March 17

Commercialism Overtakes Journalism


In a TV news show, commercials are supposed to be shown in between news segments.

Oh, if only that were so!

What many viewers do not realize is that the “news segments” are often just as commercial as the commercials!

TV News has been so polluted by corporate commercialism that it is often worse than worthless. I say worse than worthless because many people still turn to TV news as a source of quality information and that is not what they are getting. TV news is mediocre at best.  Viewers can remain grossly uninformed, but are under the impression they are informed. That’s a dangerous combo.

I am here to tell you that the 2008n financial collapse had EVERYTHING to do with the fact that TV News has been overtaken by public relations content, which should be called advertisements, but never news.

Public relations copy is often the basis for what you hear on the TV news. It may get re-written a bit, but not necessarily, and it is still biased toward the company it was originally written for.   THAT IS WHAT YOU CALL AN ADVERTISEMENT, NOT NEWS. Press releases flood newsrooms across America every day. Press releases are NOT a source of quality, unbiased information, but they are treated as such.

No one likes a Tattle Tale
The TV station owners do not want real news. Real news is usually an unpleasant truth. Someone is ripping someone off, or breaking the law in some way. Few people want such unpleasant truths exposed. Certainly not the lawbreaker. If the lawbreaker happens to be an advertiser at the TV station, you can bet that the sales department does not want the news department blabbing on the air that their customer is a crook.


Back when I worked in TV news, it became common for the general manager to walk up to a reporter and say, “My client called me and said you were snooping around. I don’t think you need to be doing that.”

End of that story!  The line I wrote above about cars being duck taped together was a real story that got spiked by the boss.

Or, the sales department would want the news department to do a nice puff piece on the client and what a wonderful service they offered. It became common practice for the sales department to include a puff news piece in with their package of commercials!

When I first got into TV news in the early 80’s, I worked for WSMV-TV in Nashville, TN and they were a bastion of real journalism. The company that owned the station encouraged journalism. They hired managers who were fearless, dedicated journalists. The station’s award-winning investigative reporting went so far as to bring down a governor, Ray Blanton, who ended up in the federal pen for corruption. Doing that not only took reporting skills, it also took courage to stand up to power. It took money and patience to discover the truth and triple check it. No reporter can do this sort of thing unless they have owners and managers who back them up and are willing to take the heat.

No one likes a tattle tale.

Flash forward 20 years and the same station is owned by out-of-town corporate owners. We’re having a big station-wide meeting. The corporate news director is laughing at the station’s journalistic heritage. “Journalism does not work!” he proclaims. He has “research” to back it up. Viewers WANT flash and trash, he insists. Journalism is boring! No one watches PBS, don’t kid yourself!

He was quite confident in his position. There was no way WSMV was going to do real journalism anymore. Doing journalism was for fools, and he was the boss.

We as employees did not have a choice. If we wanted to keep our jobs, we had to do as our supreme commander insisted.

One subject I had liked covering was predatory lending. Predatory lending was fairly new and it APPALLED me. (This was early 2000) Banking laws were taken from Fast Buck Freddy’s playbook. Banks and lending institutions were able to get away with pure theft. Loan contracts, written by high-priced lawyers, were designed to rip unsuspecting customers off.

This was LEGAL? I could not believe it. I met customers who had been paying their mortgages faithfully, on-time for years, yet they owed more than their original principal balance!

Customers were being charged up to 400% APR.

What? How is this legal? Well, come to find out that lawmakers all over the country, local, state and federal, democrat and republican, were allowing it to happen. Customer protection laws were thrown out the window. New laws were written that allowed banks to become nothing more than legal loan sharks.

Predatory lending stories were stopped by the new “No Journalism” rule.  Banks and Predatory Lending institutions were paying customers of the TV station, after all!  We can’t embarrass advertisers by calling them crooks!

The 2008 financial collapse is one result of this moratorium on predatory lending stories. Predatory lending became so common, but you never heard about it on the news! If you did hear about it, you got the bank’s PR version of the story. Customers are wanting bad loans! Customers are MAKING us do this! We’re the good guys!


If TV news did a good job, the 2008 financial collapse and all the shenanigans surrounding it never could have happened. I do not believe for one minute that financial networks truly did not know what was going on. They did. They just didn’t report on it. They took the corporations’ side and only presented the glossed over “truth.”

I finally left TV news because I would rather shovel poo at the zoo than shovel PR poo on TV.

