It has long been considered unethical for mainstream news organizations to engage in check book journalism, as the payments taint the sources’ veracity or color the news outlet’s objectivity in reporting the story.
The two six-figure deals in a week signal a more aggressive approach to securing ratings-grabbing exclusives by Deborah Turness, NBC News’s new president. Turness joined the network in August from ITV News, Britain’s leading commercial TV network.
NBC News has been under pressure to restore the ratings dominance of the “Today” show, which has fallen behind its ABC rival, “Good Morning America,” in the lucrative morning-news period. The two programs compete all of the time for footage and interviews. After the two networks were criticized for getting into a bidding war for stories, ABC banned the practice of paying for interviews
ABC News said told The Washington Post that it was involved in the bidding for the video, but it pulled out “as soon as it became clear that these interviews were tied directly to cash payments,” spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said. Paying for interviews “is a clear violation of our standards and ethics. We wanted to bid solely for the rights to the footage.”
The fact that the sky-diving story and the compelling helmet camera video happened during November sweeps made it even more valuable. The ratings during November are used by local stations to set advertising rates for the Christmas shopping season.
If NBC sees a big increase in ratings because it is writing six figure checks for video and interviews, how long before people start manufacturing the news for a paycheck? It is not the far-fetched. Just wait and see.