Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Last night, while listening to NPR, I caught wind of a story about Video News Reports. Apparently The Center for Media and Democracy, (that's a link to their site, published a report entitled "Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed" on April 6th of this year.

But first, a word on Video News Reports. You really can't find much information on these. In fact, the only useful link I found was to PR Watch, and there isn't even an article on Wikipedia. So bear in mind that my sources are extremely limited on this, although besides NPR, the Washington Post also ran a story on this (April 15). Essentially what happens is that PR companies create a fake news story to showcase some new product or agenda. Then they send it to news stations, a lot of which seem to be Fox affiliates (not surprisingly), who lead into it as though it were a normal news. In fact, they'll even have their anchors do voice-overs, but word-for-word what the company sent with the report. In some cases, they'll even introduce the "reporter" as one of their own, and change the information bar at the bottom to match that station's format. Best case scenario, the VNRs are hacked up and used as stock footage while reporters are discussing things that don't have footage, while other times they'll say things like "FOX's Andrew Schmertz," when really Andrew Schmertz is publicist at a PR firm (see the exec sum for this quote). It's seamless. It's so wrong. Here's a nice little case study courtesy of General Mills' Bisquick brand and four local news stations.

I'm not usually one for conspiracy theories or hating capitalism, but it all follows that you're not going to see a lot of news coverage on this because TV stations don't want to admit that they're incorporating these segments in a way that most viewers would find perverse. Even a simple "brought to you by" cues the viewer into the fact that this might not be totally unbiased, but legally, media can be as biased as it wants. So technically they're not doing anything wrong . . . it's just really unethical. And the fact that the FCC is looking into this even while the government is run by Republicans, the champions of capitalism, is also a little telling.

On the other hand, the revealing of new products does count as news. I read about 10 marketing blogs daily and almost every day they'll have a post on some product I am glad to hear about. That's news. Furthermore, I have little to no respect for the intelligence of people who rely on the evening news as though it were real. Even if everything on the news was real, you still don't gain anything by watching it. Every time I watch the news I'm left with more questions than I started with. They repeat themselves and usually the headline they put in the commercial tells you everything they're going to in the actual segment, where they essentially say as little as possible on the matter. I'm lucky if I get one single bit of information out of a newscast. Hell, even the weather segments are rarely informational.

I don't know that the internet is any better, but at least it allows you to ask questions, even if the answers aren't correct. If I read an article and want to know more about it, I do a Google search and get 8,000,000 results from as many different sources. TV feeds you information and if you're still hungry after the evening news, all you can do is fill up on some sitcoms for dessert.


Anonymous Matt Adams said...

I've been seing the lower quality newspapers doing things like this a lot, recently, too. They will have full page advertisements that read just like the other articles in the paper. And they are set up in the same style and typeface; use the same quality black and white pictures... But at the very bottom in very tiny print is something that says "advertisement".

Talking about new products or even old products isn't unethical for a news show. What is unethical is the way they show it. News should be (though rarely is) objective. And when a news company is taking money to do a "story" on a product, there is no way they can be objective. The mere presence of the money makes it a biased opinion. Its a lot like lobbying lawmakers.

8:59 AM  
Blogger StephL said...

Yeah, I'd noticed those too, but at least SOMETHING says it's an ad. Another thing is that pharmaceutical companies (who basically run the country anyway) stand a lot to gain. Since pharma commercials by law have to be so balanced (you know, the obligatory list of awful side effects) they can make "news segments" which legally don't have to be unbiased, and it's an opportunity to leave out all the bad stuff. I've seen this too. Too bad I didn't catch on.

9:35 AM  
Blogger StephL said...

Oh, and btw, when are you going to link to me, hm? I'm linking to you!

9:36 AM  

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