One of the biggest media stories at the moment is the trial of Oscar “Blade Runner” Pistorious in South Africa. The Olympic/Paralympic is accused of shooting his girlfriend to death because he thought she was a robber.
All media has clamored over this story, but especially digital media because it’s a “get the news first” type of case. NBC News scored an exclusive interview with the girlfriend’s mother that no one else was able to get, and it was revealed yesterday that NBC News paid for the interview. In this classic case of checkbook journalism, NBC News paid $100,000 for the interview. Checkbook journalism has always been an ethical issue because, by paying for a source, it blurs the accuracy of what they say.
In digital media, checkbook journalism threatens to become prominent because people who run digital sites and news will do anything to get the news first. TMZ does it often. Last year, Gawker paid $200,000 for footage of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking cocaine. Yes, it was news, but was it right for Gawker, a news website, to pay for it?
Through my research of “checkbook journalism,” focusing on the NBC News case, I will examine:
- Is checkbook journalism appropriate? Could NBC have run the story without that interview from the girlfriend’s mother?
- Is this the way exclusives will be conducted in the future? Can the public trust journalism if it’s paid for?
- Is it important to consider what other sources were available?
- Is there ever a case where it’s okay to use checkbook journalism?