News agencies paying for content or investing in futures?

On Wednesday,as I was surfing around on Google+, I noticed an update by a Sarah Hill, a broadcast News Anchor at KOMU-TV. She was soliciting a “Hangout” topic for her Thursday afternoon “Hangout”. The topic…ABC News has paid Casey Anthony and a close friend $215,000 for some photographs and a “scoop” in the story.

She posted an article from the Poynter Institure outlining the payments being made from ABC News to Casey Anthony as a license fee for photos of her and her little girl. Here is the article…CLICK HERE.

In the article…Jerry Schneider, senior vp of ABC NEWS, states, “the license fees are a miniscule part of a hundreds of millions of dollars news budget, and to describe our work in terms of those licenses is to miss the entire forest for a tree… It’s getting the exclusive interview with Commander [Mark] Kelly after the congresswoman [Gabrielle Giffords] is shot; It’s getting in to see President Mubarak on an absolutely historic day. It is the team coverage in Japan with the only anchor who goes there.”

First of all…I have been thinking through this idea of news outlets paying for content, whether it is video from a stringer of the latest wreck or a high profile story that the nation is watching/reading about.

So here are my questions I am thinking through. Why do media organizations feel the need to pay for content?  Why do media organizations feel the need to compensate people for “information” or “content” in order to gain some exclusive rights to this content…thus creating leverage so they can attract an audience.

News organizations are driven by numbers which are ultimately what lead to dollars. This is beside the point, because I see both sides of the argument for paying for content. YET, I do believe they should disclose.

If you look down further in this Poynter article, you will see a comment from Mike Goldstein of Portland, OR with his online name as “dicmikeg” and he states:

“This morning, while the President was speaking to the Nation about the economy, Libya, Afghanistan and what Congress might do to put Americans back to work, the “news teams” from the major networks were absorbed with the latest in the Casey Anthony trial. CNN was kind enough to carry the press conference which, interestingly enough, was attended by reporters from the same networks that would not broadcast the event live (as there were much more pressing priorities, what with Casey’s dad not co-operating with the defense team)…Truly a sad commentary on why the American public is so unaware of what’s truly important to them and their lives.”

This part of the whole ethical spectrum has me thinking. Once again, why do organizations pay for content? Why…why do they feel the need to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to obtain content, to get an interview, provide team coverage in Japan during a crisis.

Here is are some of my thoughts why.

1) News organizations are international influencers, crossing the digital and geographic borders. They create culture. That is the reason why the news media can shift the thinking of the American (if not international public) by the mere decision of their daily coverage. In one fail swoop, they shifted from economy back to Casey Anthony. Because of that imperialistic power of the journalistic pen, they feel the burden to pay for content. Why, because they are creating daily cultural discourse.

2) They carry a huge burden to deliver everyday. Each day, executive producers, reporters, writers, editors, are making decisions of coverage based on the prediction of audience: what will tune them in to watch and read. They are investing in futures. $215,000 is just a small investment on a potential huge return on rating points, clicks, adword campaigns, social media conversation.

3) Proliferation of so many media(s). They are competing not only against themselves and across the street competitors, they are competiting now with consumer created content. They know those pictures that Casey Anthony has in her possession are just as valuable on the open, social market as it is in the hands of mainstream media outlets. Media organizations must pay to have leverage over all the other media outlets, including the the social outlets driven by consumers.

This slippery slope is no longer a slope…it is a line that is continually being pushed again and again and again. Why, because news outlets still must maintain leverage with audiences in order to compete. That is why they bought those images (or bought the license for those images) back in 2008 and 2009. They were investing in futures…and it sounds like they got their monies’ worth.

Do I blame them? No! Should they disclose? It is up to the ethical standards of journalists in that particular discipline. Will someone smack their hand and send them to the corner if they don’t disclose? Not really. Who is the oversight on this issue…well, their colleagues. Those guys/gals across the street are doing it just as much…they want to compete as well.

So ask yourself…why do you think news agencies feel the need to buy? Why do you think they feel the need to invest?