Tough questions on health blog censored by TV news director

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All over the country, daily journalists working on newspapers or on radio or TV are now also being asked to publish blogs – often without any additional pay for the additional work.

But I recently discovered a case where a reporter pressured to do a blog had that blog censored by a TV news director because he didn’t like what was in the blog.

The reporter – a TV health reporter – posted two entries about some questionable (I would call them unethical) practices in TV news. One referred to the practice of medical centers buying air time within newscasts and having the message appear as news. The posting asked blog visitors:

“What do you think of commercials for local health care behemoths that look like news? … Are you able to tell they are clearly commercials?”

The other blog entry was about subscription services that provide health news for stations to fill their newscasts. The reporter, whose station often uses such a service, wrote on the blog:

“I’ve noticed a lot of the subscription reports have to do with research. And not that I have anything against research — in fact, I think it’s a very important part of medical advancement — but I believe the mass media need to be very careful about highlighting investigational procedures, products, and techniques. …I worry sometimes these packages peddle false hope, or at least, premature hope.

What do you think of these subscription pieces? Can you tell when it’s something I’ve written versus a (subscription) piece? Do you think stations should even subscribe to (such) services?”

Without being told in advance, the reporter noticed that the blog entries had been deleted. The news director then called the reporter on the carpet and said that “He didn’t think it was right to ask viewers what they thought about something management had already decided to do.”

The reporter no longer blogs on the station website. That reporter asks if other reporters have had similar experiences, stating “it’s about reporters everywhere having viewpoints about what their own industry does, and not being able to express their views without fear of reprisal.”

Please weigh in if you know of other such in-house censorship of the free flow of ideas. In an era of transparency, there are apparently some editorial decisions that some news managers – at least this one – don’t want to shine a light on. That may be the best evidence there is for why the practices in question should be re-assessed.

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Andrew Holtz

November 26, 2008 at 8:35 am

I’ve always been perplexed by people in news organizations (whether managers or reporters) who can’t seem to handle being questioned.
I’m heartened though to hear that this reporter is asking questions about the type of coverage that the station does. Viewers have a right to be informed and involved.

Ed Hardy

November 26, 2008 at 5:11 pm

I despise “edumercials” or “news-mercials” they feel insulting as if I was actually going to believe that this is news. Give me a break. They keep doing it so it must work…sad.

Tristan Phillips

November 27, 2008 at 7:54 am

Please name the TV station in question. They need a public shaming for their censorship and blatant hypocracy.

Christine Gorman

November 30, 2008 at 6:18 pm

I’m teaching a class on journalism judgment at NYU this May and am looking for some new case studies. I know you don’t want to name the individual reporter involved but can you identify the “subscriptions services” you’re talking about? Do you have any favorite examples of same? Could be interesting for my class.