Thursday, April 06, 2006

WNEP: The News PR Station

Video news releases are a very touchy subject in broadcast journalism. These are like press releases, except it comes in a packaged video product provided by a PR agency or other interest group. Sometimes the VNR includes a suggested script for the anchor to read; other times the VNR comes with its own "reporter." Whichever way you go, the VNRs rarely disclose its source. After the Karen Ryan fiasco, television stations ran away from VNRs like the plague.

WNEP apparently didn't get the message. The Center for Media and Democracy, a PR watchdog group, identified WNEP as a station that ran a VNR which was funded by a vitamin supplement company, as seen left. As if that wasn't enough, health reporter Jill Garrett simply repeated the VNR message seemingly verbatim. WNEP neglected to mention that the report was really just disguised advertising by the supplement company.

Uh oh! Let's hope the viewers didn't notice. Oh wait, they did! WNEP news director Dennis Fisher made a surprise appearance on the Talkback 16 message board, and admitted that a VNR was used for Garrett's "report," and the source of the information was never disclosed. Fisher is promising an "investigation" into the matter.

So, has Jill Garrett been dipping into the VNRs? One Talkback 16 poster thinks so. "It seems like she seldom uses real doctors and real people from around here; it's always stuff that looks like it comes off those VNR's," the person wrote. And since many VNRs are health-oriented in nature, it's very possible that WNEP's health reporter has simply been re-hashing health messages that are actually funded by corporate interests.

What excuse does "The News Station" have for completely throwing ethics to the wind? I guess we'll have to wait for WNEP's "investigation." Whatever the result is, one thing is certain: WNEP's decision to air a video news release was inexcusable.

38 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before you even consider the results of any "study" or "research" as being remotely serious, look hard to see who funded the research, whose money made it happen. Apparently, Garrett failed to do so. And that, I will freely admit, makes me feel sorry for her. After all these years, at this point in her career, this is something she truly does not need.

9:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah, she's not that good

11:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WNEP, without doubt, has lost its pretige. This was 100% NOT a mistake. WNEP should really be ashamed of the decisions it has made regarding these VNRs. I've heard that talkback 16 is swamped with comments about this, but a few employees have been critically directed what goes on and what doesn't. Obviously, a lot has not made it on there. How is WNEP going to recover. What is this screaming to it's viewers? The News Station isn't just the number one source of news and information in NEPA, it is the number one source of sad, cheap advertisments sold off as stories? I'm sorry, but WNEP, in my opinion, has lost it's credibility. With SkyCam 16 semigrounded and a financial pinch sweeping through the newsroom, how low will WNEP go. In all honesty, this would be a great time for a competetor to swoop in and take the lead. I know that they aren't even in the ratings anymore, but if WBRE got the ball rolling, WNEP could seriously be in some trouble. No doubt WNEP will make a comeback, but how long will it take? What can Dennis Fisher possibly due to? He's in one heck of a crappy situation right now. You can't say WNEP didn't due this by accident, but I doubt anyone would have known how big this is going to get.

11:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

16's been teetering on this brink for a while. Their presentation has gotten very sloppy, but there's no real motivation to be excellent. So why give any more than furtive glances to this "scandal." Cut to Snedeker, get some anchor chick married off, fluff it up. This is a tempest in a teapot. Jill's been around so long it'd be difficult to can her without inflaming the lemmings who tune in to their news 19 times a day.

6:52 AM  
Blogger Howard Beale said...

What I don't understand is why nobody realized the VNR was from an obviously-biased source. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to visit MultiVu's website and realize the company dabbles in PR.

7:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WNEP stopped being The News Station a long time ago. Their product has become laughable. It begins in the morning with more yuks than news. The PM shows rarely break anything. Late night is just a warmed over 6. The cycle continues. Good Things Are Happening...

7:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yesterday's 6PM was full of writing so sloppy that Mike Lewis and Marissa Burke could hardly wrap their lips around story leads. It looked really bad...

I see nothing wrong with using VNR's as an idea generator for a local story, but outright verbatim...ah, no.

Clearly, Jill Garrett's day has come and gone, and yet she's still there. Could it be because she's untouchable as a black woman?

