On Sunday, KOCO weekend anchor Zach Rael tweeted that Amazon's public relations team had emailed him a news story and script to run on-air. Billed as a look behind the scenes of the behemoth's COVID-19 response, the idea was quickly nixed by Rael and, likely, many other stations.
Courier's Timothy Burke reports today that at least 11 stations have run the pre-edited package put together by an Amazon spokesperson. He put together a video showing these reports, which are eerily identical. Only Toledo's ABC affiliate disclosed the piece had been produced by Amazon.
The other 10 stations to run it:
- WTVJ-NBC, Miami, FL
- WPLG-NBC, Miami, FL
- WKRN-ABC, Nashville, TN
- WLEX-NBC, Lexington, KY (ran twice)
- WVVA-NBC, Bluefield, WV
- WTVM-ABC, Columbus, GA (ran twice)
- KMIR-NBC, Palm Springs, CA (ran three times)
- WBTW-CBS, Myrtle Beach, SC
- WOAY-ABC, Bluefield, WV (ran twice)
- WGXA-ABC, Macon, GA
Here is the segment:
Back in 2018, Burke, then with Deadspin, created a mashup showing dozens of news anchors from Sinclair Broadcast Group-owned stations repeating the same script addressing so called "one-sided news stories" plaguing the country. It went uber-viral and rightly embarrassed all involved in the sausage-making process. A refresher:
Responding to the Courier post, Amazon said "the video and script were published to Business Wire as are many other companies’ in-house produced content for media organizations."
It's exceedingly jarring to watch stuff like this. The mind wonders how often this type of stuff is happening and how much goes unnoticed. It takes an extremely vigilant eye to notice the commonalities across markets and the average person at home relying on the local news for information can't be expected to do a deep dive to glean what's reporting and what's slick PR.
UPDATE: "We welcome reporters into our buildings and it’s misleading to suggest otherwise," Amazon spokesperson Alyssa Bronikowski told The Big Lead. "This type of video was created to share an inside look into the health and safety measures we’ve rolled out in our buildings and was intended for reporters who for a variety of reasons weren’t able to come tour one of our sites themselves."
A spokesperson who asked not to be named added that many other companies make similar videos, that this was not a promotional video, that no one who participated in it was paid, and that its origin was transparent upon its placement on the wire.