Prof. Jeff McCall '76 Decries 'Checkbook Journalism' in Newspaper Op-Ed
July 23, 2011
July 23, 2011, Greencastle, Ind. — "American broadcast television networks have taken delight in reporting about the unprofessional journalistic practices of the British tabloid newspaper, News of the World," writes Jeff McCall, professor of communication, in today's Indianapolis Star. "The actions of that 'newspaper' are, indeed, egregious. But while the network anchors harrumph about the poor standards at a tabloid already known for its seedy practices, some introspection is in order for their own professional deficiencies."
In an op-ed column, Dr. McCall asserts, "A growing concern that needs serious ethical scrutiny is 'checkbook journalism' at network television, the practice of news organizations paying sources for interviews. This practice has been frowned upon over the years, and for good reason. Paying sources suggests that the news is for sale. It disrupts the free flow of information that is essential in a democracy. Other news outlets get fenced out. Whatever information is gleaned from a paid interview can come off as tainted. Network executives try to cover up the practice by claiming they are paying for the licensing of photos or videos from a newsmaker, who then just happens to grant interviews after the sale. This sleight of hand doesn't fool anybody and should not clear the consciences of network producers."
The professor points out how money reportedly changed hands as newsgathering organizations covered the sensational cases of Casey Anthony and former U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner, among others. Network claims that paying for video or exclusives is now part of the way business is done doesn't fly with McCall, who states, "The everybody-else-is-doing-it argument doesn't work for middle-schoolers, and it isn't acceptable for network journalists."
The author of Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences notes, "The potential ethical damage of paying for interviews must now be on the minds of network reporters. On the recent (and ridiculous) nine-minute Today show interview of 'Octomom' Nadya Suleman and her many kids, NBC anchor Ann Curry specifically pointed out that Suleman was not being paid for the interview. No mention, however, was made about money being exchanged for videos, accommodations or anything else. ABC anchor Terry Moran sent out a Twitter message in advance of his interview with Juror No. 3 from the Anthony trial to deny that ABC was compensating the juror."
McCall concludes, "It is sad, indeed, that network news has entered a time when reporters feel compelled to indicate when sources are not being paid. It would be better if the reporters felt compelled to explain when the sources are, in fact, compensated, and how."
Access the complete essay at College News.org.
Jeffrey M. McCall, a 1976 graduate of DePauw, is frequently called upon by major media outlets to discuss media matters and has been quoted in more than 100 newspapers. Four days ago he was cited in a Los Angeles Times report on Charlie Sheen's attempt to return to television and was a source in an Indianapolis Star article this week examining a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on video games.Back