Seattle Reporter Critical of How Networks Get Exclusives

By Kevin Eck 

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KIRO‘s Gary Horcher says he made an “unsettling observation” while covering the story of Autumn Veatch.

Veatch is the 16-year-old girl who survived a plane crash that killed her step-grandparents. She survived by hiking out of the wilderness alone.

“As Autumn Veatch waited for an ambulance in the Mazama General Store,” wrote Horcher, a reporter for the CBS affiliate. “I promise you the thought “I’m gonna be a media superstar!” never crossed her mind.”

While interviewing Veatch, Horner said the networks started offering gifts to her family for an exclusive.

“I’m a local reporter, and the currency I trade is built on relationships–on trust–on belief that I’m their advocate,” said Horcher. “I’ve never offered anything more in exchange for information, or an interview.”

While I was talking to Autumn’s father David, who is an affable, bighearted gentleman, he was offered a hotel room by one network reps, then by another.

David was eager to share Autumn’s story, yet he seemed hesitant to accept the gifts, which had “exclusive” strings attached.

The next day, I was told networks offered Autumn’s family food (which they accepted) transportation and more.

“Paying for information is, among American journalists, generally regarded as falling in the same moral category as paying for sex,” Horcher quoted from a Columbia Journalism Review article. “True reporters get their information cleanly and by the sweat of their brow, not by waving around soiled Andrew Jacksons.”

While offers were considered and lures cast, Autumn and her family quietly slipped out a back door of the hospital (Tuesday night).

I understand David grew tired of the offers, and instead accepted the option of driving his ailing daughter home to Bellingham, with a police escort to keep everyone away.

I wonder if it would have ever have gotten to that point, if everyone working to share Autumn’s amazing story played by the same rules.