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A video news release (VNR), also known as a B-roll or fake news, is a carefully edited and packaged form of public service announcement provided to local media outlets for broadcasting. In theory, the contents of a video news release are not to be confused with authentic news footage, but in reality, a number of outlets do not issue a disclaimer concerning the source of the VNR footage. This practice has become very controversial in recent years, since the producers of many video news release packages also include some form of payment for air time.
A typical video news release is produced much like an authentic news story, with a professional interviewer or anchor, expert guests, graphics, charts and even 'man on the street' soundbites and testimonials. However, the interviewer in a video news release may be a professional actor, or the experts may work for the company producing the video news release or the manufacturer of the product itself. Even if a video news release only utilizes unaffiliated experts or objective reporters, the fact that a specific corporation or agency pays to have the VNR produced often creates a concern over objectivity.
One of the first industries to use the video news release was pharmaceutical companies. Instead of holding a press conference to announce a new drug treatment, a drug company may decide to produce a video news release containing its own footage of the drug trials, expert opinions, and testimonials from patients and doctors. This footage is then packaged as a legitimate news item and sent to individual television stations. The station's management can choose to air the entire video news release, use edited parts to bolster a self-generated story, or electronically insert a local reporter as the 'interviewer'.
Besides the pharmaceutical industry, a number of other industries use video news releases to announce or promote a new product line. Car manufacturers, publishing houses and fitness equipment companies have all been known to produce VNRs for self-promotion. Even non-profit government agencies use video news releases to provide footage of a new program in action or to raise public awareness of an upcoming issue. The use of this footage by individual stations is perfectly legitimate, as long as the station identifies the source of the images or information as a video news release, not as footage shot by a recognized photojournalist.
Some local stations object to this requirement of full disclosure, and a number of video news release producers refuse to add any disclaimers to the footage itself. Much of the footage provided in a video news release is considered to be stock or b-roll footage, such as a policeman pulling over suspected drunk drivers or a laboratory technician preparing samples for testing. Shooting similar footage in-house would be time-consuming and expensive, especially when production budgets are already strained. A video news release allows news producers to fill up an hour of broadcast time without the need to hire additional camera operators or local reporters.
The controversy over video news releases appears to center around the presentation of the material as legitimate news. The assumption is that a company would not go through the expense of producing and distributing a video news release unflattering to their product or service. There would be little opportunity for a reporter to challenge facts or present interviews from critics. If the footage created on a video news release is not identified by a disclaimer, viewers may confuse 'fake news' items with factual, objective reports.