Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Back to the Future 

After writing about the Pentagon's pay-for-placement policy in Iraqi newspapers yesterday, a colleague sent me the following. It seems pay-for-play is now a regular part of morning TV shows at stations owned by that paragon of publishing, Gannett. Have a handy $2500, and you too can buy a segment on an early show where you can discuss the wonders of your product or service.

A lot of thoughts swirled through my mind when I read this. The first is that we are back to the future. In the early days of modern PR, pay-for-play was a regular feature of the business. There was a reason the publishing industry stopped it, however. Lest we forget, it destroys the credibility of the medium, the host and presenter. This apparently doesn't worry Gannett all that much. Just write that check.

The kinds of guests on the shows is interesting.

The mostly local advertisers have included local cosmetic dentists, home builders and remodelers and auto dealer groups. But more regional and national advertisers are beginning to take advantage of the shows through local unwired buys -- buys made at the corporate ownership level.

In Gannett's defense, most guests on morning shows are shilling anyway, so why not make them pay. On the other hand, pay-for-play takes away any semblance of editorial decisionmaking. But, there was little editorial decisionmaking in local shows, so why maintain the fiction?

The one good deed in all this is that shows label segments as paid sponsorship at the beginning and end. Still, news editors are uncomfortable with letting marketing and advertising invade their space -- and they should be. It is one more step on the slippery slope to destroying the credibility of news departments at local levels. Morning news has become an infomercial.

Before anyone raves again about destroying free speech in Iraq, let's talk about destroying our own. At least, there is a higher principle involved in Iraq. In the US, it's just greed.


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