In the discussion thread: Conan points out media scripts. Makes me wonder who is writing the news. [View all]
Response to icymist (Original post)
Sat Jan 11, 2014, 12:11 PM
JHB (22,011 posts)
21. Search on "video news release", "VNR", and/or "prepackaged news"
It's a PR tool that's become a staple, especially in local news. There's a suggested script for the lead-in (kind of obvious what it was with this example), followed by a video segment produced by some other party. And the big question is who the other parties are. It would have been interesting to see the video segment that followed, to figure out what they were trying to sell -- probably a retail association trying to promote a "come on, everybody's doing it" attitude to encourage more spending during the holidays.
They're very attractive for local stations because it gives them material to air at little or no cost, and the lead-in by the local station anchors gives the impression that it's something the station did on it's own, not something that they got from elsewhere and just used verbatim.
A video news release (VNR) is a video segment made to look like a news report, but is instead created by a PR firm, advertising agency, marketing firm, corporation, or government agency. They are provided to television newsrooms to shape public opinion, promote commercial products and services, publicize individuals, or support other interests. News producers may air VNRs, in whole or in part, at their discretion or incorporate them into news reports if they contain information appropriate to a story or of interest to viewers.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_news_release
Critics of VNRs have called the practice deceptive or a propaganda technique, particularly when the segment is not identified to the viewers as a VNR. Firms producing VNRs disagree and equate their use to a press release in video form and point to the fact that editorial judgement in the worthiness, part or whole, of a VNR's content is still left in the hands of Journalists, Program Producers or the like. The United States Federal Communications Commission is currently investigating the practice of VNRs.
VNRs have been used extensively in business since at least the early 1980s. Corporations such as Microsoft and Philip Morris, and the pharmaceutical industry generally, have all made use of the technique.
According to the trade-group Public Relations Society of America, a VNR is the video equivalent of a press release. and presents a client's case in an attractive, informative format. The VNR placement agency seeks to garner media attention for the client's products, services, brands or other marketing goals. The VNR affords local TV stations free broadcast quality materials for use in reports offered by such stations.
In March 2000, Candace White, marketing professor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, co-authored a report with Mark D. Harmon for the Public Relations Society of America titled "How video news releases are used in television broadcasts." On the panel with Moscowitz and Potter, White said that the same self-interest that encourages news directors to use VNRs dictates that the material is used responsibly. "I trust news producers to be able to weed out true news value; I give them credit for being able to recognize blatant sales pitches. Our study found that the corporate videos were used the least, and the ones about health and safety were used the most," she said.http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Video_news_releases
The Center for Media and Democracy's Executive Director John Stauber disagreed. "The use of VNRs amounts to systematic deception of viewers, both by the hidden interested parties behind them, and by news organizations with impure motives themselves," he said.
Reporting on a September 2005 seminar on new media, Media Daily News noted that VNRs "which can look like regular news stories to the unaided eye--can be placed in local or national newscasts." On that panel was Larry Moskowitz, the president and CEO of Medialink Worldwide. "If there is news in your brands we'll find a way to put your brands in your news. In a sense, it's product placement, but it's earned a place on the shelf," Media Daily News reported.
Medialink Worldwide, one of the largest producers and distributors of VNRs, states in its 2003 annual report that a "VNR is a television news story that communicates an entity's public relations or corporate message. It is paid for by the corporation or organization seeking to announce news and is delivered without charge to the media."
While the company likens VNRs as akin to the traditional hard copy news release, it acknowledges they are widely used in newsrooms. "Produced in broadcast news style, VNRs relay the news of a product launch, medical discovery, corporate merger event, timely feature or breaking news directly to television news decision-makers who may use the video and audio material in full or edited form. Most major television stations in the world now use VNRs, some on a regular basis," Medialink states.
More evidence of that–if any is necessary–comes in the form of this clip reel put together by Conan O'Brien's Conan show, which shows a large number of TV anchors reading from the same script about a story of immense public importance: a smartphone app for ice cream delivery:http://www.fair.org/blog/2012/07/19/local-tv-news-now-with-ice-cream/
As O'Brien comments, "I don't find that funny–I find it scary."
This would appear to be one more example of what Free Press and others were warning us about a few years back–fake news segments that are really just corporate PR planted in the middle of a "newscast."
The FCC should, in theory, do something about this manipulation of the news on the public airwaves. But the commission has been extremely slow to act. As James Rainey reported in the L.A. Times (3/30/11), two stations faced slap-on-the-wrist fines for airing commercials dressed up as news–four years after the offending broadcasts aired.
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