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Tim Rutten on the Dangers of Pay Per Play News

Media columnist Time Rutten hits the nail on the head in this passage about why news coverage that’s paid for is not in the public’s best interest.

LA Times:

Various television magazine and news shows recently have begun flirting with payments or so-called “in-kind arrangements” — such as book deals and promotion — in return for access to sources. In other words, exactly what the Enquirer did in this case.

Partly this is because the competition for “gets” among the personality-driven broadcast and cable news shows has become increasingly bitter and intense; partly, and more important, it’s because an ever-growing segment of the media has succumbed to the tabloid mentality. Moreover, in a society in which life is treated with growing frequency as something to be sold rather than lived, where every biographical detail — no matter how private or intimate — is commoditized, more and more sources are demanding money for information.

Buying news is fraught with evils. Purchased information cannot be completely trusted because the source has a financial incentive to fabricate and embellish. In the pay-for-play environment, venality joins all the normal human vices that stand between journalism and the truth. Trading exclusivity for cash frustrates the normal competition among news organizations, and that process advances public understanding and acts as factual check on the veracity and fairness of the original report.

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