Two independent filmmakers producing a video about diseases on salmon farms have been offering $100 to ex-aquaculture workers who agree to be interviewed - a practice frowned upon by most North American journalists. But they've now rescinded that offer following an inquiry from Public Eye.
That offer came to light when one of them - Paul Ross - posted the following advertisement on craigslist: "Are you an Ex Fish Farm Worker? Worked on a farm in the last 5 years? Know someone who has? We may want you for an interview! You may choose to remain anonymous. We'll come to you. $100 for 1 hour of your time."
Speaking with Public Eye, the filmmaker said he's looking for those workers as part of a video that will be released online within the next two to four weeks and linked to on Websites like that of activist and marine biologist Alexandra Morton.
"Me and my partner are doing a video on diseases in salmon farming and some of the practices that they should probably clean up if they have any kind of conscience of any kind," explained Mr. Ross.
"Really what we just want to find out is if there is disease on the migration route of the Fraser sockeye when they exited in 2007 when the juveniles went to sea," Twyla Roscovich later elaborated in a separate interview, adding the video "is not necessarily for broadcast."
"We just want to bring this forward to say to the government, 'Look, these guys are saying there was this disease on this farm at this date. You need to consider this in this judicial inquiry" - a reference to the Cohen Commission, which is investigating the reasons why those sockeye numbers have declined.
Asked whether anyone has responded to the advertisement, Mr. Ross said there have been a few calls.
"Some of them have been inquisitive and somewhat hostile and a couple have been really open and forthcoming. I've had some people just asking me about our credentials - 'Are you a scientist? Are you a biologist?' and saying, 'Well, I don't want to participate in any rogue journalism on YouTube.' Click."
But why offer ex-fish farm workers $100 in return for a one-hour interview?
"They are working people. It's going to take time out of their day. And if somebody asked me to do a survey with them I'd say, 'Well, I'm busy.' And they say, 'Well, I'll pay you $100 dollars.' Then I'll say, 'Well, I'm not so busy.' It's not cynical. It's just sort of realistic," explained Mr. Ross.
Most newsrooms on this continent would never consider making such an offer, though.
"The standard practice in North America is that you don't pay for interviews. It's common in Britain," explained former Georgia Straight editor Charles Campbell, adding there have also been exceptions to that rule. "But, by and large it's considered offensive and compromising to pay money for information."
He said the same standards should apply to Mr. Ross and Ms. Roscovich.
"If they're documentary filmmakers, they're journalists," Mr. Smith stated. "While not unprecedented - while there isn't a written code that says they can't do that - I think whenever you pay for information, sources or more likely to give you what they want to hear than what's true."
But when we made that point to Mr. Ross this is what happened: "You know what, I wouldn't respond to that at this point in time. I'm kind of in the middle of welding. My friend is helping me here. So I'd like to sort of regroup."
"We are not hiding behind anything. We're open. We ask for openness. And we do this with integrity and honesty. And we have absolutely nothing to hide," he continued. "I do sort of take your point. It's a reservation I had about offering any money. I'm sure as a journalist your sources ask you to make it worth their while at times and it's only just meeting in the middle."
For the record, Public Eye has never done anything like that. However, Ms. Roscovich said she and Mr. Ross have previously offered honorariums to people after interviewing them. The difference this time is that interviewees are aware of that cash prior to sitting down in front of the camera.
"What were we going to do, go around and ask people on the streets, 'Are you a fish farmer?' It's nothing we would normally do. But with a lot of these guys we thought, 'Maybe it's just a way to actually get people to contact us.' We're not influencing what they're going to say."
That being said though, the filmaker - who stressed the offer had "nothing to do" with Ms. Morton - stated, "I'd hate to be labeled as activist media and I'd like to keep it as clean as possible. It's the first time we've run into this. It's the first time I've been confronted with this question. It's kind of come up just in the last few days going, 'Is that okay? I don't know.'"
But, by the end of our interview, she came to this conclusion: the $100 offer would be removed from the advertisement.