The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, March 23, 2004

How the Medicare videos got to air. (Not really...)

Some explanation from Campaign Desk of how those Karen Ryan HHS video news releases got played.

Zachary Roth has done some ringing-round; and a set of pretty poor excuses for excuses he's come back with!

But his piece is educational on the TV news process. Local stations get loads of packaged material from CNN Newsource [1], delivered by satellite. They know that, amongst the material are both regular news items and VNRs.

There is some question whether the HHS VNRs were identified as such in the slug (I assume that's the equivalent of the movie header) which comes at the front of the VNR: one guy says [2]
You have to search through the footage to find the VNR

Apparently, WTVC Chattanooga's copy of what it aired did not have any indication in the slug that it was not a news report.

The stations are blaming CNN and USG with some vigour.

[There's also some explanation in Roth's piece of the way the VNR business works, and other useful stuff.]

But, hold on one cotton-picking minute: let's try to walk through the process whereby Karen Ryan might have got to air:

You're the news director of a local station, and getting this overnight (perhaps more regular?) dump of news segments from CNN [3]. It must come with some kind of index, surely? So you know the topics you've got covered.

You find the Medicare VNR on the list - let's say it's not labelled as such: you've no reason to think it's not a CNN-produced segment - and, at a meeting with producers, the Medicare item is mooted, and a producer delegated to look at the item.

(I'm assuming the piece wouldn't have been put straight on air without having been looked at first.)

Surely, just one viewing would signal that this was not a regular CNN item? Even if none of the material carried any sort of onscreen graphics to denote provenance (and how likely is that?), the difference in feel of the VNR would surely be perceptible to a professional?

One would have hoped that the producer would, as a matter of routine, have positively established the source of all material - given that stations know that VNRs are likely to be included in feed material. At least insofar as querying any that did not bear onscreen CNN identification.

(At the point at which the producer decides to use the VNR, where does he think it comes from? It's not tagged as CNN - where does he imagine it's come from? The news fairies?)

Then, moving from provenance to content: does he do any sort of check that the material is accurate - or even, fair and balanced [4]? Does he have any staff with the expertise to make such a check? I suspect not, in most stations.

What could the producer do, lacking in-house expertise, to allay any doubts? Could he - brainwave! - phone CNN and ask them? Or doesn't the price of the satellite feed include customer service? Or is the podunk newsguy too ashamed to admit his ignorance, preferring to run the item blind?

How many phone calls did CNN take from feed customers about the HHS VNRs [5]?

If CNN included a phoned interview with Elvis in their feed, how many stations would run it, I wonder...

  1. For which I seem to remember Karen Ryan was once supposed to have worked for. [Just checked, and can find nothing online: I don't think I imagined having seen the suggestion - but treat as hypothesis.]

  2. One thing which isn't explained is how the material is stored. Presumably, it's on some sort of super-Tivo - whereas search through the footage rather suggests its dumped to tape. Why would be horrendously inefficient, surely?

  3. Presumably, they're branded CNN in the opening graphics - and perhaps a CNN DOG (don't know the US term) onscreen throughout the item.

  4. Would he check material which is identified onscreen as CNN? My guess is, no.

  5. Rhetorical question, natch.

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