Trylon Communications  - May 2004

Let the Viewer Beware

You are watching the local news one evening and see a video clip of the president of a local company talking about how the firm has helped solve a major community problem. You wonder how he convinced the TV station to come to his office and film the segment. Surprise! His company actually produced the segment and delivered it to the station’s news department - one more case of Participatory Journalism. Video News Releases (VNRs) are now being produced and distributed by thousands of companies and government agencies who realize they can “make” their own news.

According to Nielsen Media Research, every television station uses VNRs – and as many as 80 percent of them air VNRs several times per month. News directors facing temporal deadlines and restricted budgets may resort to VNRs as a way to fill holes in their broadcasts. Sometimes the VNR is used as “b-roll” footage for background or a sound bite, but in other cases it is used in its entirety as an uncut feature.

The VNR is simply a press release with moving pictures and sound. News directors may find them to be good “filler” material – but is the material legitimate news or just another marketing ploy?

Depending on whom you talk to, VNRs are seen as either innocent segment fillers or outright advertising – sometimes false advertising. For instance, it’s not journalistic to create a VNR with an “expert” touting the effectiveness of a new product when the expert is actually a paid actor. It’s not even good advertising - and certainly not ethical PR.

The bottom line: as discussed in the article, “Escape from Advertising,”  journalism is becoming more and more participatory. When companies use VNRs correctly, it can be advantageous – but used deceptively or incorrectly, the tactic can backfire.