The segments are designed to look and sound like news reports, and lack clear and prominent disclosure that they are in fact paid advertisements. The anchors introduce them as traditional news pieces, closing with: “Spokesperson Angela Buckelew has more.” At the end, the anchors say the segments were “sponsored by News 9’s parent company, Griffin Communications LLC, and The Oklahoma Health Care Authority,” which oversees Insure.

It would take a very attentive and savvy viewer to catch those vague bits of disclosure. And if such sins of omission weren’t enough, Buckelew is a former reporter at KWTV, and is thus familiar to viewers in Oklahoma City as a credible source of news.
Despite Archer’s story, Griffin hasn’t changed the way it handles the promotions. What’s at stake here isn’t Insure Oklahoma’s bona fides, and the segments do draw attention to the need for health insurance for employees of small businesses. But news outlets owe it to their audiences to clearly distinguish between news and paid promotion.

 

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Katia Bachko is on staff at The New Yorker.