8:11 AM  
Anonymous Mark Sowers said...

Howard, Please be aware that the information regarding Talkback Online posted by anonymous 11:38pm is outright wrong. I am the only person who approves or deletes messages for Talkback Online and the only instructions I was given on this topic was, “We are going to handle this in the open. Yes, post these comments to Talkback.”

I can tell you that as of this writing, there have been very few viewer comments and that I have approved EVERY SINGLE ONE that I have read. Now admittedly that may change if the comments become personal attacks or if the opinions are based on incorrect information, but those have always been the rules of Talkback. It is my intention to approve any message that follows the rules, and every message I’ve encountered so far has done so.

8:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not that I have any proof, but does anyone really believe/think that this is the fist time WNEP used VNR's and passed them off as "news" stories? I would bet it has happened a few times before in the "Healthbeat"...how about "Action 16"? When I do catch Garrett's reports, they are lame, very rarely local, and if they are local, the reports come out of the WB/Scranton area. Forget we have doctors or other medical professionals in Williamsport, the Northern Tier, or the Poconos!! But, hey, those stand-ups in front of the big-screen TV are always framed great!!! Lastly, Garrett is not the only one who should be held accountable in this...doesn't WNEP have EP, Managing Editor, Asst. ND and ND "approving scripts"?

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems to me if management didn't know she was using VNR's, then they're heads are up their collective derriere. Would they admit that? "We didn't know?" Is that any less worse than knowing? From a credibility standpoint I mean?

And if they DID know, then it's not her problem, at least not in terms of having committed some offense punishable by dismissal.

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nobody "digs" in that 16 newsroom. At least there are some people at the other staions who know how to get out of the gate with some stories-- even on slow days and nights.

But ground the chopper, yank some live spots and fill your shows with VNRs.... c'mon. Did anybody at 16 ever learn anything at "wherever" they came from? How did they make it this far. I apologize for collectively addressing this, but it's been on my mind and this burst about VNRs really strikes a nerve in a veteran journalist's ass.

12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Admittedly lack of competition can make the big dog lazy, but there must be more to explain what has happened to the quality of WNEP's overall news coverage. Many people, including managers, have been there for years.

Anyone from 16 want to help with answers? Is the news director the problem? Has he abandoned the policies and philosophy that made WNEP a highly respected operation?

If this had happened at WYOU or WBRE, no one would have been surprised and might not even have noticed.

12:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the post at 8:11---when you said the writing was so sloppy that Mike and Marisa could barely wrap their lips around it---Guess what? Marisa produces and writes the 6:00 show---if she can't get her lips around her own words, forgetaboutit!
As far as Jill Garrett and the obvious use of VNR's, all I have to say to WNEP management and those who just noticed is, "What took you so long?"

1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

C'mon people. I myself, as well as others have written into talkback 16 several times, completly professional, and of course weren't posted. I hope out of all of this, WNEP gets their act together. It has been sliding for quite a while.

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoever posted at 11:38PM needs to settle down. Saying WNEP is in trouble is a joke. WBRE is not going to get any ball rolling. WNEP is not going to see any change in the ratings. Is this an embarassment?? Yes, a huge and shameful one, but most viewers won't even notice or understand.

4:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As of 8:30 this morning, Mark Sowers blogged: "I can tell you that as of this writing, there have been very few viewer comments and that I have approved EVERY SINGLE ONE that I have read." Well, I posted a comment last night, and it was not on talkback. I have to assume Mark didn't read it!

My post related to this incident: Some years ago, the powers at WNEP thought that the competition was watching its snow related school closings, and using them as their own closings. To trap this station, WNEP broadcast a school closing for "Wilson Tech." It is a bogus school; it does not exist. Wilson happens to be the surname of one of its engineers. Sure enough, the other station picked up the closing and aired it. WNEP proved its point, but ended up with egg on its face when their scam was disclosed.
I referenced that last night in my post with regard to WNEP losing its credibility. It is obvious why it did not make talkback. But, the fact is, it did occur. I was employed at 16 at that time (and still am), and I have a keen memory. Just thought you would want to know...

