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Just Say No To Fake News 

VNRs and other habit-forming drugs

It's time to come clean about a secret I've been hiding for too long: I was once a VNR user. I was young and poor, working in a newsroom where you swept up before you left at night. It started out innocently enough: a quick 30-second hit of a Sea World Shamu VNR on the weekend, then a bold 45 seconds or so of a new arthritis medicine on a weekday. I knew it had to stop, and once I got to a bigger city, I made a fresh start and never used again.

But there are plenty of other TV newsrooms out there who have never kicked the habit of using Video News Releases (VNR) from government and corporations on their broadcasts, and the Bush administration is manufacturing them with increasing frequency, using more and more millions of your tax dollars, which is a troubling trend. The videos look like actual news reports with "reporters" pimping propaganda edited in a news style. More often than not, there's no indication that the "reporters" are actually working for the government.

The PR video industry has always made good money from government. How good? How about $254 million in the last four years, double what the Clinton administration spent. The New York Times reported that over 20 federal agencies pay to create fake news stories these days. Yet President Bush defended the practice last week, despite that propaganda smell in the air.

I wonder why anyone runs VNRs anymore, given the frayed relationship between the public and the press, and a surreal media climate where "fair and balanced" is anything but.

This also comes after it was learned that two conservative newspaper columnists received government funds to push the administration's points of view on particular programs.

While that's bad enough, it also puts the television news departments that use them in their broadcasts in a bad light. And it wasn't just Podunk, Nebraska, that ran these VNRs. Stations in San Diego, Atlanta, Louisville, and Memphis, to name a few, are guilty of being too lazy, cheap, or sloppy to have run content without clearly stating where the video came from.

I wonder why anyone runs VNRs at all anymore, given the frayed relationship between the public and the press, and a surreal media climate where "fair and balanced" is anything but.

With the world of radio still such a white boys' domain, extra props to two women with Charlotte ties who won national awards recently. WLNK-FM's ever-popular Sheri Lynch and relative newcomer Pam Stone won Gracie Allen Awards from the American Women in Radio and Television organization. Both women have won before, and they get to sip bubbly stuff at the awards gala in NYC in June.

Here's wishing that there will be more women radio hosts not relegated to second bananas to honor next year.

Stay tuned.

E-mail at Shannon.Reichley@cln.com.

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