Deals like that are dishonest and farcical. But what’s wrong with an open and transparent purchase of newsworthy information? Actual investigators—cops and private investigators—routinely pay for tips, whether in the form of cash or promises of help in reducing an informant’s sentence. It’s hard to see why reporters should be denied access to a technique that’s used all the time in the criminal justice system, where the stakes and standards of evidence are immeasurably higher.
Of course, if The New York Times and other papers don’t want their reporters paying for news, that’s fine. It means that the competitive advantage (for some stories, at least), will continue to go to the outlets that do pay. But it’s hard to argue that papers that abstain from payments are morally or professionally superior to those that do, when the latter are catching important stories that might otherwise go untold.