So when is news not news? When it’s invented for the sake of sales and marketing, that’s when.
My friend and co-advocate, Helen Haskell in South Carolina, forwarded a link to an article in the Columbia Journalism Review by Trudy Lieberman about what those in the marketing biz call VNRs — Video News Releases. Excellent article. If you have a chance, give it a good read.
Here’s the overview: Increasingly, across the country, when you see “health news” on your local TV news broadcast, what you are watching is possibly not news at all, but a nicely packaged advertisement for your local hospital. Trudy recounts a recent segment that touted a new home-physical-therapy program for kids which featured this “new” program at the Cleveland Clinic. It was run as a news segment, it was included in the news broadcast, and it was called news by the anchors who delivered all the other news…. BUT (yes, that’s a big BUT!) …. it was written, produced, and packaged by the Cleveland Clinic. Yes, really.
What’s wrong with this picture?
My answer might surprise you.
I actually have no problem with the Cleveland Clinic developing information in video, or audio, or print form for potential customers. As a matter of fact, my radio show is just that — a radio show that is underwritten by University Hospital for the benefit of listeners.
But I do have a problem (a BIG problem!) with calling it news! Because it isn’t. In this country, we expect our news to be an unbiased report of what is new and interesting that is currently going on in our world, how it may affect us, and perhaps why it is important. It may have a sponsor, or an advertiser, but that is called out as an advertisement and we know the very distinct line between what is considered the news, and what is considered an advertisement.
My radio show touts that very distinct line with every intro and outro of the show — a minimum of 8 times during each hour.
The problem with broadcast or print news departments accepting these VNRs and including them as part of their news is that the line becomes blurred. They may be talking about something helpful to patients — but they need to make sure we know where that line is! Otherwise — ALL their news becomes suspect.
Look at it this way: suppose a local manufacturing plant has a layoff of workers, and they supply the video used to tell the local community about their layoff. Don’t you think that message would be a bit swayed in favor of the company? Do you think they would include real interviews of the people who had been laid off? Do you think the local economic development folks would have their say? Of course not.
As patients — we need to know the “health news” we see is unbiased. We need to know the very objective viewpoint of this news. While it’s OK to introduce a new idea — we need to know that the news department has looked behind it to bring us the counter idea if one exists.
And in a VNR? No way is it such. And no way can it be trusted.
You can be sure that if I see a VNR on one of my local channels couched as “news” — I will no longer watch that channel because I know I can’t trust its news. (Hear that WSTM, WSYR, WTVH and WSYT? And yes, one of you does use VNRs and no, I don’t watch your channel.)
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