Paying for Information

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Recently, Nick Davies of The Guardian admitted to paying child prostitutes for information for one of his articles.

Davies claimed in a testimony before a U.K. Parlimentary committee, "I [paid them] for two reasons – first that I thought it was better for them to earn the money by talking to me than by allowing somebody to sexually abuse them; second that it seemed fair to them, if i was depriving them of ‘working time,’ that I should compensate them for their loss."

Even though Davies is writing on a very touchy topic is it ethical in any way to pay your sources for their time? If Davies hadn't paid the children to talk, would any of them spoken out to a reporter? Or would Davies's article consisted of facts, not first-hand stories, about the horrors of child prostitution?

A newspaper or reporter paying sources for information is known as checkbook journalism. According to the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the practice of checkbook journalism is unethical, wrong, and should not be used in any situation.


Mariah K. Young November 30, 2011 at 10:15 AM  

I think journalists should not pay for information. When Andrea Elliot spoke to the class she talked of persistence, and building relationships. This is how journalists should acquire sources, not by buying information.

vanvolkinburg November 30, 2011 at 10:34 AM  

I would usually agree that jouranlists should not pay their sources for information; however, I believe that there is virtually an exception to every rule.

In this instance the people being paid were child prostitutes who unfortunately are subject to a 'time is money' policy in their work. So, the reporter was able to get the accurate story, to gain the trust of the source, and the source was able to benefit as well.

In this situation I would completely be alright with paying my source and I would not view it as unethical.

kelleygray November 30, 2011 at 11:37 AM  

I definitely think that checkbook journalism is unethical. Like Mariah said, reporters need to build relationships and find credible sources in order to get their information. Adding money into the reporting process gets tricky as this gives reporters the upper hand in what the source says. People will be much more willing to say what you want to hear if you're paying them for the information. This makes reporters seem less credible because they are, in essence, bribing their sources to speak.

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