Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Fake Photojournalism, Fake News Stories

First we have fake photojournalism by Reuters and the AP.   Now there is news of fake journalism - video news releases masquerading as stories, although the Washington Post made sure to smear the White House in their article on the subject.

Most of us have seen the fine hand of the press release handout in news stories for decades.   Mailed to an editor by an activist group, or, more probably, given to an editor by another newspapaper's editor and handed over to a "journalist", the press release is only superficially re-written as a news story.   It's a little harder to do now that the activist groups post their press releases on line, but, nonetheless, the habit is hard to break.   For decades, however, the video news release has been used in television news, sometimes without any rewriting at all.

How widespread is the use of video news releases?   Nielsen studies indicated that 100 percent of the stations surveyed aired VNRs.
In 2004, a survey by the major VNR producer D S Simon Productions found that more than 80 percent of television stations were airing the same number or more VNRs on medical topics, compared to 2003.
And to help it along, the VNR supplier buys spots, virtually assuring the play of the video as a news item.   They call it "branded journalism" when they buy time on broadcast networks and cable networks, guaranteeing that for $10,000 to $50,000 that the video news release would be aired.

Freepress.com is campaigning to crack down on fake news and the FCC is responding by issuing letters of inquiry to some 42 TV stations.   Failure to identify can result in a fine of up to $32,500 for each violation, something that might take out the economic incentive for stations to make use of the VNR. 

Too bad we don't have a similar agency to investigate the press.  

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