5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an observer outside the TV world I'd say without question the quality of news at NW16 has dipped over the past year. And there are some pretty good explanations why. But are these posts for real? Do you really think the average viewer is going to stop watching NW16 because of a VNR that ran during Healthwatch? If so, you're crazy. As bad as 16 is right now, it's still 10x better than the competition. You should see the competition's reporters at a story...following around reporters from other media outlets (including 16) like lost little puppies. I think there are 3 or 4 really good reporters still working at 16. More than I can say for anyone else. As for this VNR thing...it's an embarrassment for those in the business, but to most outsiders it will blow over pretty quickly.

6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boy, do you have that Wilson Tech story completely ass backwards. WNEP was the one who "stole" the Wilson Tech closing from WBRE. WBRE suspected that WNEP was indeed monitoring them for school closings, so they inserted a bogus one with every intention of smoking out WNEP, and they did. WNEP took the bait and ran Wilson Tech within it ten minutes. Those were the Snowbird days, and school closings were a major resource for recruiting viewers. So much so, that a promo, featuring Snowbird in a Wilson Tech Sweatshirt, was immediately produced. It aired maybe a half dozen times, strictly to make a point. For those unaware, WBRE was extremely competitive at the time, and was making steady gains on WNEP with each and every book.

7:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To ANONYMOUS at 6:34

Following 16's reporters around like lost puppies...

I would love to name some folks in this blog space, but won't for fear it'll be canned, but, I can tell you about the time a 16 reporter couldn't get through a live shot at a building collapse in Wilkes-Barre several months ago. When I write 'couldn't get through it,' I mean it was painful to watch... real smooth, you fierce bull-dog reporters.

I can also tell you about the night Hugo Selenski was rearrested and 16 and its reporter were live at the wrong jail... good hunting and information gathering, you news wolves...

AND finally, I can tell you about this story 16 ran... The NEWS station presented information to viewers as authentic, all the while it was a bungled PR-driven campaign to make money for some agency. Would you believe the NEWS station coughed up an apology ?

Way to go journalism kings and queens of Mount de montage: we all idolize your roles to bring the entire business to its knees in endless unethical ways.

8:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, the current WNEP employee has the "Wilson Tech" story correct. As a former WNEP employee, I can even tell you who made up the name and slipped it into 16's announcements. It was Paul Stueber in his first stop as news director. He was quite proud because he caught the competition. Other staffers were less than amused when he put false information out to viewers.

9:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The NEP guys version of the S. Wilson Tech story is correct. The guy who claimed it is ass-backwards is himself ass-backwards.

And here's something from someone not employed in television kids. No one out here gives a shit. We react to gut things, not Jill Garrett ran a piece of tape that was paid for.

There's so much bluster and self-importance evident here, and I suppose every profession has some passion for itself within its ranks, but guess what? We don't give a shit! Really. Come into the market. Go out of the market. So long.

We like Snedeker because he's from here and he's the wiseass kid from next door who in the end always does right.

The anchors and reporters? Familiar faces. That's all. Reporters following other reporters around like puppies? Don't see it, don't care, doesn't matter. So you all can keep thumping your chests if you like, but we don't give a shit.

9:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, 9:16 poster: For someone who isn't in the broadcast industry you sure are passionate about your TV news. Are you the guy who disclosed the truth about the helicopter?

16 wins because of their presentation. If the 16 crew was traded for 28's the ratings wouldn't move a hair's breadth. Ask 22 how the Frankie Shimkus move boosted their standing.

16 wins because they play the family card so well, and stick their people everywhere.

News content has nothing to do with any of it.

J. Riley

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, the current WNEP employee has the "Wilson Tech" story correct.

You couldn't be more wrong. The "ass backwards" poster has it right. I was there, I know what happened, and it was positively WBRE nailing WNEP. "Wilson" Tech took its name from Tom Wilson, who was WBRE's program director at the time.

12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And here's something from someone not employed in television kids. No one out here gives a shit.

Bravo! Now you've given us the opportunity(that would be "us" who do indeed work in the industry)to tell you that we don't give a shit about your uninformed/misinformed opinions. Most of us come here with facts, you do not. And if, as you say, "...no one out here gives shit," why do you?

