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  • Last modified 16 days ago (Aug. 3, 2017)

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The truth about fake news

Executives from both KWCH-TV (Channel 12) and KPTS-TV (Channel 8) were quick to object to last week’s editorial “Live from Marion County, it’s fake news.” And they were right — sort of.

Even though one of his news anchors seemed to say otherwise, KWCH news director Brian Gregory said his station would never knowingly allow news to be staged just so live video could be broadcast.

Even though he spoke of both news stories and advertising in making his sales pitch to City of Marion officials, KPTS president Victor Hogstrom said his station would never promise to provide news stories just because a community chose to advertise.

Technically, they’re off the hook.

As it turns out, a day after our editorial warned against shooting video of a bouncy house set up just for TV at Marion County Fair, KWCH’s coverage included no bouncy houses, real or fake.

Likewise, a check of KPTS’s official agreement with the City of Marion reveals it called only for commercials, not news stories, even though some officials thought otherwise.

But that’s not the whole story.

When a TV station offers a live shot about an event that hasn’t yet opened, what are the non-journalists who are called upon to help organize the shot supposed to think? Might they innocently try to stage something that seems real but isn’t and not know that they are violating time-honored standards.

That doesn’t seem to bother KWCH anchor Michael Schwanke, who said in a Facebook posting: “This is a first! We were called out for ‘Fake News’ because someone set up a bouncy house for a morning live shot for our ‘Where’s Shane?’ fun segment…. What do you think: Fake news or fun community coverage?”

Clearly, Schwanke needs to have a conversation with his boss, who said he would have been aghast if he had known something had been set up as if it were real just for the cameras — regardless of whether it was just for “fun,” as Schwanke wrote.

Equally troubling was a viewer’s response to Schwanke’s post, in which she clearly confused news and advertising in saying that nothing about 4-H’ers hard work and dedication was fake, “and KWCH was thrilled to advertise it.”

KWCH didn’t advertise anything. It reported. There’s a big difference.

We absolutely agree about 4-H’ers hard work, which is why we ran several stories about them leading up to the fair and why we worked very hard both last week and this to get actual, legitimate results from fair-related events into our papers.

Average citizens appear to think staged news and ads masquerading as news are perfectly fine. We get this all the time. Advertisers routinely ask us to publish stories that aren’t newsworthy and regularly submit or arrange photos that are clearly staged to show something other than reality.

What separates us from the Facebooks and less ethical media of the world is that we won’t do it. Neither, apparently, will KWCH or KPTS — at least knowingly. If only the same could be said for all news media.

It’s not just TV that stretches ethics to their breaking point. You see “advertorial” content on newspaper websites and even within “canned” special sections of some newspapers. And, of course, it’s all over places like Facebook.

Our promise to you is that we’ll never do it here, and if we think someone else might be doing it, we’ll call them out — even if it means we’ll be dismissed by our regular critics as trying to sound high and mighty.

If that’s the price we pay for never succumbing to a blurring of the lines between news and advertising or between real and fake, we’ll happily wear insults as badges of honor.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Aug. 3, 2017

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