Having been a traditional print journalist years ago (and now obviously a blogger and a newsletter writer), I noted with particular interest the Today Show’s coverage of David Goldman’s recovery of his son from Brazil.
The reason for my interest is that NBC chartered the jet on which Goldman and his son Sean were flown back to the United States. I don’t know whether NBC also paid for Goldman’s accommodations in Brazil or anything else, but I’m betting that the company did so.
Certainly, helping the Tinton Falls, N.J. real estate agent and charter-fishing boat captain with his exorbitant expenses must be characterized as a humanitarian gesture. However, it was not altruistic.
No upstanding journalist will argue that it is ethical to pay a source for access, and it’s hypocritical for NBC to maintain that it doesn’t give money or other benefits to newsmakers.
Even the celebrity obsessed TMZ Web site- which has rocketed to success over four years – says it doesn’t pay for coverage, though executive producer Harvey Levin acknowledges in today’s New York Times that people who provide tips receive their thanks in cash.
As for NBC, it is one thing to buy someone an airplane ticket and cover the cost of a hotel room for someone to be interviewed live in New York and quite another to charter a jet, plus who knows what else.
To be sure, when I worked for the Associated Press, Money magazine and other publications decades ago, I picked up restaurant checks in the name of an interview and I was treated to meals, even tickets (e.g. Saturday Night Live), in the hope of a quid pro quo. I cannot recall specific instances in which I used my expense account, though I do remember once returning a Countess Mara tie that arrived on my desk unexpectedly one day.
Times have changed, inevitably, and I believe there is far greater sensitivity to the ethical concerns of giving and getting. Media junkets have all but disappeared, and ethical journalists don’t accept presents as negligible as a free drink.
Ethical journalists also don’t pay for a story. If NBC hadn’t done so, do you suppose it would have obtained its exclusive interviews over the years and the new photos of David Goldman and Sean? Do you think it would have a full hour of father and son on Dateline Jan. 8? Do you wonder why the coverage elsewhere has relied on quoting NBC?
NBC was wrong, and the mystery to me is why, as far as I can tell, no news media critic has held the company accountable.
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