1:07 PM  
Blogger Howard Beale said...

I believe it was WNEP that pulled the "Wilson Tech" trick on WBRE. Rich Mates wrote about this back in 2000, and he identified WNEP as the source of the hoax.

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1:07PM...

That you don't "give a shit" about our uninformed/misinformed opinions isn't too much of a red flag, is it?

Get your head out of your ass! You're little more than a trained monkey. No one is more impressed with the fact that you ended up with a job on TV than you but to us, like it or not, and despite the fact that we are the Great Uninformed for not travelling in the heady intellectual circles you travel in, to us you are little more than blahblahblah and flashy lights and like a furniture ad on TV, you go by largely unnoticed until we "need furniture", that is until you say something that affects us directly.

And you know what? 99 percent of the viewers are unaffected by the guy who hit the pole in Ashley or the barnfire in Columbia Township.

Why do I give a shit? Are you a reporter? I told you three times in the first comment that I don't. That we don't. I was just letting you folks in on the secret. Standing around striking poses and facial gestures alone in the mirror to see how cool you can look is fine, but...lemme say it again...we don't give a...well, you know.

And 12:58, you are wrong. The bogus cancellation was for S. Wilson Tech. Named for WNEP engineer Stu Wilson. Are you the same original assbackwards guy here or are there two of you remembering this incorrectly?

2:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1:07 poster...

YES... YOU, The guy who's confusing himself with some sort of out-there-in-TV-viewing-land savior, I'll second the notion nobody in TV, really nobody could care what you think.

We're paid to do a service... a job. If you don't "give a shit" then go elsewhere on the 'net. Beat it out of this blog. Are you under the impression we're all going to stop posting know that you've made this gargantuan revelation... thanks!

Same goes for your station-habit, flip on a Philly channel if you don't "give a shit." This market is registered in the ratings by diaries... nobody will notice you're gone and you won't be missed.

I do my job each and every day for my own satisfaction. I'm an information junkie and I could give a shit myself if you at home can use the information or not. FLIP THE CHANNEL--

6:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That you don't "give a shit" about our uninformed/misinformed opinions isn't too much of a red flag, is it?

What ARE you talking about? Man, you need to adjust the meds. This couldn't be any simpler, so just like that other poster, I'll give it a try - if you don't give a shit, that's perfectly fine with, I'd guess, all of us. But if you really don't give a shit, why are you here?

P.S. to Howard; aren't the "monkey boy" and "head up your ass" remarks getting into personal-attack territory?

7:25 PM  
Blogger Howard Beale said...

P.S. to Howard; aren't the "monkey boy" and "head up your ass" remarks getting into personal-attack territory?

It gets personal if you identify someone by name (i.e. Joe Schmoe is a [whatever expletive-laced comment you can think of]). Otherwise, it's just a bunch of anonymous people trading insults against each other on the Internet. Though I am watching to make sure it doesn't get out of hand.

7:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To 6:53 Anonymous poster;

I don't think you were directing your comments to 1:07 poster. I think you were directing your comments to the guy who was directing his comments to 1:07 poster. His post registered at 2:00PM. Duh.

And this, "I could give a shit myself if you at home can use the information or not" is probably why you're in Scranton instead of that Philly channel you suggested. If you don't care that what you're doing is connecting with the viewers, who are by and large not nearly as impressed that you're on TV as you are, the future's probably not all that dazzling for you down the road.

Thanks for playing our game.

9:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Otherwise, it's just a bunch of anonymous people trading insults against each other on the Internet.

Does this mean we can hang a nickname, say, oh, Rectum, on the "don't give a shit" guy and it would be okay? BTW, I am the original 1:07 PM poster, the other guy used that handle in responding to my post. I do give a shit about a lot of things.

10:01 PM  
Blogger D.B. Echo said...

Over the years I've seen a lot of things that I've suspected were VNR's - and not just on local stations. Every time I see a national network run a piece that is alleged to be locally produced at some station in Podunk, U.S.A. I have to wonder if it's just some clever packaging for a VNR.

12:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Carten said...

The bogus cancellation was for S. Wilson Tech. Named for WNEP engineer Stu Wilson.

