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Julie Moos, director of Poynter Online and Poynter Publications, argued that paying sources under the guise of “licensing fees” is “a false claim to journalistic integrity” in a June 9 column on checkbook journalism.

Media organizations give payments called “licensing fees” to freelancers, reporters and witnesses for information such as photos or cell phone records, Moos explained. However, Moos pointed out that broadcast news organizations also give payments to sources in the same form of “licensing fees,” which is less legitimate than paying third-party freelancers.

Paying sources for information undermines the credibility of a story, since sources could be compelled to exaggerate their story or lie, according to Moos. She advised that media outlets stop paying sources and instead pay fees only to “information providers who are not involved in the story.” When the media does decide to pay a source, she said, they should fully disclose the details of the payment, she wrote.

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ABC News’ “licensing” fee to Meagan Broussard, one of the women who has admitted to carrying on a “sexually-charged electronic relationship” with Rep. Anthony Weiner, is just one recent example of checkbook journalism, according to Moos.

Another recent high-profile example of media licensing came with the story of the “Botox Mom” (also known as Sheena Upton or Kerry Campbell),  who has claimed she was paid $200 by the UK Sun to act out a fake story, a claim The Sun denies.  ABC News confirmed that it also had a $10,000 contract with a U.K. “booker” to license photos of Upton/Campbell and her daughter.

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Poynter’s Julie Moos: “Checkbook journalism” makes media less credible

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