Monday, September 21, 2015

Jimmy Watkins

Show Me The Money: A Realistic Point Of View Of Bribed Sources in A High Pressure Environment
In a song called “If I had," the great Marshall Mathers once said, “What is money?  Money is what makes a man act funny. Money is the root of all evil.  Money'll make them same friends come back around, swearing that they was always down.”

     What does arguably the greatest emcee of all time have to do with journalism ethics?  That’s a fair question.  Allow me to clarify.   

Ryan Chittum’s article, “Checkbook Journalism’s Slippery Slope” in the “Colombia Journalism Review” discusses how a news outlet in the U.K has been basically paying its sources for information left and right.  The tone of the article suggests that Chittum is rather displeased with the way that the news outlet goes about it’s business, and with the owner of the outlet, who has been breaking Journalism’s rules for years it seems.  

I’m pretty sure that most people who think of themselves as being associated with the term: journalist, would find the practice of paying sources for information to be an outrage.  I mean, yeah, they write neat feature stories and they have their opinions on things.  But, in essence, what makes a good reporter a good reporter is their relationships with their sources, and their ability to get information from those sources (and sometimes information that those sources would normally never want to give).  It’s the most important part of the job.  No matter how good of a writer you are, or how well you know AP style, or whatever, if you can’t get the information, then the people won’t trust you.  If the people can’t trust you, why would they read your work? 

    The journalism world is a non-stop competition for information, readers, clicks, etc.  Every writer is competing for people’s attention with all the other writers in the world who think their piece is going to stand out from the rest.  In an environment that naturally has so much competition, there is bound to be pressure.  Pressure from editors to produce better content than the competing publications, pressure from the looming deadlines that are constantly hanging over a journalist’s head, and the pressure to get the “scoop.”  I will give an example relating this situation to the best thing I know how to relate anything to: sports.  The “scoop” in sports  would be an all star free agent mulling over his many offers to join new teams.  Whenever that player makes his decision, every reporter that covers that league would give their left arm to be the first media member to know about the decision.  So, is it really any surprise that people with the means to do so are paying people for information?  

Chittum acknowledges that the situation with “The Sun” would probably never happen in  the mainstream american media because of their emphasis on ethical principles, but, as Chittum also says, tabloid news outlets have no regrets about paying information, and tabloids dominate the UK.  I understand the outrage about the act, but people with money have been doing shady things with it for about as long as money has been around.
           (Image credits to Yahoo)
Money makes people do really irresponsible things.  If you don’t have very much of it, money is the most stress-causing subject for you to think about.  Pablo Escobar bribed Colombian officials, agents, and cops for years to literally do the opposite of their job.  They get paid to do a really important job.  They ensure the security of the citizens of their country.  Escobar offered them more money, and they completely ignored their duties.

     There are few things that people love more in this world than money, and making their jobs easier.  These are the two ends of the spectrum in the source bribing scandal in the UK.  On one hand, the sources who have clearly been told not to leak certain information will gladly disregard their bosses’ wishes if you can help them pay their rent every month or give you a little extra fun-ticket-with-the-family money.  On the other hand, you have journalists, who by ethical journalistic standards are already questionable at the least, they have the same deadline pressures as every other journalist in the world, and their information is far more important to them than the average beat reporter or white house correspondent.  In the tabloid world, if you can somewhat corroborate any kind of wild rumor about someone famous, you have yourself a major scoop to bring back to your editor who will surely sing your praises.  It’s front page stuff, and people will know your name.  So, if all you have to do is pay them to make your day, it is reasonable to expect that some people stoop down and pay for what they want.   As for the paying off of public officials and police and such go, that sounds like avoiding jumping through hoops to ask a question that you most likely won’t get a straight answer to anyway.  
Even though it is unethical, it’s not at all hard to figure out why these people are doing what they are doing.  They are paying fees to gain access to information they would never sniff at otherwise, they are paying to make their day to day lives a whole lot easier, and, ultimately, they are paying for the advancement of their careers.  One had to wonder aloud about if the average salary of American journalists wasn’t less than 50 thousand dollars, if there wouldn’t be a bit more source bribing in the american mainstream media. 


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