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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Columbus TV News Health Segments: Ohio State Pays Stations $250,000 For Stories

COLUMBUS (TDB) -- TV news health stories that feature medical breakthroughs at Ohio State University's hospital have been paid for by the school. The university forks out nearly $250,000 each year for on-the-air coverage by two local stations in Columbus

Some believe the practice is nothing but advertising being disguised as legitimate journalism, or gussied up payola. The OSU-funded health segments appear on Channel 10 and Channel 4 in Columbus, and disclosures about financial ties has started to raise disturbing questions about paid propaganda and deception. The nub: Should anybody trust or believe TV news if broadcasters take money from those who appear as the subjects of newscasts? Such financial arrangements would appear to undercut any claims of journalistic independence and freedom. It looks like somebody is buying, and the other party is selling.

Gary Schmitz, who is at the University of Minnesota's school of journalism, says OSU's arrangement with the Columbus broadcasters is PR because the medical center paid its way onto the newscasts.

"Columbus residents join the long list of television news audiences all over the country who have been spoonfed one-sided PR and advertising messages from medical centers paying their way onto newscasts. The fact is that a supposed 'news' organization would accept these deals is an embarrassment to the TV news industry."

The story about OSU's payments comes from The Other Paper, where reporter Steph Gregor found marketing execs who said the anchor-hosted health segments play off viewer trust in TV reporters. She also says some of the segments have omitted details like the cost of procedures, or facts like mortality rates. Gregor's story made it clear that the line between marketing and news has been blurred.

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