How Quid Pro Quo is a necessary evil in today’s media

Steve Kowch discusses quid pro quo in media From where I sit On The Kowch, when you’re in media you don’t owe anyone anything when you don’t accept anything. Seems simple. But it’s not. That’s because there are so many ways you can end up with an IOU without taking money from someone. It’s basically referred to as a Quid Pro Quo – a favour or advantage granted or expected in return for something. Scratch my back and I’ll scratch your back. There are all kinds of terms for these IOUs. But the end result is always the same. Someone who gave you a scoop may one day call in the favour. Here are some examples of every day Quid Pro Quo in media.

The very nature of media puts everyone at risk in today’s age of political correctness and online gotcha journalism

As a reporter you cultivate contacts to become sources to give you the stories first. This is especially true for police reporters and political journalists at City Hall, provincial legislatures and Parliament Hill. Competition is fierce and you’re only as good as the quality of your sources.

People become sources for a variety of reasons. Some are whistle blowers – these are the ones whose only agenda is to get the word out of perceived wrong doing. But other sources have personal agendas. They curry media favour to boost their image, their reputation and career. These are sources that will come looking for you when they need media coverage as payback for all the stories they gave you in the past.

In this age of transparency, here is how to handle these kind of Quid Pro Quo sources. Tell the boss who this source is, list the stories they have provided your news organization and say they will continue to do so in the future for the coverage they want. If the boss agrees it is a news worthy story or a good feature, there is no problem. If not, tell the source can’t do it this time, maybe next time. If the source cuts you off, well nothing lasts for ever. Move on and find another source.

In my day of covering the police beat and politics, I’ve had to juggle these demands from sources and keep my integrity intact – well I think I did. There might be some who would disagree. We’re talking about stories that police would ask me to write or report on to help them on a case or promote a new campaign or maybe be critical of a new directive or internal operations of the force.

In politics, it’s all about agenda of the political parties and their politicians – especially if they have a message they want to get out.  Are we being used? Of course we are. Again that is how the game is played. But it had to be newsworthy. Opposition politicians were great at offering stories that would make the governing party look bad. If they provided facts and figures I would go with it. After all, I was the one out on a limb. Not the anonymous source.

Only once in all my time as a reporter did someone offer me cash after I interviewed them. I didn’t think it was a bribe. The guy was happy with the interview about his new establishment and reached into his pocket pulling out a bunch of twenty dollar bills and started offering me the cash. It was a tip. I told him I appreciated his gesture but that I couldn’t accept his money.

From where I sit On the Kowch, I have always lived up to what my mentor – the guy who gave me my first job as a reporter at The Montreal Star when I was 17-years-old told me about accepting things. Don Foley, the legendary Montreal Star reporter and City Editor (who had more sources than Heinz has pickles) told me to only accept what I can consume in 24 hours. He also told me to take care of my sources and provided me an expense account to do so. An expense account was always a condition of employment wherever I worked. Lunches, supper and drinks with sources went a long way in cementing relationships and getting people to talk without having to worry about owing anyone because there’s no such thing as a FREE lunch.

Steve Kowch ran two of Canada’s largest newstalk radio stations in Montreal and Toronto for more than 14 years. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Making It BIG In Media 

Contact Steve at 647-521-6397 or email