So much for transparency. David Barstow and Robin Stein report in the The New York Times today that video news releases (VNRs) have been masquerading as news all over the place. I’m sure the PR folks behind them are just delighted that media outlets are happy to take this prepackaged content and let it run, unleashing on the unwitting public their version of reality.
"To a viewer, each report looked like any other 90-second segment on the
local news. In fact, the federal government produced all three. The
report from Kansas City was made by the State Department. The
"reporter" covering airport safety was actually a public relations
professional working under a false name for the Transportation Security
Administration. The farming segment was done by the Agriculture
Department’s office of communications…
Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively
used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged,
ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long
distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies
to auto insurance." NYT, March 13, 2005
I’m the first one to encourage the use of VNRs. Especially given the (waning) power of broadcast media. But they shouldn’t run as news without some kind of indication that they weren’t created by the media outlet.
News media need to have a clear standard here. All VNRs should carry a specific warning "Video News Release – Might Be Harmful To Truth". No, really, there needs to be a standard here. And private and public enterprises should insist on it. This is another one for PROTs.
For instance, a spokesperson or PR person should be labeled just that. They don’t get to masquerade as security staff or reporters.
Codes do exist. As the NYT reports, the Radio-Television
News Directors Association, the main professional society for broadcast
news directors in the United States has a clear code of ethics in which stations must"Clearly disclose the origin of information and label all material provided by outsiders." Some stations go further, all but
forbidding the use of any outside material, especially entire reports.
Given the hole this story has exposed I’m certain plenty of PR Pros are thinking hard about a VNR as part of their next launch…