Maybe News Outlets Should Be Paying For Interviews
NBC News is disputing a report that the network is paying Paris Hilton for her first interview after she is released from jail. There are conflicting reports in the press, with the New York Times reporting that NBC outbid ABC's $100,000 offer and the Washington Post suggesting that "a mega-payment [from NBC to Hilton] might go toward personal video and images of the celebrity party girl." That would be one method for getting around the criticism that you're "paying" for the interview that still allows you to, you know, pay for it. There are plenty more.
Newspapers today are filled with tales of network tactics for convincing interviewees to speak to them that don't involve showing up at their door with a bag of cash emblazoned with a dollar sign. From the Post:
"Today" aired a Matt Lauer interview this week with Britain's Princes Harry and William that happened to take place after NBC's entertainment division agreed to pay more than $2 million for a July tribute concert marking the 10th anniversary of the death of their mother, Princess Diana.The Los Angeles Times, calling checkbook journalism a "badly kept secret in the industry," notes that networks can offer "free hotel rooms and entertainment while interview subjects are in New York, payment for the 'licensing' of home videos and photos to illustrate the story, and other incentives, according to industry veterans. If the costs are too egregious, often the project is shifted to a network's entertainment division, which can pay subjects through production contracts."
In 2003, CBS's "60 Minutes" scored an interview with Michael Jackson right after the network's entertainment division agreed to air a music special featuring the singer, who was then charged with child molestation. CBS also dangled the possibility of movie and book deals when its news division was pursuing an interview with Jessica Lynch, the soldier who was rescued in Iraq.
In light of all this, it seems to me that the time has come for networks to simply end the charade. Why don't they just pay for these interviews and then disclose that they've done so to their audience? Wouldn't that ultimately be more journalistically honest – and even, on this skewed scale, more ethical? I'm not suggesting this approach for interviews with serious newsmakers, where there should never be payment made, de facto or otherwise. But when you're dealing with a subject like Paris Hilton – who isn't exactly Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – perhaps the time has come to start leveling with the audience.