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Should we pay the person who claims to have the Rob Ford crack video?

Paying for news can be a slippery slope. But when the story has such a profound implication for a city, maybe we need to bend the rules.
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Nevil Hunt, May 22, 2013 9:55:59 AM

Two Canadian reporters are convinced they’ve seen a video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking what appears to be crack cocaine.

The video is for sale to the first news outlet willing to pay the video owner as much as $200,000. The U.S. news website Gawker is trying to raise the money to buy the recording. That hundred grand could make Ford a bigger Canuck movie star than Ryan Gosling.

That price tag is a shocker; Canadian news isn’t usually in demand around the world even when it’s free. Some argue no one should pay for the video.

But the reputed Ford video is making international headlines and that’s stoking demand from foreign media outlets, all of which thirst to be first with titillating news. It’s not only giving Canada a black eye in the world press – if indeed the mayor of our largest city turns out to be a crack head – but it’s also making waves within the Canadian media.

The video’s shady owners offered the recording to The Toronto Star. Management at the paper says no deal is in the works based on the principle that they don’t pay for news.

That principle is going to be tested because the rules only work when everyone respects them. The international appetite for this story means the usual Canadian rules are void. When something as newsworthy as the reputed Ford tape comes along, rules need to be bent. One of the Star’s own columnists, Rosie diManno, points out that a Ford ally could buy the tape and destroy it; reason enough to act quickly and pay the asking price.

There are downsides to paying for news and as Canadians we witness the drawbacks regularly because we are big consumers of American media. Celebrity magazines and daily entertainment TV shows in the U.S. drive demand for material that just doesn’t get created in Canada. Paparazzi don’t follow the prime minister’s kids to school. We don’t long for photos of William Shatner out on a bender. Beach-front paparazzi don’t stake out Peter Mansbridge’s cottage.

If there was demand for Canadian celebrity news, there would be money at stake and different media outlets would fight to get the best coverage. Spurious and questionable “news” might be created so the producer can sell to the highest bidder.

But The Star and other Canadian media do regularly pay for news; photographs taken by freelancers who are in the right place at the right time. If an independent photographer takes a great photo of a fire or an accident scene, they will be paid for it. The photographer didn’t cause the fire or the accident; they just pressed the shutter button. In the case of the Ford video, the person shooting the clip didn’t force anyone to smoke anything (as far as we know), they just sat back and pressed the record button.

Paying for news may be a slippery slope but there’s no doubt it can be justified by the importance of the content. Any Canadian media outlet with the opportunity should buy the Ford video, not because it’s titillating but because Canadians look to their media to learn the truth.

The existence and content of the video has not been authenticated by The Loop.

Above: Toronto Mayor Rob Ford walks out of his office at City Hall in Toronto on Friday May 17, 2013 amid allegations of crack cocaine use.
Image credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

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