Buying the News


It appears that during the rating book, NBC has no problem opening up the checkbook to buy a good story. 

The Washington Post says that in a second episode of apparent “checkbook journalism” in a week, NBC News has locked up exclusive interviews and amateur footage of an aerial accident with a six-figure fee to a group of sky divers who survived the collision of their two small planes.

NBC’s news division has agreed to compensate the nine sky divers and two pilots who were involved in the accident for an appearance on Tuesday’s “Today” show, a story on “NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams” and a one-hour “Dateline NBC” special.

The deal involves TV interviews and footage of the stricken planes taken by some of the sky divers’ helmet cameras, according to Mike Robinson, a sky-diving instructor who was involved in the incident near Lake Superior in northwest Wisconsin.

“NBC has the exclusive right,” Robinson said. “We can do print and radio interviews, but no TV interviews [other than for NBC] for two weeks. That’s the agreement.”

Individuals with the network said the group will receive in excess of $100,000 for their participation. NBC would not confirm that figure, but the network said it paid only for use of the video. NBC said other news organizations were also bidding for the material.

Mainstream news organizations typically frown on paying sources, lest the payments taint the sources’ veracity or color the news outlet’s objectivity in reporting the story. Although some news organizations, such as the National Enquirer and, pay for news, checkbook journalism is considered unethical by the Society of Professional Journalists and other professional news organizations.

NBC News’s agreement with the sky divers follows last week’s disclosure that the news division is negotiating an exclusive documentary deal, reportedly for more than $100,000, with the family of Hannah Anderson, the teenage girl who was kidnapped this summer by a family friend who had murdered her mother and brother.

Anderson, who survived her ordeal, already has appeared on the “Today” show and “Dateline NBC” in a series of exclusive interviews with the network.

The two deals signal a more aggressive approach to securing ratings-grabbing exclusives by Deborah Turness, NBC News’s new president. Turness joined the network in August from ITV News, Britain’s leading commercial TV network.