Video news releases (VNRs) have grown in popularity within the US since their introduction in the late 1980s. They are costly to produce, but they are often seen as an effective public relationship tool for private and not-for-profit organisations, as outlined by Harmon and White. With the increase in the number of television channels/news programs available (there are an estimated 800 television newsrooms in the US) and the budget pressures being faced by news programs it is no wonder that the US has seen an increase in the production and use of VNRs. However, as Harmon and White point out, “Only the most well-produced and newsworthy will make the air, and even those chosen will most likely be edited and changed from what was sent.”
VNRs have come under considerable criticism with a number of academic scholars labeling them audience deceptions and questioning the ethics of newsrooms using them. They argue that the way a news story is presented gives no indication as to whether it has been constructed through the use of a VNRs. Viewers are watching under the assumption that the story has been gathered by the news station and that independent judgement has been applied to the story. Hormon and White argue that the viewer has no idea that what they are watching could have been almost entirely the construct of a company with underlying ulterior motives. It could be so much a product of a company that even the voice-over story has been written for the news presenter.
I don’t think Hormon and White are giving viewers enough credit. No longer are the days when viewers solely rely on the media to provide them with information needs. They have become more active in the search for news and information, and more skeptical of what they are told by the mainstream media. They are questioning of what they are shown and don’t necessarily expect what they are presented with to be a balance opinion. In saying that, I think VNRs are information subsidies that are part of a larger grouping of influences negatively impacting on the journalistic profession and allowing the fielded to be underfunded in the area of proper research and journalistic integrity.
The following cartoon by Tom Toles highlighting state-controlled media can just as easily be applied to what is becoming company-controlled media.
Australia has been slower to take up the use of VNRs. The significant costs of developing VNRs has been a detering factor for companies avoiding production, coupled with the relatively small number of television channels/news program in comparison to our US counterparts.. However, the introduction of digital television in Australia has seen the emergence of our first free-to-air 24-hour news channel. It won’t be long before the other stations join the ABC in the non-stop deliver of news and with this I am sure we can expect to see an increase in the development and use of VNRs.