Product Placement (II) Revisited

NewsUSA CEO Rick Smith e-mailed me this morning, wanting to respond to Tuesday’s post. Because I believe his original intention was to leave a comment (there were two attempts in the logs — not sure why they failed, actually) and also because he left an identical note on another site (right down to the truncated ellipsis after “by you”) I’ll quote his message here:

Thank you for mentioning our free service to editors and webmasters who may not have the budgets to buy copy, yet want great consumer editorial for their readers.
The Editor Rewards program was slightly mischaracterized by you..let me clarify…
We have over 4,000 newspapers using our free service and 18 years history.
This year the 2 national clipping services merged..we felt we would allocate the $2/clipping to reward editors that are using us to send copies of those missing tearsheets…
I doubt $2 would get any editor to run copy that doesn’t help serve his readers. Our copy is in Associated Press Style and color photos and free.

Rick Smith
NewsUSA, Inc.
[contact information snipped]

Before I respond, I’d like to also quote from “E-Media Tidbits”, a Poynter Institute newsletter to which I subscribe:

The report suggests that there’s a serious plagiarism problem among some Chinese reporters. It cites an example as told by a media worker: “A while ago, there was a big traffic-related story in Xinyuan. Our newspaper dispatched three reporters to gather news. But all three were too lazy to go. When the newspaper director pressed them for their reports, the three reporters sent in identical reports” (based on what they found online)!

Of course, there are hard-working journalists, looking for the truth, but for the audiences it is very hard to tell the difference between a truth and a fabrication. — 7 Dec 05

First, from what I understand, the $2 isn’t cash, it’s 250 prize points, only useful if you advance in their affinity system — by publishing more articles. Mr. Smith seems to think my quarrel is with the $2 reward for sending in a clipping; it’s not. My problem is that I recognize that their is an ever-shrinking number of professional newspaper reporters, and as a result the pressure put on them and their editors can only increase, making “easy out” options like NewsUSA (or online sourcing) more tempting.

Is that so bad? I think so. Mr. Smith takes pains to note that his copy is professional, written in AP style with art provided, and thus can be of use to publishers who “want great consumer editorial.” It sounds like a win-win for those on tight budgets, but it’s time for a reality check: most press releases are, in fact, well-written in AP style. Why don’t companies just use them? Why do people pay Mr. Smith? Cui bono?

Obviously there’s a difference between a press release and news. By masquerading as any other article, NewsUSA features take advantage of the prestige and trust of the organization that runs them. In doing so, they make print press just a little bit more like the B-roll/VNR hell that is television news, and a little bit less like the “I saw it, I checked it, I vouch for it” print media we know.

And trust.

One Response to “Product Placement (II) Revisited”

  1. Bill Kavanagh Says:

    Check out the response to my post by “mediaman” from USA News…ever so completely the same as to yours. I love this guy! So personal, eh?

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