Monday, August 8, 2011

Analysis: Paying For News Is Nothing New

From Jeremy W.  Peters, media writer at nytimes.com
Harold Bride aided off ship
In April 1912, the surviving operator of the Titanic’s wireless communications system was paid a handsome sum for his account of narrowly escaping death aboard the sinking ship.  

It will probably surprise some journalistic purists to learn that the news outlet that forked over $1,000 for Harold Bride’s harrowing tale — multiple times his annual salary — was not some sensationalist purveyor of yellow journalism,  but The New York Times.

Evolving standards or no, checkbook journalism has been a persistent and problematic feature of news coverage at even the most powerful and reputable news organizations, long predating the hyper-competitive 24-hour cable news cycle and the celebrity gossip boom.

And the issue is not likely to disappear anytime soon, even with ABC News’s contrite acknowledgment last month that to protect its reputation, it would have to cut back on the kinds of payments that have helped the network score a string of major exclusives in recent years. In Britain, public tolerance seems to have reached its limit with revelations that journalists working for Rupert Murdoch’s recently closed News of the World routinely paid the police for information as well as hacked the phones of crime victims.

Far from existing at the periphery of journalism and society, the payments have reached the highest levels of politics. Newsmakers who have been cut large checks over the years include not just players in courtroom melodramas like the Casey Anthony and O. J. Simpson trials, but former presidents.
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