Fox News Fakes News

Just about four years ago to the day, I criticized my industry, the public relations industry, for its use of video news releases (VNRs). VNRs are video segments designed to look exactly like a TV news story. But they are produced by PR pros, not reporters, often with PR people acting out the role of faux reporters. Just as PR people and their clients hope, VNRs often get run unedited or lightly edited on actual newscasts, which has caused watchdog groups like PR Watch to label this crowning achievement of the PR industry “fake news.” This brand of fake news has been shamelessly used over the years to sell everything from widgets to wars.

Ever the killjoy, I argued back in the day that VNRs 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.”

VNR’s just do not pass a reasonable person’s smell test.

My quixotic propsoal was for PR pros to be proactively ethical, and disclose the funder of the VNR, via a continuously on-screen chyron, to make it impossible for a TV news producer to use any VNR footage without proper attiribution.

This proposal did not catch fire in PR salons.

But the issue hasn’t gone away. In fact, last week the FCC penalized the local Fox affilate, KMSP-TV, for airing a story about the automobile industry that was, it turns out, exactly how General Motors would tell the story, if it were telling the story itself. Because it was. Because the KMSP-TV news team borrowed heavily from a GM-funded VNR advertisement.

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The Seven Words You Now CAN Say On New Media

8mischke0319The shape of the media is obviously changing. Old media is adapting and sometimes expiring. New media is experimenting, evolving, dying and sometimes flourishing. Where it all will land is anyone’s guess.

But one interesting implication of all these changes is that much of the content is now outside the control of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Remember comedian George Carlin’s bit, The Seven Words You Cannot Say On TV?” Well, now you most definitely can say them via new media.

That may not seem like a big deal, but if people speak like they do in real life, maybe they’ll be more real. And more real is very good.

Witness today’s episode of the online show hosted by Tommy Mischke, the uniquely talented former talk show host at KSTP-AM. These days he streams a thoughtful, raw show from citypages.com, and today he interviewed long-time newspaper columnist Nick Coleman.

This is a more real voice of Coleman than you’ve heard in the mainstream media. This Nick Coleman joked about “spanking hot lobbyists” and the virtues of “commie rectum licking.” This Nick Coleman felt liberated enough to talk about how the Star Tribune, remarkably, forbade him from writing about the historic Obama inauguration. He talked about how his brother, the Mayor of St. Paul, was giving him the silent treatment because of his criticism of the St. Paul Police Department during the Republican National Convention (RNC), and how Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak called him an “asshole.” This Tommy Mischke was able to say “bullshit” when he was thinking “bullshit,” and he was able to speak his mind about his opinion that the birther movement is all about racism.

Refreshing and honest, I think. Revolting and too rowdy, the FCC and corporate media management would say.

Anyway, consider checking out Tommy’s new show. It’s still very Tommy. But it’s Tommy Unplugged, and being off the leash particularly suits a unique talent like his.

It’s disheartening to see all of the upheaval in the mainstream media worlds. But humans still want and need information, news and entertainment, so if mainstream media dies off, something will replace it. And my kids may very well grow up with information sources that are much more robust and enlightening than what I grew up with. We are blessed to live in interesting times.

- Loveland

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