Describe or depict a media person or organization making what you consider to be an unethical decision. Then, describe it from their perspective. How might they sincerely justify it in their own minds?
This was a tough one to tackle. I already critiqued the roles of social media and reader responsibility in terms of news, so this time I thought it better to look into the unethical acts of organizations.
Checkbook journalism is a breech of ethics I think needs more criticism.
Australia’s two major networks, Seven and Nine, are offering six-figure payments to the hostages of the Sydney siege that happened a year ago, according to Peter Manning’s Op-Ed piece for The Guardian.
“One such recruit is Marcia Mikhail – the woman who was caught live on Seven cameras being carried out from the café with shrapnel wounds to her legs. She has reportedly signed up for $350,000,” states Manning’s article.
Clearly, this is a competition for ratings and a depressing return to yellow journalism, in a way that is less obvious than click-bait headlines.
But checkbook journalism isn’t new by any stretch, and it definitely occurs within the United States.
ABC News was busted in 2011 for paying Casey Anthony $215,000 for exclusive coverage rights, according to the Society of Professional Journalists.
In the same report, it was revealed that ABC paid $15,000 for a photo of a Florida-native snake to Roy Kronk, the man who found the body of Caylee Anthony.
“Roy Kronk told the jury he knew the reason for the payment.
‘I was paid for a licensed picture of a snake, but I knew there would probably be an interview involved,’ he said,” SPJ reported.
This violates one of the basic ethical codes for journalists: avoid conflict of interest, real or perceived.
“Checkbook journalism, the practice of obtaining exclusive interviews by the roundabout method of licensing photos and videos, violates the SPJ Code of Ethics, which advises journalists to ‘act independently.’ That includes being ‘wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.’ Read the full SPJ Code of Ethics,” stated the SPJ.
So what motivates organizations like Australia’s Seven and Nine or New York’s ABC News to spit all over one of the most important journalistic codes of ethical integrity? The answer is simple and obvious: money. Ratings equals profit. Without it the networks would probably fail, or so they think.
So how do we ethical journalists fight it?
I think Jello Biafra said it best, “Don’t hate the media, become the media.”
And that’s exactly what I intend to do.