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“News update”? Or deceitful ad masquerading as news?

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CNN’s American Morning “news” program cut to a “news update” this morning to tell me that that seven of the nine hospitals in the Louisiana State University Healthcare Network lost their paper patient records during Hurricane Katrina.

Seemed like news to me. At first. Then skepticism crept in, followed closely by cynicism.

The “update,” showing video of patients apparently being removed from New Orleans hospitals, eventually cut to tight shots of computer screens showing electronic records of patients. The voiceover noted that thanks to “our friends” at Microsoft and AllScripts, the healthcare network had converted to a touchscreen electronic patient record system.

At the end of the “news update,” the text said for more information, contact AllScripts and gave its Web address.

How interesting, I thought. But why would CNN tout a commercial product? CNN only does news on American Morning, doesn’t it?

Good golly. Was this an ad? CNN has used “news updates” such as this before. They look like, feel like, sound like “news” segments — but they are not. Could this have been fake news, material provided by a PR firm to a news organization on behalf of a paying client? And the news organization runs the material without proper attribution?

If the LSU hospital records issue was a story, it would have appeared in this morning’s rush transcript of American Morning. It did not.

If the conversion of these hospitals to electronic patient records were indeed news, it would not have waited until today. A PR Newswire story notes that the announcement of this LSU Healthcare-AllScripts partnership occurred Feb. 26 — nearly six weeks ago. An AllScripts spokesman told me that his company had not paid CNN for an ad and had no knowledge of it but that he believed the item to be newsworthy.

I’ve e-mailed an inquiry to CNN and called the LSU Healthcare Network media relations office, but I’m not holding my breath on quick replies.

So was it an ad? How did it get on air? If it was an ad, why was it designed to “look” like a routine part of a newscast? Who paid for it? Note that Microsoft was mentioned by name. Why didn’t CNN clearly identify it as ad copy?

It’s deceitful to portray an ad as “news” without identifying it as such. It inappropriately conveys the supposed gravitas of news onto a commercial message and lends credibility the commercial message may not deserve.

This speaks poorly of CNN. After all, it just does readily identifiable and clearly labeled news, doesn’t it?


Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

April 4, 2007 at 3:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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