Line between television ads, news blurs


Why, thy Lord of Holy TV Ad Revenue?

You visit upon us the plague of commercials as we wander the vast desert of television. A more merciful deity creates DVRs to smite such pestilence with a mighty finger on the fast-forward button. Why, then, must you countersmite us by delivering this evil unto the Promised Land of Regularly Scheduled Programming?

Money, doofus.

Since its 2006 debut, the "More" morning show on KVVU-TV, Channel 5, with its fluffy souffle of entertainment/food/fashion fodder, has used euphemistically titled "integrated content": ads dressed as program segments -- produced by Fox-5 -- presented within the context of lifestyle news. Despite labeling as advertiser-sponsored in a screen graphic, its production polish purposely lends it a feature-news feel, and its presence on "More," rather than as a stand-alone ad or infomercial, validates that.

Consumerism masked as journalism.

Example: A recent spot celebrating how Clear Choice Dental implants rescued Tony Curtis' celebrity chompers. "Entertainment Tonight"-type touches included clips of "The Defiant Ones" and young-stud footage of Curtis, with newsy narration by Fox-5's Claudine Grant and a current Curtis interview. That's after a Clear Choice ad aired during a standard commercial break.

"It's growing in frequency," Fox-5 news director Adam P. Bradshaw says about the practice nationwide. "We've kept it down to a certain number per week. Some weeks we may have three, some only one."

As the economy hurtles down a gully -- 2009 industry predictions are for a 15 percent nose dive in local TV advertising -- Fox is particularly partial toward paid programming and promotions. Some stations drop them in during nonpeak hours, but Fox-5 also forks over a 1-to-2 p.m. chunk in the guts of its daytime lineup. Last summer's appearance of McDonald's iced-coffee cups on the pre-"More" morning show presaged last month's move as Fox became the first major network to regularly program long-form infomercials, replacing Saturday morning kids' fare with "Weekend Marketplace."

Bradshaw notes that "integrated content" never appears on straight newscasts and differentiates between Grant as an entertainment correspondent and hard news reporters.

Journalistically justified? No -- even on a show with stories that dissolve faster than cotton candy in an 8-year-old's mouth. Celeb silliness doesn't pack the serious wallop of crime, accidents and politics, but it's still regarded as news (especially in the TMZ era) rather than blatant product hustles, and subject to traditional reporting standards. Stripped of a label that muddies its meaning, "integrated content" is simply advertising cloaked in a pretense of news.

That smudges the line between story and sales pitch for viewers, and breaches the journalism equivalent of separation of church and state.

Even if, journalistically, "More" is less a state than a post-office box.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

 

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