Pseudo-News Destroys Broadcast News Credibility

By Saltzman, Joe | USA TODAY, July 2001 | Go to article overview

Pseudo-News Destroys Broadcast News Credibility


Saltzman, Joe, USA TODAY


THE PSEUDO-NEWS EVENT is showing up on more news and nonfiction TV programs than ever before. It is a public relations practitioner's dream fulfilled--a piece of entertainment covered by local TV stations and often network shows as bona fide news, thus legitimizing the entire event. One clear indication that a news story is pseudo-news is if that "exclusive" story only appears on the TV news shows that are on the same network as the featured entertainment program.

The pseudo-news story goes back to the early days of TV, when advertisers occasionally tried to sneak their products and messages into the news coverage. But print journalists, who dominated TV news in its infancy, resisted and set standards that are not recognizable today. Many thought pseudo-news reached its heyday when local TV news covered network movies as if they were news--"exclusive" interviews with the actors in the movie-of-the-week or interviews with the real-life people on which a TV movie was based. But today's reality shows have obliterated any line between real news that affects people's lives and pseudo-news that is entertainment-based and has no legitimate reason for appearing on a news program.

"Survivor" and "Survivor: The Australian Outback" created an avalanche of pseudo-news events when each contestant voted out showed up on CBS network talk shows and local news programs. Several of the latter even had a "Survivor Watch." In Los Angeles, KCBS's "Survivor Correspondent" kept a close watch on the breaking news of the week--who would be voted out, who might win, who was behaving badly, who was behaving well. Local anchors couldn't voice enough opinions about the "Survivor" sweepstakes. The story, especially in the last week, when the lone survivor won the big cash prize, often wound up leading the broadcast.

To a lesser degree, other reality-based shows have been featured on their local TV news and talk programs. Fox News kept close tabs on "Temptation Island." CBS tried to hawk its "Big Brother" participants on the local TV news programs with less success, since the program was poorly received. ABC's "The Mole" generated weak interest and weaker news coverage. News managers may be willing partners with their corporate sponsors, but they're not stupid. When "Survivor: The Australian Outback" reached No. 1 in the ratings, the coverage increased. Few ABC local TV news stations were that eager to give the same kind of coverage to "The Mole" which finished far lower.

When NBC finally brought its answer to ABC's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," the host of "The Weakest Link" was so well-covered by local NBC TV news stations that her familiar line, "You are the weakest link. Goodbye," became a national catch phrase even before the program went on the air. NBC watched closely while "Millionaire" host Regis Philbin turned "Is that your final answer?" into a national obsession. There wasn't an anchor or talk show host in the country who didn't join viewers in wearing out the phrase.

Sometimes, the pseudo-news event becomes so big that news stations not affiliated with the network involved climb on the bandwagon, giving the pseudo-news the mantle of legitimacy. …

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