Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Fake TV News

The Center for Media and Democracy did a study of video news releases (VNRs), such as used by the Bush Administration to sell some of its policies, and found widespread use in television stations, large and small, across the nation.

But it didn't explain why television stations use them. The easy answer: because it's the easy answer.

There is a lot of laziness in television news. A lack of zeal for integrity, but a great deal of zeal to stack the show with interesting stories in an interesting way and squeeze in a dinner or lunch break, mainly focusing on pulling off a flawless performance.

But there's also some severely overworked and underpaid employees. I recall my husband telling me about an exchange he had with a producer (many years ago) who was retyping a news release to be read by the anchor. He noticed a piece of information which he was pretty sure was a mistake and pointed it out so the producer could check on it. The producer said, "I don't have time to check."

And it's true. There is often a lot of chaos that goes into putting on a newscast (which always has to air at the same time, right on time), a lot of cogs turning the big wheel, and often an assumption that all the cogs are working the way they should be at the proper time, including the accuracy of information. In the rush and bustle to churn out a product, the very reason for churning out the product (you know, accurately informing the public about facts) often drops way down to the bottom of the checklist.

Local news stations don't usually produce their own national news stories, anyway, so they're used to throwing someone else's story on the air. However, usually it's from sister stations and networks or the wire (my husband once got footage from a story he shot onto the wires, aired nationally, and reporters from around the country came to our station to use our equipment and cover the local story - it was exciting). So it probably doesn't seem that odd to use VNRs to help stack the show and free time for more local things. (Not all stations use VNRs, at least not in their entirety; often stations will use them for B-roll and get the information from other sources). And as bloggers know, it sometimes takes a long time to factcheck stuff and comprehensively cover a story. And even if they did try to factcheck a national or government VNR, they most likely wouldn't be able to get an official to give them a soundbite.

So I sincerely doubt there's a whole lot of intentional bias and coverup going on, such as happened at Fox's O&O, WTVT, in Tampa.

Of course, that doesn't change how wrong and unethical it is to air what are basically infomercials as if they are news - better to not air anything about them at all. Just thought you'd like a little insight into television news, and why I don't watch it much anymore.

BTW, I had my husband factcheck this post since I haven't worked in many years and don't have first-hand knowledge anymore.

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