Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.
Today is Amazon’s annual shareholder’s meeting. The company got out in front of criticism that will arise in today’s meeting by distributing a news release that looks like a TV news story and that claims Amazon is spending billions of dollars to keep workers safe.
Almost a dozen TV stations ran at least some part of the video press release word-for-word without saying where it came from. It is not only an ethics issue, but the Federal Communications Commission has also made it clear that running unlabeled content of a political or controversial nature would result in a $10,000 fine.
In the TV business, these so-called video news releases, or VNRs, are so 1998. Frankly, I have not heard of anybody using such things on the air in years because they have been around since the early 1990s and have been loudly condemned as commercials disguised as news stories.
Amazon released the script with a narrated “news package” (with the voice of Amazon spokesman Todd Walker) and included “news package elements without narration for local anchor voiceover.” And, sadly, some stations took advantage of that and ran it.
While a couple of TV stations even promoted their news-release journalism on Twitter, other local TV reporters called it out.
Oklahoma City weekend mornings anchor Zach Rael said an Amazon public relations employee, who he is not naming, sent him this email pitching the press release as weekend content:
Keep in mind that holiday weekends are typically lightly staffed so it would not be a surprise for newsrooms to be scraping for content.