them, and further notability, influence, media exposure, current relevance, etc. for both of them.
Access journalism has its critics (e.g. Cenk Uygur, Jimmy Dore, Kyle Kulinski) who point out that trying to be friends with important figures for access betrays the original and fundamental role of journalism. Uygur criticised several times the reluctancy of the mainstream media reporters in press conferences to fact-check and challenge a government official on their bias or straight-up propaganda for the reprisal of not being invited to the press conference again. The practice was mentioned tangentially in the Outfoxed documentary, which pointed out that the most recognized journalists of the flagship programs of the mainstream media, over the time, themselves become celebrities and occasionally mingle with other celebrities, including political ones, on cocktail parties, fancy dinners, banquets, etc. and create the kind of relationship that they, as journalists, should not have. One of the most recent examples of access journalism, in conjunction of gaining views and attention, was the attempt of the media to get access and media time with Donald Trump, during the 2016 presidential cycle. His media attractiveness resulted in free media time, worth (according to estimates) between 2 and 5 billion USD. At the height of the run, some media outlets were calling Trump daily without specific issues to ask him about, just to get his voice on air and eyeballs of curious Americans in the process.