'And now a word from our sponsors...'

Now there's a statement from a kinder and gentler era. In those days the lines between news, entertainment, and advertisement were quite rigidly drawn; the confines of appropriateness delineated. The tag line above served almost as a warning or an apology, notifying the viewer of an impending break in programming for a commercial message.

There are no apologies anymore. Now Toro buys ad time on a news show when the top story concerns a new, supposedly environment friendly lawn mower, which, of course, is made by Toro. But the lawn mower isn't the only thing made by Toro; quite probably the news story was produced by Toro's public relations department, too. Signed, sealed, and delivered to the news network, the video press release likely would run with an in-house voiceover of material supplied by Toro.

Now that's news. Or is it entertainment? Or maybe advertisement?

Video press releases are all the rage in the news business. With ever shrinking news budgets, and commensurate staff layoffs, news departments--especially in smaller television markets--are willing to take any good-quality footage to fill airtime. And many of those laid-off newscasters are now public relations managers at major corporations. They know just how to produce usable material.

These P.R. people have a very specific, well-planned intention to exploit subtly people's reliance on the news. Over-worked--and, perhaps more important, cynical--journalists allow this unchecked advertisement to appear because it is the easiest and cheapest source for a good video image, notwithstanding the ethical issues involved.

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Sojourners Magazine May 1992
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