ABC News putting away the checkbook


In the minds of many, the Casey Anthony trial exposed problems in the American system of justice – or just maybe, it exposed what is good about it. That is not an issue to be settled here, however. It’s something else that was exposed during the trial: A $200K payment by ABC News to Anthony herself for photos. ABC has announced it is all but eliminating the practice, and was instantly applauded by the Society for Professional Journalists.

It’s known as checkbook journalism, and ABC has decided that its power and prestige in the news business is more than enough for it.

ABC’s Jeffrey Schneider told the Los Angeles Times, “We can book just about anyone based on the strength of our journalism, the excellence of our anchors, correspondents, and producers, and the size of our audience. These licensing deals had become a crutch, and an unnecessary one.”

In practice, checkbook journalism techniques include inducing an individual to sit for an interview, while offering cash not for access or time, but for some other item.

ABC is also said to have paid money for photos to the girlfriend who was the recipient of former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner’s infamous tweets.

ABC says it will take an extraordinary circumstance for it to use the technique in the future, the kind of thing that comes around only once over the course of a year or two.

The move was praised by the Society of Professional Journalists. “This is the right first step by ABC, and they deserve credit for recognizing the error of their ways and taking corrective action,” said SPJ President Hagit Limor. “But the fight isn’t over yet. All news outlets should take the same step – and ABC should make sure they don’t descend back into such bad habits.”

RBR-TVBR observation: In our humble opinion, the Casey Anthony trial wasn’t even really news – it was more like an extended reality TV show. Based solely on friends’ posts on Facebook, we know that lots of people followed the trial closely, were outraged throughout, and then were REALLY outraged at the verdict. But at the end of the day, maybe that news department cash could have been spent on hiring a few more reporters or something. We join SPJ in congratulating ABC for abandoning the policy.