What a black eye for TV news

I was watching Conan last night, and was confronted with a “comedy” clip that, while sitting alone, made me uncomfortable to even watch.

It’s a string of local news anchors (not “ours” thank goodness) reading the same lead in to the same story across about 20 different markets.

What happened here is that one of the PR newswires put out a story and some copy, and it was block copied verbatim right out of the feed and into the night’s script.

I know I’m a little weird, but I found this very, very hard to watch.

And another humiliating example a search turned up:

Now, it’s only humiliating when you see all these cuts strung together. In isolation, in their own markets – the typical viewer would never know this was happening. And frankly a 30-year veteran of the industry (me) didn’t know to what extent it happens. I can see some common sound bites or whatever from a feed turning up, but straight cut-and-paste reads surprise me. I would love to see if, and or how, the editorial types at these stations managed telling viewers about the source of the story. My gut tells me it never happens.

Sweet lordy momma.

Here’s some background so you know why this happens:

1) PR news wire services (several) were integrated into the AP (ENPS) feed several years ago. I don’t know if it’s system wide, or on a per-station or per-group basis to reduce costs – or what. It might be a case where you can either pay $X dollars for ENPS/AP at your station group, or $X – $x if you allow the commercial/promotional content to be sewn into the feed. If you know how this works, comment on this post.

2) Some producers don’t know the difference between original reporting, thinking and even fresh writing – and puking up a press release. There is information in the slugs and the scripting on ENPS (the most used newsroom computer tool) to tip off editorial types as to the nature of the content, but you have to be AWARE of the fact that providers of commercial/promotional editorial content are allowed to integrate their commercial speech into your “news” feed! You need to think before you cut and paste. Maybe you need to tell viewers about the source of the information – and why the station thinks it is of value?

3) Some anchors and executive producers don’t exercise enough editorial control and let this kind of crap just slide. I know the guy who says, “Hey wait a minute” frequently becomes the “troublemaker” in the newsroom, but a lot of that has to do with whether you are a leader and a coach, or just a reader with a bad attitude.

4) All of this is highly questionable.


Handout “reporting” has been going on for years… the medical industry was one of the early adopters. They would go out, shoot “packages” that would go straight to air on some member stations, or be re-cut (they send rough-cut pix and sound too) and re-voiced by the station’s health reporter. Consumer Reports does it (they can be an honest broker on tests and promote themselves at the same time), and so do several other companies/entities in other lines of content.

This has always been an issue, and it was often salved by disclosing the source in the copy or via graphics etc. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it allowed pain-in-the-ass staffers like me to sleep at night. Kind of.

But today, a TON of this stuff makes it straight into your local newscast – product touts, new information provided by industry-funded “research,” all kinds of stuff. And I will also say that the smaller the market, the more likely commercial and promotional content is to be directly infused into the newscast.


The non-journalism side of my practice produces promotional/marketing content shot in the documentary style for company websites, social media and paid placement on cable. I get the value of borrowing style cues and storytelling techniques from the news genre.

But to think that it should ever be cut straight into a newscast, unfiltered or un-analyzed is just beyond the pale.

I don’t have an answer to this other than to remind producers and writers to be transparent about where “news” comes from, and why it has been selected as “important.” I think there is often valuable information in press releases and handouts, but people need to know whether it’s paid content and what the goal of the provider is.

Does it make it harder to “fill” a newscast. I suppose, yes.

But it sure as hell is better than being a part of the problem that is so excruciatingly illustrated by Conan’s clever clip reels.