If a story is juicy enough, the TV news outlets will open their checkbooks. The most recent example: the revelation that ABC paid between $10,000 and $15,000 in licensing fees for the use of photos in its on-air reporting on the Anthony Weiner scandal. The money went to Meagan Broussard (one of the women Rep. Weiner had been corresponding with) for exclusive use of some of the photos at the heart of the scandal.
Sources at ABC News don't dispute the dollar range. But they say that the decision to license these photos was made only after Broussard was booked for an interview, and that her photos were critically important to linking Broussard to Weiner. They also point out that ABC's reporting directly led to the congressman's press conference confession earlier this week—and that the fact that these photos were licensed from Broussard was fully disclosed on-air in the story.
Disclosed or not, it's only the most recent in a string of similar instances where major U.S. news outlets have shelled out cash for access to story materials. Ethics standards at the major networks and elsewhere in the non-tabloid U.S. media prohibit paying sources for stories, although it's a longstanding practice elsewhere, especially in the U.K. But those standards are easily fudges when it comes to licensing photos or video from sources who also happen to have a story to tell.
Last month, Adweek detailed the story of Barcroft Media—a little-known British company known for its paycheck journalism that has still managed to develop content arrangements with nearly every major cable and broadcast outlet in the U.S.
This isn't the first time ABC has been involved in such licensing. Two weeks ago, ABC News entered into a similar contract, paying a representative of the "Botox Mom" a $10,000 licensing fee for her to tell her story (ABC says it has subsequently withheld payment of that fee as it investigates claims that the Botox Mom story was a fraud).
“Licensing footage is a standard industry practice done by television to produce a visually complete story,” a spokesperson for "The Early Show"on CBS told Adweek when we originally reported on the Barcroft matter last month.