Wednesday, March 16, 2005

'Fake' TV news

The use of video news releases (VNRs) has suddenly become horror du jour now that it's been discovered the Bush administration is sending out VNRs that are being used lock stock and barrel by the suckers - er, TV news departments.

The New York Times has now taken notice, prompting an ethics column from Poynter, etc.

Bravo! But wait a minute. Where have all these folks been? Sure, we get the occasional clucking here and there, but TV has been sucking off this teat for years. Hospitals and pharmaceutical companies are notorious for seeding harried local TV health reporters, who often slice up the video, add a local standup or voice-over or, if really industrious, even one of their own interviews, and then present it as a local package without ever identifying the source of the video.

Even the high-minded Consumer Reports does it. I'm not sure one if many of my local TV reporter's segments could survive without those VNRs.

Sure it's slimy. It should be smoked out and exposed.

And after we've done that, we can go after all the press releases barely rewritten and put in your local newspaper without any indication of that ...

Or how about all those "Ask the Expert" sites that papers and TVs have on their Web sites? "Ask the person who paid to be an expert" is more like it. (Check out the lower left on this page, for instance.)

In other words, if we're going to get outraged, let's do it at ALL the sleazy stuff that goes on in newsrooms and taints the really good stuff because there is no transparency. The public is not stupid. Eventually it comes back to bite us in terms of credibility.


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