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Vieira's In, Let Speculation Begin



Giving Katie Couric her 24 hours of media attention as departing Today anchor, the network confirmed this morning another well-known fact -- The View co-host Meredith Vieira will come to NBC as Today show co-host. Vieira's got more hard news chops than Couric had when she joined Today, with stints as a correspondent and editor on 60 Minutes and time spent as a substitute anchor on the CBS Evening News. Famously, she was frozen out of work on the old-boy-dominated 60 Minutes when she asked for more time to be home with her kids.

Since then, she's recast herself as a likeable TV personality, co-hosting The View and playing Regis Philbin on the syndicated version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

"Before (NBC Universal honcho Jeff Zucker) changes his mind, I am honored to accept this amazing opportunity," said Vieira in NBC's press release. "Not only is the 'Today' show a great program within a superb news organization, it's also where America turns to begin the day. I look forward to joining Matt, Ann and Al in giving America the best each morning."

There's a press conference scheduled with Vieira, Zucker, Today anchor Matt Lauer and the show's executive producer at 1:30 p.m. Expect no one to ask why newsreader Ann Curry wasn't considered for the gig.

And former network anchor Connie Chung, in a quote cut from my Couric story today, sees Vieira's victory over younger women like Curry, weekend Today anchor Campbell Brown and MSNBC anchor Natalie Morales as a victory for women of a certain age (Couric turns 50 in January and Vieira is 52).

""Barbara Walters and me...we were asked to join someone who had to move over a few inches...and I don't begrudge those men their resentment,'' said Chung, whose stint as CBS Evening News anchor lasted just two years. ""I know what these networks are like and why they find it so hard to change. I'm just enjoying this moment for women.''

Shocking News: Video News Releases are used More Than TV Newspeople Will Admit

The Center for Media and Democracy has developed a study showing -- gasp! -- that many local TV news producers were full of it when they said Video News Releases are not used often in newscasts.

VNR's are video press releases formatted to look like TV news stories, complete with the employee of a public relations firm delivering information on camera like a news reporter. Such releases are funded by companies -- drug manufacturers, car companies, etc. -- looking to sell the public on whatever is featured in the item.

The Bush administration got a black eye by using VNRs to push government programs. But in their study Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed, the center tracked the use of 36 VNRs to discover that 77 stations had aired the material or arranged satellite TV interviews based on their material, never disclosing to viewers the source of their information.

In 87 airings, they found one station which identified the PR company behind creation of the VNR. No station identified the clients which paid for the item. In every broadcast, stations used different graphics to make the VNRs appear to be staff generated; 60 percent of the time a station anchor or reporter re-voiced scripts provided with the VNR; and 80 broadcasts never sought outside material to supplement the story or vet its claims.

(shown here - the VNR display on the left, the station display on the right)

Though the Center has a finicky Web site, it offers a map showing the placement of stations which aired the VNRs and detailed information on the VNRs themselves (if you recognize any from the Tampa Bay area market, feel free to let me know!)

This is, of course, the unfortunate result of TV stations cutting staff to the bone to make ridiculous profit margins. A researcher for the study said they found 50 percent of their VNR usage occurred between 5 a.m and 9 a.m., when TV stations have skeleton staffs assembling huge amount of TV programming. Add in consultants who urge stations to brand every story on the program with station identifiers -- regardless of where the material comes from -- and you have a serious problem.

An FCC official appearing on Amy Goodman's Democracy Now show has vowed to bring the issue before the full commision with an eye toward prosecuting offenders. It remains beyond sad that the threat of criminal prosecution and fines may be what is needed to stop TV stations from bastardizing their own news content.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:36pm]


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