Friday, July 16, 2010


A lot of people talk about the blurring between news and entertainment. That’s certainly a problem because it’s led to the dumbing down of the news to a point where you need attention deficit disorder just to watch it. But I’m more concerned about the blurring of news and advertising. I see this as a very serious problem.

I first noticed this phenomenon when a free subscription to Entertainment Weekly appeared in my mailbox. Not only was this turd of a “magazine” written at the first grade level, but it didn’t take long to realize that this “magazine” was nothing more than one giant ad for the movie industry. Page after page were “stories” whose sole purpose was to get me to go see various films. Even when they panned a film, they still somehow managed to suggest that I see it. . . just not in the first week.

Soon I realized that the entertainment “news” presented on the nightly news was no different. The days of a reviewer cautioning you to avoid a lousy film were gone. In their place were pretty boys and ditzy girls who showed you promotional clips and gushed about every film; they even developed ways to sell the bad ones. . . “so bad it’s good.” And when they weren’t selling the movie directly, they did stories hyping these films as “events,” and encouraging you to take part in the “excitement” leading up the film. Basically, they ceased being reporters and became salespeople.

Then they added “gossip.” But there’s something you need to know about this gossip: most of it is manufactured to promote a film. It’s no coincidence that you will see a “random” story about Actor X’s new house or some “funny moment” Actor X had at a night club, the week before Actor X’s new film hits the screen. This is all intended to create a buzz. . . which will, of course, lead to stories about the buzz. That's called marketing, not reporting.

Then Hollywood hit upon a brilliant stroke. You know those interviews where some reporter sits down with Actor X to "discuss" their new film? Do you know how those are done? It's not actually a one on one experience. Instead, a slew of reporters show up to a pre-set location. Actor X sits in front of a blue screen as each reporter is cycled through. Each reporter is usually allowed only a couple questions, so they know to stay on script. And what's really key is that the actor will pretend to know the reporter. Thus, each reporter gets to look like they are “players” in Hollywood because their viewers think they managed to finagle an interview with a busy actor that they know personally. In exchange, the studio gets a couple hundred free ads on the local and national news. This is a quid pro quo, and reporters aren’t supposed to do that.

And it’s not just Hollywood. Sports “news” also has entered the pimping world. For generations, sports news meant providing a box score, a quick description of the key moments in the game, and a few quotes from one side or the other. No longer. First, they added highlights, which is understandable as television is a visual medium. But then they started adding “top ten hits of the week” and other segments that look an awful lot like advertisements for the league.

Then the NFL hit upon a great idea: use the promise of access to control the media. In exchange for locker room access and press access to Super Bowl week, the NFL began telling the media what they could or could not report. This included, for example, removing the journalistic “credentials” of people who criticized the NFL, and it included limits on what kinds of videos the media could use and for how long they could use them (nothing longer than 45 seconds and must be removed from websites in 24 hours). The media caved without even a whimper. Soon, the NFL was providing canned “news” stories to the media, which the media dutifully reported without change. Suddenly stories about brain damage resulting from concussions, drug use, arrests and labor unrest disappeared or became dismissive. In their place were NFL-approved stories about “the NFL experience,” the importance of new stadiums to cities, and NFL efforts to make sure that merchandise was high quality. . . usually accompanied with a mention of where you could buy said merchandise.

And lest you think, “well sports and entertainment people really aren’t journalists,” it’s hit the business news as well. CNBC doesn’t send reporters out to uncover news and report upon it. No, they let the "news" come to them. Thus, their programming days are packed with fund managers who come to say something generic about the market as they pimp their funds. They bring in CEOs to talk about new products or their latest books. And they’ve become a vehicle for damage control. Whenever a company gets caught doing something it shouldn’t, you can bet the CEO will appear on CNBC within a couple days to provide a whitewash version of what happened and to tell us about all the great things the company is doing. And don't think the reporters use this moment for a couple of hard-hitting questions. No, they put on well-practiced stern looks and then pitch a few softball questions before concluding: “I’m glad to hear you’re fixing this.” Then they trot out an analyst to tell you that now (or maybe in a week) is the time to buy the company’s stock, right before they cut to commercial, which (purely by “coincidence”) will be a paid ad for the company. Finally, they take the segment highlights and replay them ad nauseum.

