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Ethics of paying for exclusive rights to stories

by on March 25, 2014

Paying for an exclusive story is becoming common in many enthusiast press outlets such as video game reviews. This prevents any other outlet that has the story from publishing it, in fear of hurting their relationship with their source. Furthermore, is it ethical to pay for early exclusive rights to a story if you have the money for it? The job of a journalist is to get the information out there, but is it right to stop anyone else from publishing it at the same time?

IGN is known for paying to get exclusive early review rights, stopping any other media from posting their reviews until the embargo is up. This becomes extremely frustrating to other news outlets, because IGN gets all the early views and information out there leading to less people reading their reviews. If someone was a small time journalist who depended on these views, practices like these could ruin them.

On the other hand, there are no rules saying that one publication has to protect other publications. Journalists gain intimate knowledge about stories that no one else knows about all the time, so why is paying for it any different? My argument against this, is that by stopping your competitors from running the story completely means that some people may never see the story at all. So by paying for exclusive rights, you may actually restricting who sees the story if it was one that everyone else was going to write about anyway.

Practices like these are constantly hurting the little guy in journalism. It gives makes it so that only the big companies with money can write certain stories, even if the smaller ones have the ability to write the story. If people have less of a choice in where they can get their news, then all of the views about certain subjects are going to be dictated by those bigger outlets. This is why the press as a whole have to join together to stop bigger news outlets from paying for exclusive rights to a story.


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  1. scuzzarellam permalink

    This is a considerable ethical issue in journalism that already is having implications in how the modern journalist handles stories. As journalists we are told that we should never accept gifts from our sources. Yet, here we are bestowing gifts to our stories in return for a story.

    I think that the given issue is less about restricting our competitors from accessing stories, but in putting a price on knowledge, and skewing how material is read. In the case of IGN, game companies have the power not only to accept bids, but rather REJECT them. IGN receives great economic benefit from being the first to publish and gains more readers. However, if IGN were to publish a poor review, would the right to publish first be granted again? Most likely, no.

    This therefore reduces the journalist’s ability to deliver fair reporting by skewing their ability to access a future story. I think the big issue here is a problem that has been plaguing modern journalism for years, the transformation of journalism from an institution to a corporation. When profit is placed above information, the entire ethical future of journalism is thrown out off balance.

  2. This happens in broadcast journalism too. I was just at the NCAA Tournament cover UMass and I wasn’t allowed to stream our feed over the web in any way because the NCAA and Westwood One owned all the streaming rights to the NCAA Tournament. It puts smaller but more local teams at a massive disadvantage. trying to reach their audience. WMUA has a massive following on the web and on our app and for one of the most important games of the season that we broadcast, we weren’t able to reach our audience like we do for everything else. It’s unfortunate that one company is able to just use the money they have to put everyone else at a disadvantage. When I was told I wouldn’t be able to stream I responded, “That’s ridiculous.” The response I got back was, “No it’s not, the NCAA and Westwood One pay millions of dollars for those rights.” How does that make it any less ridiculous? In fact, doesn’t that make it even more ridiculous? If corporations are able to just put a stranglehold on whatever they please, eventually there won’t be any small, local names being able to produce anything because they won’t have any legs to stand on.

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