VNRs: Is the News Audience Deceived?

Journal of Mass Media Ethics 26 (4):283-296 (2011)
Every day, television news operations have available dozens of video news releases (VNRs), public relations handout videos designed to mimic news formats. Electronic tracking indicates some of these VNRs are used. Critics typically assail VNRs on ethical grounds, that VNRs deceive audience members into thinking they are watching news gathered by reporters, rather than a promotional pitch. Using a snowball technique, the researchers presented survey respondents with authentic-looking local television news stories; 157 respondents evaluated three stories (out of nine). Some stories used station-generated footage, some network, and some VNRs. Respondents were asked their best estimation of the source. The data indicated a real likelihood VNR deception is occurring. Two of the three VNRs deceived at least half the respondents. Respondents were incorrect an average of 46% of the time when attempting to identifying VNRs, compared to 29% incorrectly identifying network video and 20% incorrectly identifying locally shot video.
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