Society of Professional Journalists
Improving and protecting journalism since 1909

Advertisement
— ADVERTISEMENT —
Advertise with SPJ
2

News and More
Click to Expand Instantly

SPJ News
Events and Deadlines
SPJ Blogs
Quill Online
SPJ on Tumblr
Journalist's Toolbox

Stay in Touch
Twitter Tumblr Facebook Google Plus
RSS Pinterest Pinterest Storify


More SPJ News
Press Notes
Publications
SPJ Blogs
Quill
SPJ Leads
The EIJ News
Press Notes
SPJ News
Open Doors
Geneva Conventions
Annual FOI Reports

Home > SPJ News > SPJ objects to bogus news reports and their use by TV newsrooms

SPJ News
Latest SPJ News | RSS


SPJ objects to bogus news reports and their use by TV newsrooms

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
3/19/2004


CONTACT:Gary Hill, SPJ Ethics Committee Chairman, at 651-642-4437 or ghill@kstp.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Society of Professional Journalists today decried the Bush administration’s use of fake television news reports and the professional laziness of the news organizations that have picked up these and similar video press releases without traditional journalistic editing and responsibility.

The dissemination and uncritical use of public-relations videos masquerading as legitimate news coverage mislead the public and undermine the credibility of journalists. Both the government officials who use this deceptive promotional tool and the journalists who have long acquiesced in this and similar practices are doing a grave disservice to the public interest.

It has become all too common for marketers to adopt the style of television news reporting to push their products. The Bush administration’s use of fake TV news reports to praise the changes it made in the Medicare law is only the latest example, but also among the worst, because it uses taxpayer dollars. The technique is to employ individuals or firms with television production expertise to crank out “video news releases” that are then usually distributed by satellite, free of charge to newsrooms across the country. The production values are high and sometimes the items are actually newsworthy.

SPJ Ethics Committee Chairman Gary Hill, director of investigations for KSTP-TV in St. Paul, Minn., wrote the following in a commentary about the fake reports:

“The temptation, especially for smaller newsrooms with limited staff and resources, is enormous. Record the feed, copy the suggested `lead-in’ for your anchor to read and drop the item in your newscast. Suddenly a two-minute hole in the newscast is filled and no one is the wiser. There in lies the problem. You’ve just pulled the wool over your viewers’ eyes and allowed someone with a product or point of view to sell to hijack your newscast. You’ve voluntarily surrendered your editorial control -- and your credibility -- without a fight, without even a whimper for that matter.”

Hill’s complete commentary follows.

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.


~ Commentary / Letter to the Editor ~


Re: Use of “fake news”
By: Gary Hill, Ethics Committee Chairman, Society of Professional Journalists

The Bush administration’s use of fake TV news reports to praise the changes it made in the Medicare law is re-igniting an old controversy. Over the last couple of decades it’s become common practice for marketers of all types to adopt the style of television news reporting to push their products. Pharmaceutical, automotive, and petroleum companies do it. City, county, state and federal agencies employ people or hire firms with television production expertise to crank out “video news releases” that are then usually distributed by satellite, free of charge to newsrooms across the country. The production values are high and sometimes the items are actually newsworthy.

The temptation, especially for smaller newsrooms with limited staff and resources, is enormous. Record the feed, copy the suggested “lead-in” for your anchor to read and drop the item in your newscast. Suddenly a two-minute hole in the newscast is filled and no one is the wiser. There in lies the problem. You’ve just pulled the wool over your viewers’ eyes and let someone with a product or point of view to sell to hijack your newscast. You’ve voluntarily surrendered your editorial control -- and your credibility -- without a fight, without even a whimper for that matter.

The motives for government and business to use this technique are obvious. Prepackaging the material in a news fashion -- including the use of actors impersonating reporters -- makes it easier for an overworked broadcaster to use it. It wraps the product or point of view in the credibility of the newscast. When successful, it’s better than paid advertising and cheaper. Of course having our tax dollars engaged in a practice that helps debase one of the pillars of our democracy should give us pause, but even more worrisome is the fact that some journalists apparently allowed themselves to be used.

The Bush administration should reconsider using this tactic for publicizing its agenda.” Everybody does it,” while perhaps correct, sounds like the not-very-good excuse teenagers use to convince skeptical parents. However, it is always the responsibility of the journalists to decide what is appropriate content for their newscasts. Dropping an unedited video news release into a newscast without telling the viewers about the source of the story is inexcusable. Any journalist or news organization that seeks to maintain its credibility with the public should abhor the practice and put systems in place to make sure that it never happens.

-END-

Copyright © 1996-2014 Society of Professional Journalists. All Rights Reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center
3909 N. Meridian St.
Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789

Contact SPJ Headquarters
Employment Opportunities
Advertise with SPJ