Real Reform for Fake News

When video news releases (VNR) are aired by news programs unedited or lightly edited, I imagine PR pros get high fives from clients and supervisors for getting the key messages out unfiltered. So whatever could be the matter with VNRs?

VNRs, or “fake news,” the term preferred by public interest group PR Watch, are qualitatively different than written news releases. The use of PR people mimicking the dress and conventions of news reporters without real time disclosures of their mimicry crosses the line from briefing reporters to impersonating reporters.

And incredibly, VNRs continue to get aired by reporters unedited, or lightly edited. PR people love to blame producers for this. “There is a right and a wrong way for producers to use VNRs, and it’s not our fault that some use them the wrong way,” they say, doing a mighty fine impersonation of a hookah salesman.

Goodness knows, modern TV newsrooms are ripe for VNR abuse. They are badly understaffed by inexperienced and overworked producers and reporters. They are run by corporations focused more on increasing ad revenues and stock prices at any cost than promoting responsible local journalism. Enter PR pros, dangling beautifully produced VNRs in front of frazzled producers facing enormous news holes and perpetual deadlines. It’s a match made in heaven.

The PR industry bears a heavy share of the blame for VNR abuse, for it has the power to fix the problem but chooses not to.

We could, after all, have all VNRs carry written source disclosures over the full length of the video. For example, “Background materials provided by Company X” could be printed below B roll segments and “Not an actual reporter” could appear on the screen during narration segments.

We all know that a source disclosure before and after the VNR is not sufficient to prevent VNR abuse, because that leaves video, quite intentionally, “fresh” so producers can use the material without attribution.

Carrying a source disclosure through the full length of the VNR would make VNRs much more abuse-proof, save TV producers from themselves, preserve some of the remaining credibility of TV newsrooms, save clients from being subject to scathing criticism for promoting “fake news,” and help make public relations a more honorable profession. The hookah defense no longer cuts it.

— Loveland