100 articles – ‘Paying for news? it’s nothing new’

12 September 2011

Written by: Lawrie Zion

‘ Paying for News? It’s Nothing New‘ by Jeremy W. Peters

The news industry has an insatiable appetite for exclusive stories.  This culture has fostered the questionable practice of ‘paying for news’, otherwise known as chequebook journalism.

Chequebook journalism has been around for a long time.  In 1912, following the sinking of the Titanic, media organisations offered survivors payment in exchange for exclusive interviews.

But does paying for news bring the profession of journalism into disrepute?  And what about those who receive the cheques – should they benefit?

Jeremy W. Peters published this article in The New York Times soon after the Murdoch phone hacking scandal made headlines.

Peters points out that chequebook journalism is ‘far from existing at the periphery’ with large payments having made their way into the pockets of former US presidents, including Richard Nixon who was paid $600,000 for his interviews with David Frost

The practice of paying politicians is still around today. Many major networks in the US have exclusive consulting arrangements with prominent politicians.

With the recent Murdoch phone hacking scandal highlighting the media practice of paying police for information, the public is losing its tolerance for paid stories.

But the ‘issue of paying for news is rarely black and white’.  Many important stories that are in the public interest would go untold if there wasn’t a monetary incentive.  Conversely, paying criminal suspects for their stories is unacceptable because they may benefit indirectly through subsidizing their legal fees or profiteering from their crimes.

Kate Scarff is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student at La Trobe University and is part of upstart‘s editorial team.  You can follow her on Twitter: @katescarff

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