If you watch local morning "news" shows -- I'm not judging here, but just so you know, doing so puts your very soul in mortal danger -- you may have seen various "consumer advocate" types come on and tell you about some awesome new products out there. But guess what? As James Rainey of the L.A. Times tells us (via Romanesko), they're probably getting paid by the companies that make the products they're telling you about. It's a little infomercial dropped into your "news" program:
With summer ending, local television news stations recently rolled out their back-to-school features. In 10 big cities, that meant an appearance by a young mother and "toy expert" named Elizabeth Werner.
Werner whipped through pitches for seven toys in just a few minutes. Perky and positive-plus, Werner seemed to wow morning news people in towns like Detroit, Atlanta and Phoenix. They oohed and aahed as they smelled Play-Doh, poked at mechanical bugs and strummed an electronic guitar she brought to the studio.
Though parents might have welcomed the advice, and even bought some of the toys, they probably would have liked to know that Werner serves as a spokeswoman for hire, not an independent consumer advocate. She touted only products from companies that forked over $11,000 (the initial asking price, anyway) to be part of her back-to-school television "tour."
You'll be shocked to learn that the stations usually don't tell their viewers that what they're seeing is basically an ad -- just as they don't tell them when they broadcast "video news releases," or VNRs, that are packaged to look like an actual news report. This happens in large part because the stations are desperate for anything to fill the time they have. Local stations routinely broadcast a couple of hours of news in the morning, and a few more in the evening. It's because these shows get reasonably good ratings, and are very cheap to produce, which makes them the foundation of the station's profits. But it leaves the programs willing to accept almost anything that will use up part of those hours and hours of "news" time.
One more reason why TAP should be your sole source for information about the world.
-- Paul Waldman