ABC News Changes Checkbook Journalism Policy...Sort of

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ABC News has paid at least $215,000 in licensing fees for stories about Casey Anthony, pictured above, who was found not guilty of murder in the death of her daughter, Caylee. (Credit: ABC News, screenshot)

ABC News will only pay licensing fees in rare instances, the Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz reported yesterday.  ABC News has been one of the more high-profile practitioners of “checkbook journalism,” with payments to Casey Anthony (that she used to help pay for her defense in the trial charging her with the 2008 murder of her daughter Caylee), and the former girlfriend of Joran Van Der Sloot.

As iMediaEthics has previously reported, the practice of paying licensing fees is often considered a thinly veiled guise for paying subjects for interviews.

Kurtz reported that ABC changed its rules on licensing fees “with no public announcement or fanfare” and that ABC News spokesperson Jeffrey Schneider described the licensing arrangement as “a crutch, and an unnecessary one.”

However, this change at ABC News isn’t “an absolute ban,” Kurtz noted, citing unnamed “network sources” who indicated licensing fees may just become more rare. They may also need “approval at the highest levels.”

The Atlantic Wire argued that “It’s tough to say what stories would be considered ‘an extraordinary circumstance,’ as it seems that the alleged change of policy at the network is more of a change of process. ”

ABC News’ use of checkbook journalism led to the network’s high-profile “gets” being tainted, Kurtz noted.

“Whenever ABC landed a high-level booking, questions were raised about whether money had changed hands. It happened again when ABC’s Robin Roberts interviewed the hotel maid in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case, a segment that aired on GMA Monday after the maid broke her silence with Newsweek on Sunday. But the network did not pay a dime for the sit-down with Nafissatou Diallo.”

According to Ad Week, an NBC News spokesperson commented on the ABC News change, stating:

“We agree that their recent activity has been bad for journalism and the news industry. And we welcome them back to the practices that we work hard to uphold.”

Ad Week cited an unnamed “ABC News insider” as criticizing NBC News for the comment, since NBC News has paid licensing fees as well.

The Society of Professional Journalists has criticized network news’ practice of checkbook journalism and has specifically called out ABC News’ payments to Casey Anthony and  the network’s failure to disclose said payments — twice in the past year and a half — in March 2010 and last month.

ABC News and NBC News reportedly both paid licensing fees to the some of the men trapped in a Chilean mine in Oct. 2010.

In May 2011, ABC News admitted it had agreed to pay $10,000 to Kerry Campbell/Sheena Upton, also known as Botox Mom.  After many weeks of claiming that she gave her 8-year-old daughter Botox injections, the woman, who has used both the names Kerry Campbell and Sheena Upton, claimed the story was all a hoax facilitated by a payment from UK newspaper the Sun — a claim the Sun denies.  ABC News had promised a “U.K. freelancer” $10,000 for photos to accompany the Botox mom story.

ABC News producer Chris Cuomo defended the practice of paying sources last month as well.  He approved a $10,000 to $15,000 payment to Meagan Broussard, one of the women engaging in an online relationship with former Rep. Anthony Weiner.  ABC News paid for photos that she sent Weiner — not photos of the former Congressman sent to her.

Last month, Roy Kronk, who found Caylee Anthony’s remains, revealed ABC News paid him $15,000 for a photo of a dead snake.  However, Kronk admitted he knew an exclusive interview went hand-in-hand with that photo licensing fee.

ABC News also secured the first interview with Jaycee Dugard this month. The network also paid “a six-figure sum for rights to home movies of Ms. Dugard” last year, the New York Times reported.

Hat Tip: Poynter

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ABC News Changes Checkbook Journalism Policy…Sort of

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