A LINE CROSSED

Published on .

Clearly, there are some TV news executives more sensitive to what journalists cannot do than Mary Civiello, a freelance reporter for WCBS-TV in New York and for national cable channel CNBC. Formerly a full-time anchor at New York's WNBC-TV, she bit when an ad agency for Johnson & Johnson (Medical Broadcasting Co., Philadelphia) came calling with the terrible idea that a "news person" pitch to consumers J&J's new Benecol spread.

The agency no doubt loved the idea. Since this cholesterol-lowering food was important "news" in the marketplace, why not have a news-type person deliver the message in advertising? But this is a creative concept that should have been rejected. There are sound reasons why marketers and media must avoid any use of journalists that in any way suggests they're "presenting" product information when they are really pitching for product sales.

At press time, CNBC managers had wisely removed Ms. Civiello from any news role at the network after learning of the commercial role she had agreed to perform. WCBS-TV hadn't done the same, noting her role as a weekly free-lance contributor and not a regular staff member, and saying it would not run the Benecol commercial on any program in which she appears as a reporter. But that's not good enough.

Advertisers simply shouldn't resort to such tactics, and journalists that want to continue actively presenting news must decide between careers-that of a journalist and that of a paid performer in advertising. It's true other "celebrities" sometimes hire themselves out to marketers. But active journalists have a particular responsibility to their public that other celebrities do not. That's why there is a line between editorial and advertising, and that's why it

Most Popular