The Commonwealth Iconoclast

A site dedicated to covering issues relevant to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and nation at large, plus other interesting things too, as I see fit...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Is it news, or is it an advertisement?

The other day while watching the local news in Harrisonburg an odd advertisement got my attention. Here's a quick synopsis: the ad was for some local Exxon service station (sort of like a local Sheetz or something), anyway the commercial was presented by a "reporter", and at the bottom of the screen were the words "Live". Needless to say, the commercial was quite "cheesey", but I could see how one might mistake it for a "real" news story at first glance...I found it to be strange, and I remembered the ad (but I still haven't stop by the Exxon to fill up my car and buy two chili cheese hotdogs, but maybe soon).

Well this morning I read a report from the Center for Media and Democracy which details the often used "VNRs" (Video News Reports, AKA: corporate propaganda) which, unlike the above mentioned commercial, are often embedded in actual news cast. So these advertisements/commercials actually have the look and feel of a legitimate story, but in reality it's just another commercial tricked up to appear to be a real story. The stations play along and make cash by selling this "story", and the company/entity market their product to cosumers that are under the impression that they are watching the news. I guess you could say this is ingenious and scary at the same time!

If you get a chance follow the link above and view a few of the VNRs. A spread sheet is available that lists the 77 stations nationally that regularly use VNRs in their news cast. Also,- surprise, surprise - Harrisonburg's ABC affiliate, WHSV, is one of the 77 stations that use VNRs.

Please if I have misinterpreted exactly what VNRs actually are, I'd love to know. Regardless, what the hell is going on with elements of our media? Last year we find out the President is PAYING reporters to write pro-administration "stories", and now it appears that corporations are now creating their own brand of news. Where in the hell is the FCC? Is everything and everyone in this Country for sale to the highest bidder?


  • At 4/08/2006 9:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    To answer your last question...pretty much yes! The only question left is what is your price?

  • At 4/08/2006 9:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Well, this is news to me!

    This is the first time I've ever heard of this practice, but aren't journalist suppose to have some sort of code of ethics? Wouldn't it be logical to think that news segments which are produced and paid for by for-profit companies might just be unethical?

    I agree, is even the news for sale now?

  • At 4/09/2006 10:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Remember the Lohr Pumpkin Patch "story" during the campaign last fall?
    So it doesn't just deal with business, but politics as well.

  • At 4/09/2006 11:19 AM, Blogger Will Vaught said…

    OH, yes, how can I forget the convient and timely "pumpkin patch" piece that showed up on WHSV days before the 2005 election.

    It was warm, fuzzy, and oh so humanizing. I'm sure the folks at the VFF were giddy with glee with this "news" piece. Now, can anyone verify if this "pumkin piece" was indeed a Lohr sponsored VNR?

    but really, as someone pointed out when this was last discussed, what are there something like 100 pumpkin patches in the Valley similar to this one?

  • At 4/10/2006 10:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Surprise! Surprise! Looking at the list of 77 stations, it appears that Fox, Sinclair, and Clear Channel are the most prevalent sponsors of VNRs.

  • At 4/12/2006 5:23 PM, Blogger Will Vaught said…

    This message was sent to me by Van Hackett, the News Director for WHSV in Hburg, thank you for you e-mail!

    Mr. Vaught,
    Your e-mail was forwarded to me.
    Allow me to clarify for you our use of VNR material.
    We do use VNR video from time to time. It is almost exclusively from the Farm Bureau.
    This is a common practice, especially in small markets. The video is always identified as to its source. We write the script that airs, thus maintaining editorial control. This also is accepted practice at the network level. Network news operations routinely use video from the Defense Department or a business to illustrate a story if the video is not available from any other source.
    At NO time are we paid for using VNR video, nor do I believe any other news operation is. And, as I said, we do not relinguish editorial control.
    I hope that clarifies the use of VNR materials.
    Thank you for your interest in WHSV.
    Van Hackett
    WHSV News Director


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