Paying For The News in South Africa

By Casey Bukro

Journalism in one form another is going on all across the world.

Sometimes it’s not quite recognizable as we in the United States know it. Makes you think.

In South Africa, the grieving parents of slain model Reeva Steenkamp hired a British agency to manage media organizations that will pay the Steenkamps a fee for their story.

That’s called checkbook journalism, and considered unethical. The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics urges journalists to “avoid bidding for news.”

Barry and June Steenkamp said they resorted to the fee-for-information approach because they were “overwhelmed” by the number of media organizations across the world that wanted interviews.

The Cape Argus reported that while many look askance at the practice, “there is sympathy for those caught in the middle of of a so-called media circus and who succumb to the pressures of interacting with journalists seeking an exclusive interview.”

Olympic athlete and boyfriend Oscar Pistorius was charged in Steenkamp’s death.

Paying for news was at the root of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. phone hacking and bribery scandals.

In that case, a culture of checkbook journalism led to bribery charges against four former News Corp. journalists.  News Corp. also closed its News of the World in the wake of a phone hacking scandal.

The Columbia Journalism Review calls checkbook journalism a “slippery slope.”

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About cbukro

Casey Bukro was inducted into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame in 2008 for outstanding contributions to Chicago journalism, after a 45 year career with the Chicago Tribune. Bukro retired from the Tribune in 2007 as overnight editor. He had pioneered in environmental reporting and in 1970 became the first full-time environment specialist at a major metropolitan newspaper in the United States and covered major developments on that beat for 30 years. He won the newspaper’s highest editorial award in 1967 for a series on Great Lakes pollution. The Society of Professional Journalists awarded Bukro its highest honor, the Wells Key, in 1983 for writing that organization’s first code of ethics. He is a past president of SPJ’s national ethics committee and a past president of the Chicago Headline Club. Bukro graduated with bachelor and master degrees from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In 1998, he received the Northwestern University Alumni Association’s alumni service award for 17 years of volunteer service to the university. He has lectured in environmental journalism and journalism ethics at Northwestern, the University of Chicago, DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago, Columbia College, Columbia University and others. Before joining the Tribune staff, Bukro worked at the former City News Bureau of Chicago and the Janesville Gazette, Janesville, Wis.

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