ABC Reporters Promise To Stop Paying For Interviews (Unless They Feel Like It)

Illustration for article titled ABC Reporters Promise To Stop Paying For Interviews (Unless They Feel Like It)

The bosses at ABC News have made the noble decision to stop paying news subjects for stories. Though they never actually paid for interviews, just photo licensing rights. And they still may pay licensing fees in an "extraordinary circumstance." Well, at least they've decided to stay classy by instituting the new policy with "no public announcement or fanfare" — except for the self-congratulatory comments made to The Daily Beast.

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ABC's declaration is a bit confusing because for years American news organizations have been practicing "checkbook journalism" while indignantly declaring that they'd never stoop to paying for a story. While the practice of paying sources is accepted in some other countries, in the U.S. major news outlets don't write checks for interviews, but they do shell out thousands of dollars for photo and video rights.

Today Howard Kurtz reports that ABC News has "quietly" decided to stop paying for exclusive interviews. This is a response to recent reports that the outlet paid "Botox Mom" more than $10,000 for photos, gave another woman $10,000 to $15,000 for Anthony Weiner sexting pic, and paid Casey Anthony $200,000 for "licensing" before she was charged with killing her daughter. From now on ABC News will no longer be participating in the network bidding wars over big-name interviewees. A spokesman says they aren't worried:

"We can book just about anyone based on the strength of our journalism, the excellence of our anchors, correspondents, and producers, and the size of our audience. These licensing deals had become a crutch, and an unnecessary one."

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They're particularly unfazed because the new policy isn't binding. According to sources, they anticipate that every few years or so, the higher ups will agree to pay for an O.J. Simpson-confession-level story. (Though as we understand it, Oprah is prepared to fistfight anyone who tries to steal that interview.)

To ABC's credit, it's the only network that's making any effort to get out of the photo licensing game. ABC executives are right to recognize that paying sources is hurting their credibility, as some were questioning how much the network paid for its interview with DSK accuser Nafissatou Diallo. (Supposedly no money changed hands.) But since we still won't know for sure which "gets" ABC News pays for, it's hard to get that excited about their sudden decision to be scrupulous.

ABC Bans Paying News Subjects [Daily Beast]

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DISCUSSION

arischwartz
Ari Schwartz: Dark Lord of the Snark

This is actually a subject near and dear to my heart. I used to be a TV news producer for a major multinational new outfit (not American). The closest we ever got to "paying" for interviews was giving people a small token of gratitude after the interview (something of nominal value, maybe $20), or treating them to a meal. That was it. Anything else was verboten.

On the other hand, we often missed interviews because we lacked the strength of name to draw interviewees that American networks had. Not to mention that we didn't pay them money.

I sort of shrug my shoulders at these stories because it was a badly kept secret when I was in the journalism game. Everyone knew that the alphabet soups did these things, but nobody really said anything because we would use their footage later ourselves anyway.

Look, the fact of the matter is that almost nobody wants to do an interview on camera. It's time consuming, it's hot, the reporters are annoying, and you get almost nothing out of it. Some people do it to have their five minutes, but even those folks quickly tire of it all. It's hard to get interviews, and you don't want to be the only network who doesn't have something to show when the news comes on.

The fact of the matter is that news is a business, and someone at ABC in the past said, "paying for interviews = more money in revenue in the future." Now someone has decided otherwise. That's probably mostly all there is to it.