Sickness!—It's gross, or as my kid brother would say, "grody."
Government or corporate entities put together segments for TV news that look like real stories. Video news releases, they're called, or VNRs.
A report released on sourcewatch.org in April lists 77 stations that used VNRs without disclosing that they are, in essence, pre-fab press releases assembled by someone's public relations team. On Tuesday, Nov. 14, the same researchers from the Center for Media and Democracy, Diane Farsetta and Daniel Price, put together another list from the last six months of 46 stations using VNRs, most of the time still not attributing these scripted segments to their PR sources. They tracked 109 VNRs from three main broadcast public relations firms, Medialink Worldwide, MultiVu and D S Simon Productions.
From the "Still Not the News" report: "Of the 54 total VNR broadcasts described in this report, 48 provided no disclosure of the nature or source of the sponsored video. In the six other cases, disclosure was fleeting and often ambiguous."
An estimated 5,000 VNRs are offered to newsrooms in a six-month period, according to the report. Now, I've seen lots of press releases, and I'd be lying if I said I'd never used their information as a starting point for a story. And although I've worked under editors who blanch at the idea, I think it's really important to note where all your information comes from, even when it seems like a minor detail.
I've been told it "looks bad" to cite a news release as source material, but it looks even worse to use it, not cite it and then have some media watchdog group bite your behind for passing off advertising as genuine news. As if being caught with your fingers in the sticky syrup of lazy broadcasting weren't enough, going back in for seconds immediately afterward is awful.
One more thing. Albuquerque didn't blip the radar on the most recent list of shame, but KASA FOX 2 news made it onto April’s. The hour-long news broadcast was produced by KOB-TV at the time. A call to Channel 4's news desk got us nowhere.
The station will no longer comment on anything regarding KASA, since they're no longer affiliated. See, KASA was sold to LIN TV for $55 million on July 27. KRQE News 13 runs the KASA news program now. I sure would like to hear what the good folks at KASA have to say about it. So far, inquiries yielded only dead air.
Check out the reports on VNRs and the list of shame at sourcewatch.org.