Increasingly, Media Organizations Break ‘Thou Shalt Not Pay’ Rule


Led by Websites, more and more media organizations are following the tradition of supermarket tabloids like the National Enquirer in paying sources for information, reports the Washington Post. The paper cited the heightened competition for the next big “get.” News and gossip Websites that paid for information have broken some of the biggest and most sensational recent stories. TV news divisions have joined in, spurring an arms race to buy big stories. For example, the website acknowledged it paid $4,000 for a sexy story about unsuccessful Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell of Delaware, and paid about $12,000 for another sex-themed story about Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre.

Mainstream news organizations have long been reluctant to pay for information for a few simple reasons. One is practical: Paying for stories can get expensive. The other, more important consideration is the perception that paying sources poisons the credibility of both the source and the news organization. “When you pay for a story, you’re making a contract with the person who supplies it and that means you’re no longer acting independently,” says Hagit Limor, the president of the Society of Professional Journalists, which prohibits the practice in its code of ethics. “People will say anything in pursuit of money. The public should assume you’re reporting something because it’s true, not because someone received money to say it.”

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