Remember that wall we used to talk about between the newsroom and the folks on the other side of the building who sell the advertising that keeps us employed? Perhaps you’ve noticed the wall seems a lot less solid these days. In an age of sponsored content, advertiser branding popping up on weather forecasts and sports reports, and news talent often raving about good service from airlines and restaurants on social media, why not have anchors do a few commercials, right?
At Sacramento station KTXL, news director Ed Chapuis tells TVSpy he recently approved the use of his two morning anchors, Bethany Crouch and Paul Robins, in commercial spots airing on the station. “While this is not the television industry norm, there are many examples within TV and Radio of anchors doing endorsements,” he said.
Chapuis uses the word “endorsements” because, he says, the anchors are exclusively putting their names and images behind products he says “they use and believe in”. Crouch appears in spots for Sacramento Infiniti, and Robins in an ad for “Good Feet”, featuring a local podiatrist.
“When we started this experiment, we took steps to address important journalistic concerns. The key is transparency and avoiding conflict of interest,” Chapuis told us. “We have made sure the anchors are not put in a position where they report on these companies.”
Chapuis also notes while news anchors endorsing products is hardly common practice, it’s not unheard of, with many major market radio news anchors in particular regularly reading commercial spots during their newscasts. And then there’s the history.
The “real news is dying” crowd would point to the legends of the business, men like David Brinkley and Chet Huntley, who did news the hard-boiled way, and would’ve thrown their cigarettes at anyone trying to tell them to sell soap. But of course, that’s not accurate, as Huntley and Brinkley’s program had tons of product branding, including a prominent logo for Texaco.
The newscast was at times called “The Texaco Huntley-Brinkley Report”, an evolution of the medium’s first newscast, the “Camel News Caravan”. Mike Wallace famously did commercials for Parliament cigarettes in his early career, when it was common for journalists to anchor the news, endorse products, and even host game shows.
There’s history, and there’s an evolving future. Does it compromise journalistic integrity? Or is it a smart way to keep local newscasts alive? For Chapuis, it has yet to alienate viewers, and he believes it’s worth trying. “Moving forward, this is something we continue to monitor and evaluate to determine whether it’s a good fit with our long-term strategy.”