By the end of last week, even Granite Broadcasting agreed that Central New York Live
on its WTVH(TV) Syracuse, N.Y., had blurred historic church and state lines between news and sales.
The program's mix of paid-for interviews and news updates featuring former newspeople in a traditional news time slot raised eyebrows among competitors and critics and even within Granite, officials said.
"The line is extremely blurred," noted Syracuse University Broadcast Journalism Professor Dow Smith, a former news director and general manager himself. He said he was troubled by the program's approach even before the local Post-Standard
drew attention to it. "This is really unfortunate."
At first, Smith said, viewers were given no indication that the interviews with advertisers on the program were not legitimate news product controlled by the station. The subsequent "courtesy of" attempts at disclaimer were also inadequate, he added.
"Every organization has to decide what kind of news program they want," said Theresa Underwood, general manager of WIXT(TV) Syracuse. "Our salespeople know that selling content is not an option."
Granite said its news content never has been and never will be for sale. The company insists that it was a failure of execution and not of intent, and it remains convinced that this kind of program, with the right firewalls, is a viable alternative even in a traditional news time slot.
Bob Selwyn, a former Granite COO who works with Granite stations, including WTVH, acknowledged last week that it had not properly labeled the advertorial segments as paid-for programming—critics said the "disclaimers" ranged from nothing to inadequate—and promised to correct it. He also said that a flier purporting to sell advertisers the opportunity to "spotlight" their businesses through "advertorial segments in our 5 p.m. newscast" was out of line since that program "is not a newscast."
But critics suggested that the format itself is intended to give an advertisement the credibility of a news interview, thus blurring the lines. Advertisers will not always be touting their businesses but sometimes merely showing off their expertise. Selwyn says viewers will know the difference, as long as the station properly identifies what's news and what's paid for.
Package options for Central New York Live
range from $600 for a three-minute segment to $15,600 for an annual sponsorship.