Do You Know When You’re Watching a VNR on TeeVee News?

I would venture a guess that most people outside the TV news business DON’T know what a VNR is.  VNR stands for Video News Release.  Some are pretty straight forward and you have a really good idea of who it’s from and what they are pushing.  Others are more subtle and could pass for a legitimate news package.  However the subject matter is couched, the FCC is serious about news outlets identifying VNRs if they use them.  The FCC hit Comcast cable with a four thousand dollar fine (I’m sure it will be appealed) for running a VNR that aired in about 20-markets.  Here’s the story.  The product: Nelson’s Rescue Sleep, a herbal alternative to sleeping pills.   Trust me, VNRs are used more often than viewers might think.  I’ve been handed a VNR and told to pull some sound from it for a VO/Sot  (voice over/soundbite ) in a broadcast.  We did live satellite shots with people who pushed products when I was working mornings at WREG.  It might be a dentist or doctor who was talking about oral health and at the very end they’d mention how “Acme Health” products can improve your oral health.  I hated doing these because you knew that whoever was being interviewed would make their pitch toward the end.  When I would question producers on it, they said they didn’t have a problem and besides, it filled a requirement of having anchors do live Q & A with somebody in addition to filling several minutes of airtime.  Some say there is a fine line between what constitutes a VNR and legitimate news or even promotion.  If someone talks about how to prevent diabetes, they may dispense solid information at the beginning before mentioning they product they are pushing.  If you do a live satellite interview with the star of a show on your network, is that a VNR or legitimate promotion?  Does that have to be identified as a VNR?  It’s contrived and they even provide you with questions.

Getting back to my original point, when I was working in news, did we identify in any form or fashion that what we aired was a VNR?  Nope.  Will they in the future?  I would imagine the threat of a fine would add some incentive.  Will news operations stop using VNRs?  I think that remains to be seen.  I think you’ll still see it in smaller markets where a manpower shortage means a scramble to fill air time.  In larger markets, I think you’ll see them more likely to be used when they have the least amount of manpower and a large news hole to fill (i.e.) early mornings, weekend mornings.  But those who DO use them had better be careful and make sure they identify to the viewers what they are seeing.  A fine can be tough on anyone’s bottom line.

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