Paid-for TV health "news"

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I always talk a great deal with my students about the blurred line between news and advertising in many settings these days. Now some of my past students are seeing it for themselves.

For whatever reason, a disproportionate share of one year’s graduating class is working in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where today the Argus Leader newspaper reports:

“A local television affiliate is ramping up its health care coverage, thanks to a partnership with Avera Health.

KSFY-TV this month began a partnership with the Sioux Falls-based health care system, broadcasting live and taped segments with doctors and other Avera professionals and patients.

“We’re telling patient stories and conveying the good work that our physicians are doing,” said Kenyon Gleason, spokesman for Avera McKennan, the health system’s flagship hospital in Sioux Falls.

KELO-TV and Sanford Health – Avera’s cross-town rival – have had a similar relationship for several years.”

I was interviewed for the story about the propriety of such arrangements, which give the appearance of independent news decision-making even though it’s a stacked deck – delivering only the news of the sponsoring health care institution. The new Sioux Falls sponsored segment will be called the “Avera Medical Minute.” Guess how many Avera competitors will show up in those segments?

Meantime, another past student of mine, hearing about the Sioux Falls stink, wrote from a a different Midwest TV market:

“We have health segments. They’re strictly advertisements, aired during the breaks in our newscasts with our logo on them. However, they’re created to look like news stories, with a “reporter” asking doctors questions. We get calls all the time, asking about this story we aired… and we have to say, sorry that’s a commercial… don’t know anything about it…”

It’s easy to understand viewers’ confusion. But it’s sad to see my former students’ early disillusionment with an industry that is starting to tear down the walls between the news side and the advertising side.

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August 3, 2007 at 8:19 am

This is one of the reasons that I rarely trust to any health news that I see on televisions. If you want the accurate health information today, unfortunately you have to make your own research.