Sunday, March 13, 2005

Whom Do We Blame for Manufactured News?

Just as VNRs are falling out of favor in the corporate PR world, the federal government is successfully using the format to promote its views, says The New York Times. It's an approach that's strikingly discordant with the new-media ethos -- which insists on transparency -- but for now it appears to be working. Prediction: bloggers will direct most of their ire at offending broadcast news outlets, rather than the government or the PR industry. The media world -- old and new -- increasingly is going after its own.

The practice of packaging VNRs as "news" is not new. What is new is that it is getting full treatment, in a 4,500-word story on page one of a national newspaper, and everyone who profits -- the media, the PR industry, and the government -- is being held accountable:

This winter, Washington has been roiled by revelations that a handful of columnists wrote in support of administration policies without disclosing they had accepted payments from the government. But the administration's efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source.

***

An examination of government-produced news reports offers a look inside a world where the traditional lines between public relations and journalism have become tangled, where local anchors introduce prepackaged segments with "suggested" lead-ins written by public relations experts. It is a world where government-produced reports disappear into a maze of satellite transmissions, Web portals, syndicated news programs and network feeds, only to emerge cleansed on the other side as "independent" journalism.

It is also a world where all participants benefit.

Local affiliates are spared the expense of digging up original material. Public relations firms secure government contracts worth millions of dollars. The major networks, which help distribute the releases, collect fees from the government agencies that produce segments and the affiliates that show them. The administration, meanwhile, gets out an unfiltered message, delivered in the guise of traditional reporting.

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