Most people look to their local news stations to inform them of the days events. Journalism is based on truth and integrity. Generally when individuals look at the news they may assume that everything being presented to them is fact. Individuals are being presented information that isn’t entirely true. This semi true information is being presented to viewers thru video news releases.
There are many dilemmas concerning the use of these video news releases being used as real news on local and national television stations. The use of video news releases used by television newsrooms were documented by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) over a period of ten months. From this investigation CMD found that thirty-six video news release’s had been used by these news media groups.
What exactly is a video news releases, it is a public relations tool used where a short clip is produced and sent to media outlets. The video news release’s do offer viewers information. Since video news release’s are made by those in public relations they are for the most part used to sell a product or a certain point of view to the viewer. It is important that the public knows about the purpose of video news releases. When video news releases are presented to the public by media outlets as news reports, viewers are not given the correct information. Most news outlets that show these video news release’s show parts of the video news releases and do not inform views that the information provided is a prepared video new releases, and not based on information gathered by a reporter.
Video news releases are clips that sometimes can not be distinguished between original news programs. These video news releases have been showed by television stations unedited. These unedited video news releases do not give viewers information into who these video clips are produced by. Some of the sponsors of these video news releases are non-government organizations, government organizations, and corporations, among others. Journalist that use video news releases as their own work are committing plagiarism with them. If TV journalists label the video news releases and allow their viewers the opportunity to see who is sponsoring the video news releases then they are okay.
Some widely used video news release term are: video news release (VNR), edited piece, voice over, feed, b-roll package, b-roll, downlink, and uplink. A video news releases is usually 90 second or less, it is a paid video news clip that is produced for broadcast on a news media outlet. An edited piece which is often called a package is a completed video news release. A voice over is a narration of the story. A satellite transmission of information is often called a feed. A feed of interviews and a b-roll which usually includes a script is a b-roll package. The b-roll included in a b-roll package is a video clip used to resemble a news story. When media is received by satellite it is called downlink, it is the opposite of uplink which is media distributed by the satellites.
“Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed” is the name the report released by the Center for Media and Democracy. The report is the end result of the ten month investigation conducted by CMD’s senior researcher and Daniel Price who was the reach consultant. The report shows how video news releases also know as fake news are made by public relations experts and are then being broadcast by news outlets as news.
Daniel Price a research consultant for the report and also a media critic has been tracking public relation propaganda since 1993. “I was really irritated when I found out that the stations use real reporters to re-voice the publicists voice. Then the stations would air it. And in most cases, stations failed to balance the clients message with independently-gathered footage or basic journalistic research,” said Price.
Andy Ludlum, a news director at KFWB explained that prepackaged information is sent out by publicist so radio broadcasters can use them on the air. Video news releases are an opportunity for publicist to get free publicity and promote their product or client at the same time. Ludlum stated that “Occasionally, I get a radio news release and those are problematic. I think that mot of them are so boring I would not want to read them anyways.”
When Jim Hill a broadcast journalism professor at California State University of Northridge was a reporter at CNN, he said that video news releases had been labeled. Hill stated that “When I used to report I would pride myself on getting the information from direct participants. If I had to talk to a public relations consultant I would consider the interview to be a failure. I would only get information from them if it was general information.”
Hill didn’t like using pr officials and press releases, he always tried to do his own reporting. Hill believes that journalism credibility depend on independence. “We use people as journalist to get information, and people use us,” said Hill.
Lori Baker-Schena a public relations professor at CSUN spoke to Hill and told her video news releases are great tools. Baker-Schena told Hill that if the department had the funds she would include video news releases in her public relations classes.
Maureen Rubin also a public relations professor at CSUN said there isn’t a problem with information that is pre-recorded. Rubin said, “VNRs are legitimate use material. The VNR’s are creating awareness about a service, product or event that maybe beneficial to a great deal of people. Many small stations cannot afford to send reporters out to cover every major events.”
Rubin said that is the information is accurate and answers the five w’s: who, what, when, where and why then there shouldn’t be any problems. Rubin also stated that it isn’t the job of the public relations firm to label the video news releases but the job of the television stations that are airing the VNR’s.
“…The most important thing is that news stations are passing of the information as their own reporting and it clearly is the work of publicist, some VNR’s have publicists pretending to be a reporter,” said Price.
A formal complaint was filed simultaneously by the Free Press a media reform group and CMD asking the Federal Communications Commission to enforce a crack down on fraud dealing with television news programs. The two groups are asking for fake TV news to be labeled for example video news releases. The groups are asking if those who produce video news releases are mandatory in labeling their products.
Price also stated that “the bottom line is, if its not labeled, it’s not journalism – it’s ventriloquism.”
Price said the use of VNR’s by media outlets is “a big issue.” David Greenberg doesn’t think this issue is a public issue. “I don’t think the public cares. For those of us that are in the craft we care,” said Greenberg.
Ludlum had the same view as Greenberg does care if the video news releases are disguised or not, unless the person is a journalist they simplify will not care.”
The news outlets that use video news releases should specify they are using video news releases in their broadcast, so viewers are aware of where the information is coming from.