By Mark Willis, RTDNA Region 4 & 5 Director
Would you have courage to tell you boss no if he or she asked you to publicly endorse a product if it helped to lock in a sale for the station?
Last week I really touched a nerve with my column about whether it’s right or wrong for journalists to read commercial copy on the air, or come out and publicly endorse a product at the request of the sales department. My contention is that we have absolutely crossed the line when a station decides to sell its journalistic reputation and integrity to meet dollar objectives.
Reporters who decide they want to go on a client sponsored weight loss program and turn around and tell their audience that they endorse the client’s program because “it worked for me” have sold out and are in the wrong line of work. Journalistic integrity is absolutely paramount in this day and age. The pubic expects us to be honest and diligent in our reporting skills. How can the public take us seriously when a reporter has breaking news and then turns around and discuss the cure for chronic heal pain. We are kidding ourselves.
In my last column, I told you about “Bob the morning anchor” who delivers the morning news on a radio station, drives a free Honda for endorsing the local car dealership and Honda cars in: 60 spots. What I forgot to tell you is that “Bob the morning anchor” is also the station News Director. “Bob” needs to turn in his journalism card and resign. I would fire him on the spot. And yes, I know of a medium size market station where that is happening.
Last week the overwhelming response to the question have we crossed the line when asking reporters to endorse commercial products was an overwhelming, you bet we’ve crossed the line.
For example, Tim Sullivan wrote:
"Completely agree. Credibility is the key. Especially since we've seen a number of these weight losses, sleep aid, etc. products exposed as bogus, and the heads of the companies that manufacture those products charged with fraud. How does a news anchor who has endorsed a fraudulent product walk back from that?"
Louis Lee wrote:
"The rule at my shop is ... no news personnel to read ad copy. The production people know not to even ask."
Chris Little also responded:
"One of the best things a news anchor can do to chip away at his or her credibility is to read commercial copy. That's true for commercial and public radio stations.
Being in the pocket of a local or national sponsor clouds/impedes news judgment when a story related to the product or service pops up in the news.
Reading a commercial spot can be viewed as an endorsement. It is not a wise move for a news person in any market."
Are the reporters and anchors to blame? Jim Little says yes.
"Well, does this include the national sports anchors ( Dan Patrick, Joe Buck) or any of the local weather guys dealing lawn mowers and snow blowers? I'm sure there will be a rationalization why the news management allows this, but it will all come down to the dollar. Anchors make the most money at a station, but evidently ethics is no issue if they can make more. Yeah, the line has been crossed, but the journalists are also to blame for not having the integrity or backbone to just say "no" when the sales manager comes to the newsroom asking Mike or Mary anchor or reporter... "you wanna free car to use for a year? Just read this script and smile."
Todd Jarrell says “Uncle Walter” would never sell his a** out for a buck.
"I'm having a hard time believing this is even a question we’d have to ask. Deliver News = you are possibly a News Man/Woman
Pitch Product = you are a absolutely a Pitchman.
Full stop. Imagine Walter Cronkite whoring himself out for Anusol.
And that's the way it is..."
Does Steve Coon have a point? He says we’re already there:
"We’ve already crossed the line. This practice is decades old if you review your broadcast history.
Today we routinely see and hear news anchors originate broadcasts from sites that are strictly commercial enterprises. Live broadcasts from the State Fair is an annual affair, profiles on popular eating establishments in the guise of feature stories, reports about and interviews with consumers lining up for tickets 24 hours prior to the latest Lady Gaga concert or to buy the latest Apple cell phone, J. K. Rowling book, etc. And each of these is an example of a journalist promoting a commercial activity. We all do it and we do it all the time.
The issue, therefore, is not if journalists should be pitchmen/women, but how do we retain some semblance of credibility as supposedly independent observers when we’re obviously aiding and abetting."
Those are just a handful of some of the comments people sent it to express how they feel. Let me leave you with this. There are two radio news stations in DFW where I live. One station absolutely will not let their news anchors or reporters put their name on any commercial endorsements while the other station routinely has their reporters endorse anything from car leases, to weight loss programs to chronic heel pain. Which station do you think is winning the ratings battle? The one that doesn’t throw their reporters under the sales bus continuously wins the ratings war.
So my question to you is what you would tell your station Sales Manager, General Manager or Owner, if he or she came to you and said, “Read this ad copy? Have you ever gone head to head with the boss and said no. Or have you backed down from your principles and decided to read the copy. Share this with your sales staff or General Manager. I’d like to get their feedback, too.
Write to me here through RTDNA. I’m not done with this yet. I plan on doing a follow up. I really appreciate everyone writing in with comments.
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