CNN Cracks Down - on CNN

There was one bright spot to come out of the recent Karen Ryan video news release tumult. A week ago, Campaign Desk exposed CNN’s role in the whole tawdry affair — acting in effect as a PR launderer by selling space on the CNN news feed to VNR producers. Now, the cable news giant has announced a new policy, which should help cut down on instances where the stations get suckered into running VNRs as if they were news.

CNN has made three changes to the way its Newsource service, which provides footage to local stations, handles VNRs, a spokesman explained. First, the producer of the VNR — in the case of the Karen Ryan releases, that was Homefront Communications — will be identified. That’s in addition to explicitly labeling the footage as VNR, something CNN insists it has always done — though obviously not clearly enough for numerous stations across the country to notice it.

More importantly, news stations will now receive VNR footage separately from genuine news footage. The material coming in from CNN to the news stations appears under one of a number of headings — for instance, “breaking news” or “features.” Clicking on the name of the heading allows a news producer to see all of the items in that specific category. “VNRs” will now appear under their own heading.

Finally, CNN will allow stations to opt out of receiving VNRs, but to continue getting the rest of the Newsource sevice — news stories produced by CNN or other affiliates, as well as “b-roll” material for use in creating their own stories, and other features. One news director we spoke to said his station had already chosen to stop receiving VNRs.

Campaign Desk isn’t riding off into the sunset just yet on this issue. CNN is still “working out the kinks” in the new system, according to another station news director, and we got conflicting reports about just how consistently the new policy is being applied. In addition, CNN is far from the only provider of VNRs to local stations — Fox, CBS, and others do the same thing — and each provider has its own policy.

But we’re gratified to hear about CNN’s new procedure, and we hope that it serves to keep some unlabeled VNRs that haven’t been scrutinized by real editors off the air. Not least so that Campaign Desk, and the local stations, can all get back to regularly scheduled programming.

Zachary Roth

Correction, 3/31/ 4:37 p.m.: In the post above, we cited conflicting reports about how consistently CNN is applying its new policy. We failed to include CNN’s response that the policy is being applied across-the-board. That response should have been included.

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Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.