October 29, 2005

Added December 5, 2005 – Obligation has received several emails from PRIMEDIA, Channel One’s parent company, protesting our articles that state Channel One has “sold” news anchor positions to advertisers. The important parts of their correspondence are copied below. George Clooney was not a guest news anchor and was simply a guest plugging a movie. It is apparent now that Channel One does not receive money for placing actors and musical artists in their anchor chair, but it is well documented on Channel One’s own site that many guest anchors contribute goods and services to Channel One and that is clearly a quid pro quo thereby still making it a valuable transaction for both parties. You can sell something without receiving cash.

From PRIMEDIA’s first letter to Obligation:

“Channel One has never received payment from a movie studio or anyone associated with a movie studio for an appearance on Channel One; and Channel One has never in any way traded an appearance for a promise of a purchase of advertising. The same holds true for any and all other advertisers. Consistent with the standards and practices at other major news outlets, our news gathering and advertising sales are separate and our sales staff has no influence over any segments we run.”

PRIMEDIA’s reinforces their position in a later email:

“Channel One has never, directly or indirectly, sold an anchor position to anyone, not to an advertiser, not to a movie studio, not to anyone. No one has ever paid Channel One one dime to have a guest or guest anchor appear in our broadcast and there has never been any quid pro quo of any sort with respect to our guests or guest anchors. We bring onto our broadcasts people of interest to our viewers — including actors — and our relationship to them is no different then the relationship 60 Minutes has to an actor who is interviewed by Mike Wallace. And like 60 Minutes, our people who sell ads have no influence on our editorial content.”

Channel One is a company that has a built-in limit to its revenue.

Their contract (which Channel One wrote themselves) restricts their advertising time to no more than two minutes per show.

Think about it. This is like a person starting an eBay business and limiting the business to the sale of no more than two items per day. No matter the demand, or the supply of product, an artificial limit of “two items per day” applies.

That restriction has always limited the “upside” for Channel One. In their glory days of 1993-1996, Channel One probably could have sold the entire show out, but they had to turn away advertisers. They made a feeble attempt in 1992 to get schools to agree to a change in the contract. Channel One’s president Jim Ritts (he would leave C1N in 1994 and be rehired in 2000 and then fired in 2005) wanted schools to allow more than two minutes of ads per day. He reasoned that some days Channel One didn’t run two minutes of advertising, so it made sense that they could later recoup this lost time. If a show on Monday had only one minute of advertising, then surely there would be no harm having three minutes of ads on Tuesday. There would never be more than an average of two minutes on the show for the month.

Schools told Channel One News, “nice try. but ‘No.'”

For several years now, Channel One has expanded their advertising and they knew better to ask anybody for permission this time. Obligation has documented many instances of Channel One selling or bartering news anchor positions to entertainment companies who wanted their singers or actors to promote a new CD or movie. Channel One News, in a form of “cooking the books,” simply did not count this blatant promotional time as “commercial content.”

The new Channel One president Judy Harris has embraced this deceptive practice and like her predecessors has place her company into a technical breach of contract with every remaining “Channel One” school district.

On Thursday, October 27, George Clooney pops onto the Channel One set and pitches his newest movie. This is a crime against everything journalism stands for. Clooney wants his movie to succeed. He wants a big box office smash. Channel One wants money or something equivalent from the movie studio. They are willing to do almost anything to

There are some things that are “funny ironic” or “interesting ironic”, but for a movie about the life of Edward R. Morrow, an icon of journalism, to be plugged on the “news” segment of Channel One is just “painful ironic”. The Channel One reporter Cali Carlin, who has shamelessly used her anchor position to sell other products, is the “setup person” for Clooney. She asks her scripted questions like a pro. She is no longer a reporter, she is a promo girl for the movie studio. This is confusing to students. Unfortunately, there are students interested in careers in journalism that may think Channel One’s carny barker approach to news is a model to be followed.

Channel One News is a monstrous mutation of true journalism. Reporters at Channel One think there is nothing at all wrong with selling Cingular Wireless service to students or urging students to drink more Gataroade, or to plug any movie their producer tells them to plug. Seth Doane, Cali Carlin, Errol Barnett, Melissa Knowles, and Rich Demuro are the current, and possibly last Channel One anchors. If you added up the journalistic integrity of all of them, you still would not have enough to make a decent cub reporter at a small-market TV station.

Schools shouldn’t allow Channel One to violate their own contract. Schools that are looking for video newscasts should look at CNN’s Student News. If schools really cared about teaching current events and educating their students, they would have them read their local paper. (Reading, now there’s a concept.)

Channel One News is to journalism, as a bicycle is to fishing.

See for yourself: Clooney uses taxpayer school time to pitch his movie.

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