Paying a $5,000 fee for a video showing Mayor Rob Ford in a drunken, angry tirade is not out of line with the Star’s guidelines on paying for information, says the newspaper's public editor Kathy English. 

By Kathy English, public editor of the Toronto Star

The Toronto Star does not pay sources for interviews. That means no one scores cash for telling the Star’s reporters what they know.

The Star does, however, pay fees for photographs, videos, book excerpts and freelance stories.

In the ongoing debate about the Star’s recent decision to buy and publish a disturbing video showing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford in an impaired rant shouting that he is going to kill someone and “rip his f—ing throat out,” this is both a significant distinction and a key defence.

Certainly it is a point made in the Star’s response this week to two complaints to the Ontario Press Council questioning the decision to pay $5,000 for the shocking video that shows clearly the out-of-control state of Toronto’s chief magistrate.

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The Star gave considerable thought to the decision to buy this video, understanding this would undoubtedly spark debate about journalistic ethics and open this news organization to charges of “chequebook journalism.”

I’m not entirely comfortable that money had to change hands here. Given the public interest in the mayor of Canada’s largest city, I wish that those who offered the video had provided it freely. And I’m uneasy with the reality that we now inhabit a world where anyone with a cellphone can surreptitiously video anyone, anywhere, and then either publish it online themselves or offer it to news organizations.


This raises critical questions for the Star and other news organizations about how it exercises its judgment in regard to the veracity, newsworthiness and context of what is depicted in any video offered by so-called “citizen journalists” — whether for a fee or free — and the public interest in it being amplified for a mass audience.

But I don’t regard the Star’s decision to purchase and publish the video showing Ford threatening murder as “chequebook journalism” or as out of line with the Star’s journalistic guidelines and past practice regarding paying for information.

I agree with the newsroom’s emphatic view that this video is strongly in the public interest and needed to be seen by the public, not suppressed.

Both the Star’s publisher and editor have stated publicly that in considering whether to purchase the video they judged that the crisis at city hall made it essential to get all information relevant to Ford’s true character and state of mind in front of Torontonians.

To continue reading this column, please go where it was originally published. 

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Tamara Baluja is an award-winning journalist with CBC Vancouver and the 2018 Michener-Deacon fellow for journalism education. She was the associate editor for J-Source from 2013-2014.