Even the “regular” news is slowly giving way to product tie-ins and segments that look like sponsored ads. That story about how hard it is to find certain toys? That was suggested and assisted by the marketing department at ToyCo. That story about which national chain has the best fries or “will Company X’s new product sell”? Ditto. The story about the new healthy menu at Restaurant Z, or the new innovations at Tech Company A? Same thing. The story about the “latest trend” that just happens to tell you what brand you need to buy and where to buy it. . .

In each instance, what you have is a symbiotic relationship between the media and business. Business has learned that it can use the news to advertise its products. It offers ready-made stories and incentives to the media to report these “stories,” and the reporters accept them because it makes their jobs easier. . . just sit back and a script will come to you.

So why does this bother me? Two reasons. First, I want news that I can trust, and that requires an impartial media that seeks out the truth, rather than just passing along marketing-department-created propaganda.

Secondly, I hate sounding like the left, but I am concerned about the effects of this on society. Science has shown that humans are very susceptible to the cumulative effects of advertising; and the effects are much stronger when the advertising comes from a trusted source. I suspect that advertising is largely responsible for driving consumers to the point of bankruptcy, increasing patient demands for drugs, increasing obesity, and a host of other bad behaviors. But as bad as this is, at least with advertisements, people know that Madison Avenue is attempting to brainwash them. That’s no longer true when “the news” starts telling you what to buy and where to buy it. And that is truly insidious.


Tennessee Jed said...

With a father in advertising, I think I was a lot more aware of the "Hidden Pursuaders" and the impact of the "Mad Men" all the way back to the late 50's. Probably more than anything, the over abundance of choices has caused it to flourish. This has caused competition. Why did MSNBC decide to go openly left? They were getting killed in the ratings and hoped they could become the "Fox" of the left.

Interestingly, as we mature and grow older, these attempts to manipulate us become more obvious to us, and yet we often willingly continue to fall prey.

As you and I have often discussed, we really don't want news to be right or left, rather independent and honest. I still believe that can be done in a way that will not be so academic and boring as to turn away the majority of audience.

In the mean time, we must all continue to educate whenever we can to expose bullshit for what it is.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I suspect there has always been a fairly close relationship between the news and advertising, particularly as "sponsors" are the driver for television income.

But it always seemed to me that the news people, i.e. reporters (before they became "journalists," at least tried to present the news with some integrity. Today, they really have allowed themselves to become marketing tools. I'm shocked how often I see some segment and when it's done I find myself asking, "other than telling me to buy some product, where was the news there?"

And as I'm seeing more and more studies about the effects of repeated messages on the human mind, and the involuntary nature of the human reaction, it's bothering me more and more.

Plus, I really am sick of this feeling that I just can't believe anything I see on the news anymore.

I agree about education and exposing this stuff. Sadly, the people whose job it should be to expose this have let themselves be co-opted.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, P.S. On "willingly continuing to fall prey" to this manipulation. I know exactly what you mean. I am amazed how effective a full on marketing campaign can be.

I know people who say things like "why the heck would I want to see that?" or "I don't need to buy that." And then they get hit with story after story about how this is the greatest thing ever, how cool the actors are, how innovative the thing is, how everybody wants one, etc. And before it's over, these same people are telling me, "I'm really excited to see/buy it!"

And if I point this out, they say, "I don't pay attention to ads." Yet, they are parroting the themes from the ads and the "news stories" about the product.

It's truly stunning.

Joel Farnham said...


It is especially obvious on the food network channel. I am convinced it is only to show-case restaurants and food. To be fair it is presented in interesting ways and there are competitions to observe and such, but to me it is still a day-long advertisment.

I don't mind so much when it is obvious. I just don't like it on news channels like FOX news. There were at least two today. One for "free" pitas giving out and the other for a New Jersey workout.

I have no problem with capitalism nor enterprenuership, but ....... give me a break!!!!!!

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I agree. The Food Network and a couple others are basically product placement networks -- though I don't object because you basically know that going in.

