Un-do un-chequebook un-journalism!

I'VE BEEN HIT by media poachers three times and I wonder if it's happening to any of you, and how to handle it.

The last case happened just a few weeks ago. I had approached a young Cambridgeshire woman I wanted to interview for a story about unwise NHS cuts. She was eager to talk and had launched petitions to publicise her case and warn other people.

Suddenly she stopped returning my calls. Finally, she said she was sorry, but couldn't talk to journalists any longer because she had signed a contract with Wessex News and Features in Berkshire. The editor had told her the story would be sold to national magazines -- and convinced her this was a great way to make money to buy things for her baby. The contract stipulated exclusivity and total availability, but didn't mention a fee.

When I contacted the news service, I was told they were not interested in the story any longer because they couldn't sell it. They didn't even bother to contact the poor woman -- who was waiting for a fat cheque and a big splash in a glossy magazine.

These news and features services have scouts everywhere looking for stories. They move fast and never lose as they only pay (how much, I wonder?) if they sell the piece -- yet they keep other journalists at bay without paying a penny!

We all lose. Freelances cannot compete with these poachers; the public miss out on valid stories, or only get one version; and the sources may never get the platform they deserve.

BY Veronique Mistiaen

Jul/Aug 1997

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