Wick Communications

Should we buy information?

In Ethics on 11 Sep 2014 at 9:55 pm


Perhaps that is a moot point. I can’t afford to buy any information anyway. But should I, would I, if I could?

This week the news was dominated by an act of domestic violence that occurred in the elevator of an Atlantic City, N.J., hotel. That is so even though the week included the anniversary of 9/11 and a presidential speech warning of imminent conflict with a shadowy terrorist organization that has beheaded an American. The reason the Ray Rice saga has captured and shocked the American conscience is because a no-holds-barred media organization purchased video of the elevator incident and then blast it across the Internet. It isn’t big news because it happened. Sadly, domestic violence is an everyday thing. It should shock us every time, but it doesn’t. It’s news this time because we can see it. In fact, we can’t escape it.

Mainstream media organizations didn’t get their hands on that video. The NFL and Rice’s team say they did not get the video either, though at this writing that appears a dubious claim. If they didn’t see the video before the rest of us, that is because they don’t choose to pay sources for information.

So. Is that a mistake? Should we pay for information like this? …

I don’t think we should and here’s why: With apologies to the victim, our long-term credibility is more important than any one scoop.

Later in the week, the Associated Press reported that its reporter heard a voicemail from an NFL employee who acknowledged receiving the video from a law enforcement source. That is a little convoluted and involves two unnamed sources. I trust the AP to vet a report like that precisely because it does not resort to the kinds of tactics common on websites that pay for information. Would you believe TMZ about anything if it said it had a couple of unnamed sources?

To my mind, paying sources is sort of like torturing suspects. Sometimes people will tell you what you want to hear rather than the unvarnished truth. That’s no bargain.


  1. Clay, not sure I agree with you totally on this. It seems to me there IS a difference between paying a source to tell her/his story and paying somebody to give you (forgive the term in the context of the Ray Rice story) graphic evidence.

    If a freelancer showed up with a photo or video of an a newsworthy traffic accident or a politician saying something particularly impolitic, paying that person a fee wouldn’t seem way out of bounds. So, it then we would need to start thinking about how large a payment is troubling and, I think, the reputation of the news organization overall.

    Slippery slope? Sure can be.
    Easy choice? I am not so sure.

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