So instead of being warned by journalists, people are manipulated by corporate PR. And we all know the result. Economic collapse and TV “experts” like Jim Cramer telling Jon Stewart that “Nobody could have seen this coming!”

Bullshit!  I saw it coming a mile away.

I saw it coming for years. Everybody else would have seen it too if I had been allowed to do my job as a TV JOURNALIST.  Sorry.  I really am.  But I did the best I could.  I stood up to the bozo boss at the meeting and all the employees applauded.  It didn’t make any difference.   I just got labeled a know-it-all nerd who didn’t know how to be a team player!

Please do yourself a favor and stop believing that TV news has much real information for you.
Lorraine Grula, News Nerd and Journalism Advocate.

Here are 15 articles on the blog for Demand Real Journalism, plus one about me, in case that is a concern.    

Demand Real Journalism: How Will It Fix This Mess?

Letter to POTUS for Demand Real Journalism

Demand Real Journalism: Democracy Depends on Journalism and the Founding Fathers Knew It

Why Reality and Facts Matter. A Well-Functioning Media is Critical for Freedom in America

More Thoughts on Fixing the News Media 

Demand Real Journalism: Let’s First Define Journalism

The 11 Biggest Reasons Why News Media Is Failing Democracy, Part 1

The 11 Biggest Reasons Why TV News is Failing Democracy, Part 2

The 11 Biggest Reasons Why News Media is Killing Democracy, part 3

The 11 Biggest Reasons Why News Media is Killing Democracy, part 4

Demand Real Journalism: How Dysfunctional News Media Affects EVERYTHING! 

Demand Real Journalism: It All Started with the Sweaty Brow of a Homely Man…

Demand Real Journalism: Why I Embrace “Dare to be Dull” as a TV News Slogan

Why Relying on an Advertising Business Model Dooms Journalism

Commercialism Overtakes Journalism

Hi, I’m Lorraine Grula, News Nerd


jon stewart jim cramer, journalism, TV News, tv news sucks

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  1. One of the things that I am constantly battling is ad reps coming in and wanting me to do an “article” on their advertisers. There are publications in town that are advertising supported like us and they have no problem selling their editorial along with an ad contract. It really muddies the water. I just won’t do it. For one thing, we’re a service publication and people depend on us at least trying to give accurate information. Our readers can see the difference, which is one positive thing. I hate it when the “news” is a press release and no one has even bothered to check to see if the information is accurate. The other thing that kills me is the sheer number of PR people out there! For every journalist, there must be 10,000 pr people, and most of them don’t know what they’re doing. They’ve just been told that you don’t buy advertising, you try to get a story.
    I HATE it.

  2. Hey Betty.

    I agree with you 110% As a journalist, I felt like the bane of my existence was PR folks thinking their product was newsworthy. So many people did not even seem to know the difference and they didn’t see why I had a problem with it.
    I could have made this post ten times longer with example after example. Like the time when the TV station allowed a local hospital to do an hour long show and call it a channel 4 documentary! I was the health reporter and did not even know about it until it was set to air. All the spots in the hour long show were for the hospital. When I took a mass communications law class in college, we learned that was a program length commercial and it was ILLEGAL. Not anymore!
    I hate it all too. It drove me out of the news business. There is almost no such thing as journalism in America.

  3. This is absolutely true – how much change is directly related to the corporatization of the news media?

  4. Money & lobbyists have more influence in our congress than the best interests of most of our citizens, and this is just more of the same.

    I like the video; really made me laugh.

  5. What a great post!

    You are obviously someone who has been there and wouldn’t do it. Unfortunately, there aren’t very many people like you anymore.

    I thought your video was good, but it lacked the credibility of your post. I would suggest putting your post to video.

    Make it fast and snappy. Fill it with the excellent content that you have bouncing around and erupting from your brain. You have an excellent flair for writing – that is obvious.

    Make it a rant. Come from a perspective of – “I have been there.” Give examples, but change the names to protect your ass.

    I for one would love to see you do that.

    Rich Days last blog post..Website Video Marketing Third Video in the Series – EasyVideoProducer

  6. Hey Richard.


    I love the way you say that…”bouncing around and erupting from your brain.” That’s what it’s doing alright.

    The video I have posted here has no real credibility of course! It is a satire parody of a payday lending commercial that ran on Tv a lot.

    I should do more on this topic because I think it is so important. It saddens me greatly to see the sorry state of TV news…all news really. I bought the domain name TV News Sucks dot com, but have not had time to develop it!

    Thanks for reading video production tips.


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