When the News May Not be Real: Ongoing Use of Video News Releases
The Center for Media and Democracy Tuesday released an update to its April report Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed, in which it claimed to document loads of instances in which local TV stations used footage from Video News Releases without properly disclosing their sources.
VNRs are essentially video press releases prepared by companies, trade associations and even politicians. The original goal was to provide TV journalists with some information and footage to entice them into working up a story on whatever issue product or person they hoped to publicize. But, as local TV stations expand their newscast hours and shrink staffing to maximize profits, more companies have used VNRs wtihout editing them or researching them -- passing along the claims and information provided by publicists without verifying the information independently.
The CMD claims to have documented 46 stations in 22 states airing such material in their newscasts. This time, they found a Tampa station -- WFLA-Ch. 8 -- which incorporated a short snippet of VNR footage and script without citing the source of its material.
But TV industry folks say the CMD exaggerates its claims, comparing use of the VNR material to newspapers using press release copy verbatim in brief columns such as event listings (which is still a no-no at most big papers).
Since I'm pulling together a column on this, I'll keep my deeper thoughts to myself. But I encourage you to check out the WFLA clip for yourself and decide: journalistic sin or harmless shortcut?
Rule No. 2: Don't Put Fight Club Footage on MySpace
A friend emailed a stunning bit of footage originally featured on some people's MySpace pages. It's video of two small boys, probably age 10 or younger, fighting in a yard while adults stand over them, encouraging them to mix it up. The labelling indicated it may have been filmed in St. Petersburg.
As the kids tumble over each other punching, shoving and kicking, the adults form a ragged semicircle shouting awful encouragement. All the people involved are black, and the shouts of "rush that nigga" or "don't let that nigga steal on you (punch you)" made my heart hurt.
Of course, some idiot filmed it and put it on MySpace.
WTSP-Ch. 10 did a story on the footage which said Florida authorities are investigating. But I don't think we'll ever know what might possess someone to inflict something that damaging on young children.
Marie Claire Really Tries to Make News
That didn't stop the magazine from using the wonders of Photoshop to create an image showing a smiling Vargas with a baby at her breast.
Vargas has issued a mealymouthed objection: "While Elizabeth Vargas was happy to discuss issues of balancing work and motherhood and is quite proud to breastfeed her newborn son, she was disappointed that Marie Claire chose to Photoshop her head onto a fake image,” an ABC spokesperson said in a written statement.
I, however, would have said something like "I'm incredibly pissed that a magazine which purports to practice something resembling journalism would gin up a fake photo of me using someone who is not my baby showing me doing something I would never inflict on a worldwide audience."
But maybe that's just me.