I understand that PBS once fired Bob Villa because he spent too much time promoting Craftsman tools -- ironic given the open endorsements they use today!

What bothers me is when you see it on the real news. Like you mention with the two stories on FOX, I saw one yesterday that was literally an ad for Madden NFL -- the question the reporter claimed to be reporting on was: "will Madden be as big a hit as every other year or will NCAA Football 2011 beat it out this year." Where is the news value in that? That is pure product placement.

Not coincidentally, the segment included all kinds of screen shots, interviews with the developers, and even a mention of where you could buy it. Give me a break!

There's also been a lengthy article about razors that a lot of news people are picking up. Ostensibly, this article is about "men are sick of the razor companies coming out with new products every so often." But the main thrust of the story ends up being why they keep "innovating" new razors, what the new brands are, how popular each is, and how good the companies are for still supporting older ones. It even has pricing information on the new products. If this thing wasn't prepared by a marketing department, then I would be surprised.

Joel Farnham said...


My dad used to be a newspaper man and then later an editor for the Sacramento Bee. He would watch news at night and tell me that this was filler or that it was a slow news day. It isn't anymore.

I saw a news item on yahoo news about razors and "How men don't like the new ones." I have a tendency to ignore it.

I also have a tendency to put something like History Channel on as background noise. I am not really watching it, but every so often there is "breaking news" which turns out to be advertisment using Barack's visage.

I wonder if Barack gets a percentage?

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I think that a lot of what used to be filler is now considered primary news under the guise of being "human interest". And that's where things started to blur, because it opened the door for marketing people to "help out." And that's what has been happening. That's how they developed this symbiotic relationship that is so harmful.

I would have skipped the razor article except that they started talking about it on talk radio and then I saw it again when I was passing by CNN. And since it was obviously product placement despite the supposed "anti-new-razor" premise of the article, I watched it just to see how far they would take it. . . pretty far it turns out.

Yahoo, by the way, is the worst for thinly-veiled advertising as "news." Most of what the provide other than wire feeds is pure advertising.

I use the tv for white noise as well. I often use the History Channel or Discovery or something like that.

Yeah, I see Obama on a lot of adds for mortgage refinancing. I'll bet that changes soon though.

Unknown said...

Andrew: More proof that my parents' advice was right: "Believe nothing you hear, and half of what you see." Sadly, it seems as though even that half is now in danger.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, That's excellent advice, and it seems to be becoming better and better advice every day. When the news is not independent, you don't get the truth, you get what the "sponsor" wants you to know.

Ed said...

At first, I wasn't sure you were right. When I started reading the article, I said, 'news is news and the rest is just garbage.' But then I started thinking about the examples you use and I started thinking about the stories I saw yesterday on the news and heck if you aren't right.

I swear it honestly never occured to me that I was being sold to every time I turned on the news. But now I see it everywhere.

Thanks. Seriously.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, You're welcome! I see it everywhere these days. I didn't used to, but then I think the lines between marketing and reporter were much more clear. These days they've blurred it so much that they don't even think twice about running a segment touting the products of a sponsor.

MegaTroll said...

Interesting stuff. If you think about it, even the political news has become an advertisement for the Democrats.

AndrewPrice said...

Mega, Believe it or not, the relationship is very similar. The Democrats do pass out talking points and the such, and there is a whole industry of talking heads (you see them on TV as "Democratic/Republican Strategist") who work with reporters to make sure they get good entertainment. In exchange, they get notoriety, they get to promote their books, etc. And the Democrats at least, get the news to act like a marketing agent for them.

patti said...

when i'm watching a movie and there is blatant product placement, it ALWAYS takes me out of the story. i know this isn't the same, but it's everywhere and it's annoying.

AndrewPrice said...

Patti, that happens to me too. I am fine with seeing brands spread around a house or whatever, but as soon as the characters start mentioning brand names or the camera focuses on a product, then I instantly fall out of the story and I start thinking about this was put there to sell to me.

I actually here this from a lot of people, and I wonder if advertisers consider this?

Individualist said...

You know sometimes I wonder if this even affects Big Hollywood.