I heard that at the time, I think from someone at 16. Then 28, caught with their coax down, came out with the weak defense that 16 was spreading false information.

So who got hurt with this "false" information? Nobody 'cept the perp. Same as when you read a roadmap; a few of those little towns really don't exist -- they are put there so the publishers can see if others are copying their work. You're not led astray by some little Podunk name in the middle of nowhere.

2:23 AM  
Blogger D.B. Echo said...

I remember years the D.J.'s on WKRZ decided to have a little fun with school cancellations: while the Greater Nanticoke Area schools had only a one hour delay, they also announced that the "Crater" Nanticoke Area was closed. They emphasized the "Crater" part, and yukked it up a lot in the juvenile manner that's a hallmark of that station. I'm wondering if they got a talking-to about that.

I like the Wilson Tech idea. It would just suck if there were a similar-sounding school lurking somewhere in the area.

7:29 PM  
Anonymous Rectum said...

czI'm not the "don't give a shit guy", 10:01 p.m.

I have no problem with VNRs if the source is identified and there is additional local reporting. I think a reporter who is an information junkie with no regard for the desires of the audience might soon be a blogger. Even the Scr/W-B market pays better than blogging.

10:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There seems to be lots of hate on this subject.

10:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I HAVE READ THE REBUTTAL FROM MARK SOWERS ABOUT TALKBACK. HE IS A LIAR. FIRST OF ALL HE WALKS AROUND THE STATION LIKE HE OWNS THE PLACE WITH AN ATTITUDE. HE RUNS TO MANAGEMENT CONSTANTLY, BECAUSE HE DOESN'T LIKE WHAT SOMEONE MAY HAVE SAID INSIDE THE BIG 1-6. HE ALSO CENSORS ALL THE TALKBACK 16 E-MAIL TO MOSTLY SLANT TO THE POSITIVE FOR THE STATION. IF HE DOESN'T LIKE SOMEONE AT THE STATION, HE LETS THE NEGATIVE SLIP THROUGH...ie JOE SNEDEKER. HE IS A LAZY BLOWHARD WITH A BIG SALARY BECAUSE HE KNOWS HOW TO TYPE ON A COMPUTER. HE SITS AT HIS DESK SURROUNDED BY ALL HIS TOYS AND STARES INTO A SCREEN. HE HAS 2 SPEEDS, SLOW AND STOP. HE IS ALSO GUIDED BY MANAGEMENT ON WHAT TO PUT ON TALKBACK. SO, IF YOU HAVE WRITTEN REPEATEDLY ON A SUBJECT AND IT NEVER GOT ON, IT PROBABLY NEVER WILL. SOWERS WILL SEE TO THAT.

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WELL FOLKS, THE RIDE IS OVER, GET OFF, GO AROUND AND GET BACK IN LINE. THE BIG 16 IS FOR SALE!!! yES, FOLKS, THE BIG BAD WOLF AND ALL HER LITTLE RIDING HOODS CALLED US INTO A MEETING TO MAKE THE ANNOUNCEMENT AT AROUND 4:30 SEPT 12TH. LOOK OUT FISHFACE....AND SWEET LOU, NOW IT'S YOUR TURN. THE SALE OF 16 WILL ONLY MEAN ONE THING, THE NEW OWNERS WILL CLEAN HOUSE AND START FROM SCRATCH. I WANT TO BE WAITING AT THE DOOR WHEN THEY ESCORT THE HALF WITTED MANAGEMENT OUT WITH THE BOXES IN THEIR HANDS..HA HA HA HA. ANY RECENT COLLEGE GRADS WILLING TO WORK FOR NEXT TO NOTHING? GET THOSE RESUMES IN TODAY. TAPS SOUNDS.......DAY IS DONE!!!!!! MAYBE FISHFACE AND SWEET LOU CAN GET A JOB AT BURGER KING! OH, THAT'S RIGHT, YOU NEED SOME KIND OF MANAGEMENT EXPERIENCE TO BE A MANAGER AT A FAST FOOD JOINT. WELL, WAL MART IS HIRING...HA HA HA!

5:28 PM  

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