NBC News scored scoops when its reporters conducted the first and only TV interviews with Brett Anderson and his daughter, Hannah, the California teenager who was abducted and whose mother and brother were murdered. In TV parlance, the Andersons were big “gets,” says the Washington Post The interviews on the “Today” show, “Nightly News” and “Dateline NBC” were hailed by NBC News's new boss, Deborah Turness, as “a major coup.” Now NBC News plans to take its relationship with the Andersons a step further — into potentially questionable ethical territory.
The network is in negotiations with the Andersons to produce “long-form” programming about Hannah Anderson's abduction in August by a family friend, James Lee DiMaggio Jr. Sources say the Andersons could receive more than $100,000 for their cooperation in the making of a documentary or some other nonfiction program. The would-be deal raises an age-old question: Is it ethical for news organizations to pay the people they cover? “You don't want to give your sources a motivation to distort the truth, and paying them could do that,” said Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute. Readers or viewers might doubt a story's credibility if they knew a key source had accepted money to be a part of it. Most mainstream news organizations prohibit what is derided in the profession as “checkbook journalism,” but which is practiced by such outlets as the National Enquirer, TMZ.com and Gawker.com.