I noticed a blog post by a country singer I never heard of defaming Miley Cirus. Then there was another post on Breitbart.TV or one of the other Bigs about Miley Cirus being a "p--" for wearing sexy outfits in some video.

I am thinking she's what 17, 18 and if she wants to stay relelvant she needs to cater to the high school girls who were the 7 and eight year olds from a few years before that where her fan base. The clothes while sexy were not Madonnaesque and I am left wondering What?.

The only reasonable explanation I guess is that maybe being panned on Big Hollywood helps her with the POP crowd, not sure but something bothered me about it.

AndrewPrice said...

Individualist, Getting the people on the right all worked up has long been a very solid marketing strategy. What the Beatles did on accident, most bands (and many actors) do on purpose today. If you get church groups and right-wing pundits whining about you, your sales skyrocket. 2 Live Crew proved that.

And the company who has been best at that is Disney. They created a separate "adult" division and immediately began releasing things that infuriated all the church group. Every time it worked like a charm because it got them free publicity.

Another example of this are Super Bowl ads. What companies try to do now is to create ads that the Super Bowl won't run. That way they get free publicity on Fox News of CNN because they were shot down. It's a heck of a lot better publicity (and a lot cheaper) than paying $3 for one 30 second ad that will be lost in the crowd.

In terms of Cyrus, she's using the media outrage to help her re-brand -- just like Spears, Aguilera, Gaga and the rest. This week, it's a blasphemous photo of Lohan that's being used to generate hype for a film. And the Bigs fall for it, just like the churches and the conservative pundits.

FYI, this morning there is a story about whether or not Ryan Reynolds' costume is too tight in the up-coming Green Lanterns film. Is that really news or is that newsvertising?

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

I concur, Andrew!

I remember reading a book in the 70's called Subliminal Suggestion (or something like that) in advertising.

Now it's so constant, widespread and overtly in your face it gets to be very annoying (to say the least).

It really irks me when some commercials are several decibals louder than the program I'm watching.

You hit the nail on the head by exposing the collaboration of news organizations with hollywood, businesses, and various groups.

Other channels do it too, for example Animal Planet and Discovery will support Greenpeace or repeat (and promote) the debunked "climate change" BS, or some other debunked leftist meme.

They follow the same business plan as those that collaborate with advertisers.

It's a shame that journalists, sports reporters, and even scientists are shamelessly promoting their commercials during regular programming without any critical thought whatsoever.
No objectivity. Apparently they are happy to be bought out rather than think for themselves.

It not only hurts their credibility but it hurts their viewers too.
I'm gonna tell anyone that'll listen, because this is a dangerous precedent IMO.

AndrewPrice said...

USS Ben, Thanks! I'm glad you liked the article and I'm glad you agree. I too think this is very dangerous.

There was an interesting scientific study the other day that said that subliminal advertising is not as effective as they thought when the idea first came up, BUT that it didn't matter because the constant bombardment with images was enough change people's behaviors even without them realizing it. In other words, if you hit people with enough advertising, you can change their behavior -- not necessarily for a particular product, but in general.

I see this as a real danger if we have a small cadre of people out there flooding society with messages that really run counter to our best interests.

And now adding in the news, a supposedly trustworthy source, only makes this all the worse. Not only can we no longer trust that anything we are told on the news (or these other channels) is true, but they are busy trying to warp our very way of thinking. To help their sponsors.

That's almost something out of science fiction!

(P.S. Sorry it took me so long to respond, but it's been a busy day.)

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

So true. You know, I do remember the loudest and nerve-grating commercials but it has the opposite effect on me.
They irritate me so much I make it a point not to buy their products (I hope you advertisers read this blog, hint hint) (If not, you should).

Hey, no need to apologize, Andrew, I know you got a life outside of blogging, especially with your new family member, lol.
I can relate! :^)

AndrewPrice said...

USS Ben, I think a lot of people do that. We generally mute commercial breaks by now because they've become so obnoxious.

And like you, I generally hold all those tricks against the product. So they are only hurting themselves when they do things like turn up the volume.

On the dog, I figured you knew -- I remembered that you have your own black Dachshund!!

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