April 07, 2006

How low can US television journalism go? [Part 1]

Just when this magpie would think that it would be hard for TV journalism to lose any more of the precious little crediblity it has with the US public, in comes a story about how some TV stations are letting advertisers buy their way into newscasts:

"Australia Week" was a major production for the financially strapped [San Francisco station] KRON (Channel 4). For five straight days in early March, the station dedicated three hours of its five-hour morning newscast to their reporters' adventures Down Under.

There were segments touting "Sydney by Hot Air Balloon," "Shopping in Sydney," "a look at the varieties of fish found in Australia and the many ways of preparing them" as well as a sit-down interview with an Australian tourism official, during which a KRON reporter noted "the diversity of an Australian vacation, whether you're interested in nature, urban areas or both."

If this sounds like a travel brochure for the country, it was. Tourism Australia, the government body that promotes travel to the country, paid the airfare of the station's six reporters and their food and lodging expenses. In addition, Tourism Australia shelled out an undisclosed amount for advertising time on KRON during the special.

The special and others like it have raised more than a few eyebrows in the newsroom. "We're appalled," said one staffer, who declined to be named, fearing retribution. "We essentially let the government of Australia become our news directors."

KRON is far from the only offender, however. Stations in Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon have also been caught making similar arrangements. There are many more details of the arrangements KRON and other stations are making with advertisers in this excellent SF Chronicle story.

While the continuing inroads of advertising into what passes for news in this country is a sad enough story in itself, what's truly awful is that the station executives and news directors involved in this stuff don't seem to think they're doing anything wrong.

Posted by Magpie at April 7, 2006 01:22 AM | Media | Technorati links |