General Manager and Editor in Chief
Saying no to chequebook journalism
Toronto mayor Rob Ford speaks to the press. (File photo)
When news broke that there was a video supposedly showing Toronto mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine, CBC News went to work to cover it. Since then, we have continued to cover all the latest news on this story.
One thing CBC News hasn't done--and will not do--is try to buy the video, which various reports say is being offered for amounts ranging from $30,000 to $200,000.
There's a lot of debate, in public and especially in the media, about whether the news value of bringing this video to light justifies the price. One newspaper columnist went into print urging her own newspaper to buy it.
Our position is clear: the CBC doesn't participate in chequebook journalism, and we would not pay for this video.
That's not to say it wouldn't be news. A lot turns on what's in the video and how genuine the images prove to be. Respected professional journalists from The Toronto Star, who viewed the video, report that they concluded that it was not faked and that the man smoking crack was indeed Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. And while the journalists may be respected, the same cannot be said about the shady - and extremely elusive - individuals who shot and marketed the video.
The journalists only viewed it, in less-than-perfect circumstances, and they'd be the first to agree that they aren't technical experts when it comes to validating the authenticity of digital video.
Make no mistake: here at CBC News we'd love to get our hands on the video--to see what's on it, to have it analyzed by our technical staff, and--with proper context--to share it with the public. What the video revealed would, one way or another, go a long way toward settling the matter. But we would not buy it in a bidding process,
We do pay for material. We buy archive footage and stock photos. We compensate experts. Increasingly, audience members are becoming contributors; providing photos or footage of news events. Because CBC does pay for freelance content, it may be appropriate, in some cases, to pay for authenticated content.
But this happens in cases where the circumstances around the video or stills are straightforward--say, a boater taking cellphone video of a dramatic rescue--and the sums involved are generally quite nominal. That's not the case here.
The amounts being mentioned in the "crack video" case are being demanded because someone has calculated that a media outlet will want to buy a big exclusive. Anyone who watches, reads, or listens to CBC News knows that we generate exclusives in the public interest every day, on all our platforms, and that CBC stories often lead the national news agenda.
At CBC News, we are all about exclusives--we just don't buy them.