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Chequebook journalism (or checkbook journalism in American English) is the form of journalism where the essential characteristic is that the journalist pays the subject of the work for the right to publish their story.
The phrase "chequebook journalism" is a pejorative and rhetorical term. It highlights that stories obtained by paying people are of less a hard news character than those generated by conventional investigation. The News of the World became a notorious publication for such practices, often discovered attempting to buy stories off key witnesses in criminal trials such as the Moors murders case, and the 1999 trial of Gary Glitter on charges of assaulting an underage teenage fan; shortly before its closure in 2011 the paper was revealed to have bribed police officers to obtain material for a series of news stories concerning Jennifer Elliott, daughter of the actor Denholm Elliott.
In Australia chequebook journalism is viewed as a symptom of the fiercely competitive commercial television industry (most notably amongst current affairs programs). In the UK the print media uses it extensively, due to its geographic layout being conducive to the distribution of national (rather than City based or regional) newspapers.
The rescue of the Australian miners in the Beaconsfield mine collapse renewed public awareness of chequebook journalism, as the TV networks and their stakeholders bid for the exclusive rights to the story as told by miners Todd Russell and Brant Webb, who were trapped underground for 2 weeks.
In North America, paying money for interviews, although not illegal, is generally frowned upon. However, major media outlets in the United States will sometimes attempt to get around these standards by paying licensing fees for the rights to photos or footage (such as home video) relating to the subject, or paying for expenses such as flights, in conjunction with an "exclusive" interview.
Some notable examples of cases involving chequebook journalism include:
- 1977: David Frost paying Richard Nixon $US600,000 for The Nixon Interviews
- 1985: the Nine Network paying Lindy Chamberlain A$250,000 for the exclusive rights to her story
- 1991: James Scott received A$250,000 for his story about being lost in the Himalayas for 43 days
- 1995: Bob Hawke and Blanche d'Alpuget received A$200,000
- 1997: the Seven Network paid rescued British solo yachtsman Tony Bullimore A$100,000 for his story about being trapped in his overturned vessel in the Southern Ocean.
- 1997: the Seven Network paying Stuart Diver A$250,000 for his story about the Thredbo landslide in 1997
- 2005: the Ten Network paying Douglas Wood A$400,000 (and promising "some control over the final program") for his story about being kidnapped and held hostage in Iraq
- 2013: NBC News paying for sky-diving accident footage
- Roy Greenslade (2012-09-14). "Hacking book: how Murdoch's papers twisted the news to his advantage". The Guardian (London: The Guardian). Retrieved 2012-09-23.
- "Press warned over witness payments". BBC News. 5 December 1999. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
- "Console", iPlayer, UK: BBC.
- Stories for a Price - On The Media, 8 November 2013
- Alex Weprin (2010-06-17). "ABC News Pulls Out Checkbook for Van Der Sloot Photos; Gets Exclusive Interview". TVNewser. WebMediaBrands. Retrieved 2010-10-18.
- Chris Ariens (2009-12-29). "SPJ Slams NBC’s ‘Checkbook Journalism.’ ‘NBC Jeopardized its Journalistic Independence and Credibility’". TVNewser. WebMediaBrands. Retrieved 2010-10-18.
- "Chequebook hostage", theage.com.au, 21 June 2005. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
- Chequebook hostage - The Age, 21 June 2005
- Farhi, Paul (5 November 2013). "Style". The Washington Post.
- Chequebook journalism in the dock BBC News June 3, 2003
- Today Tonight, May 10, 2006: "Striking Gold"
- Crispin Hull, "Media grabs with cash show grubby sides in telling sensational stories" (The Canberra Times, May 13, 2006, p B7)