News That Can Use You

Today brings a new investigation shedding more light on local broadcast stations' addiction to video news releases - and more condemnation of the practice from bloggers.

Today the Center for Media and Democracy, a nonprofit group based in Wisconsin, released the findings of its 10-month-long investigation into the addiction that local broadcast stations have to video news releases (VNRs), those industry-produced press releases dressed up as news.

The results?

“In sum, television newscasts — the most popular news source in the United States — frequently air VNRs without disclosure to viewers, without conducting their own reporting, and even without fact-checking the claims made in the VNRs,” writes the Center for Media and Democracy. “VNRs are overwhelmingly produced for corporations, as part of larger public relations campaigns to sell products, burnish their image, or promote policies or actions beneficial to the corporation.”

Naturally, within hours of the report’s release, the winds of blogger condemnation were already swirling.

“An exposé by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and Free Press reveals that corporate propaganda has infiltrated local television news across the country,” writes Free Press. “This deception is a breach of the trust between local stations and their communities. By disguising advertisements as news, stations violate both the spirit and the letter of their broadcasting licenses, which obligate them to serve public interest.”

“This practice is so ridiculous it’s embarrassing,” writes Ratboy’s Anvil.

“The evidence suggests a strong tie between media consolidation and the tendency to abuse the airwaves with deceptive, pre-packaged propaganda,” argues Act for Justice. “More than 80 percent of the stations snared in the inquiry are owned by large conglomerates. A list of the worst offenders reads like a who’s who of Big Media, including stations owned by Sinclair, Fox Television and Clear Channel.”

“Send a strong message to the FCC: Investigate this abuse by local news stations, enforce rules against the airing of covert propaganda and penalize all broadcasters that truck in fake news,” adds Act for Justice.

Other bloggers around the country were busy calling out their local stations.

“[CMD] issued a report today identifying 77 television stations, including St. Louis’ own Fox 2 News, that have repackaged commercial advertisements as ‘news,’” writes Left in Missouri. “Channel 2 was cited for especially egregious conduct — it had its reporter revoice a Halloween segment to make it appear local, when in fact it was a product placement for 1-800-Flowers and several other companies … What a joke.”

This morning’s New York Times included an article by David Barstow reporting on the study’s findings — and, naturally, that article also quickly became the object of blogger skepticism.

“The New York Times (among other, usually quite sensible, media outlets) reports on a study by the Center for Media and Democracy showing that many television stations continue to use video news releases,” writes Holmes Report. “No mention of the fact that many print media — including the Times itself, unless I am much mistaken — continue to use press releases.”

At the same time, mediabistro’s FishBowlDC noticed another striking omission from the Times’ story.

“We don’t hand out our ‘Stinky Fish’ awards — those given for the worst examples of journalism we can find — very often, but our nomination for worst newspaper article of the day has to go to the NYT’s David Barstow for a shallow piece in today’s paper on video news releases,” writes FishBowlDC. “Barstow somehow manages to write up a new report from the Center for Media & Democracy that alleges widespread use of video news releases without actually naming a single one of the 69 stations.”

“But then again, if you look at the list of stations, some answers emerge,” adds FishBowlDC. “There’s lots of Tribune Broadcasting stations, several News Corp. stations, and a smattering of Sinclair’s stations. Oh and this little nugget: TWO of the accused stations are owned by the New York Times Company — Pennsylvania’s WNEP-TV and Alabama’s WHNT-TV. Oops.”

Oops, indeed.

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Felix Gillette writes about the media for The New York Observer.