NBC News Continues its Hack Attack Form of Checkbook Journalism Because Ratings

interactive newsroom

Ironic what the NBC Interactive Newsroom chose to adorn its wall, huh?

Ratings (n.) — The source of all things monetary in media; The force by which all journalists show their worth the bigwigs in the corner offices; The reason media can suck.

When I was in a newsroom, there was just about nothing I wouldn’t do to get people to listen to what I had to say. Hell, in PR, it’s the same way. I’ll beg, borrow or steal borrow some more to help my clients get what they deserve and help tell their story. However, the people at NBC News, go a skosh past unethical into a whole new realm of paparazzi.


The sad thing about ratings is they make people do strange things. You may be familiar with the Oscar “Blade Runner” Pistorious trial in South Africa where Olympic/Paralympic wunderkind shot his model girlfriend because he allegedly thought she was robbing his joint.

Everyone is interested in more information on this trial. How do we know? Ratings.

steenkamp-today-interviewTo wit, NBC News did whatever it could to earn the attention of Reeva Steenkamp’s mother for a series of interviews. As you can in the screen shot, it’s a hoity-toity “exclusive,” which is supposed to mean NBC got it and everyone else is watching it. Only one problem, the inference is that NBC News got it the old fashioned way — they eaaaaaaaaarned it.

Nah, the new school way is more trendy — they paid for it. By some reports, for $100,000.

In print, it’s called “Pay-for-play.” In TV, it’s called “Checkbook Journalism.” You may equate that shady networking with TMZ, but there it is, NBC News. And, it’s not the first time, either.

In 2009, NBC chartered a jet for David Goldman and his nine-year-old son Sean from Brazil to the United States. The two were reunited after a gripping international abduction case. There was that one layover in Orlando for a live shot though. In 2011, they reportedly put money in a child trust fund for Gaby Rodriguez, a teenager who faked a pregnancy and got national news for it. In 2013, two planes collided and NBC got the exclusive from the daring skydivers … you know, for another $100,000.

Again, all for ratings.

I understand because national news is not about news — it’s about cash. When I first got started in radio, I’ll never forget the advice of my program director who told me, “This radio is a cool gig, but never forget, you are not here to play music. You are here to play commercials. You only get to play music in-between.” Imagine the pressure to please the advertisers at the national level.

Is this the wave of the news future? Are exclusives only about who pays most? Are interviews no longer about journalism and all about who got them first? ESPN has a prolonged history with breaking news that was just broke before it hit Twitter. No one wants to be right — they just want to be first. And it seems they will do anything to get that way, despite what scruples they learned in school.

That sound you hear is the Old Timers Club of Cronkite, Jennings, Murrow, Frost, Koppel, and Russert all collectively turning in their graves, sick to their stomach. Join the club, people. They bought jackets.