Recently it was announced that Erin Andrews, a prominent ESPN sportscaster, is the newest spokesperson for an energy drink owned by rapper and entrepreneur 50 Cent. Days before the announcement, Andrews and 50 Cent made the news during coverage of the Daytona 500. While Andrews was scrambling live on air for an interview with Danica Patrick, the popular female driver on the racecar circuit, Andrews just happened to bump into 50 Cent, who is apparently a motorsports fan as well. The rapper (I respect his marketing genius) attempted to kiss Andrews, but she turned away. The video of the “non kiss” went viral across the Web, garnering substantial attention on social media. In a Huffington Post article posted after her spokesperson deal announcement, Andrews explained that the incident “was my fault,” while mentioning – yet again – the energy drink. Annual spending on energy drinks is estimated at $2.3 billion and it is the fastest growing segment of the soft drink industry.
There’s nothing wrong with journalists promoting a product if it falls outside of their coverage beat and they disclose their relationship to it. Andrews disclosed her relationship to SK Energy after the “non kiss” news event. If someone wants me to pitch a brand, I’ll take the check, as long as I believe in the product. But pitching can be a problem if it involves manufactured news.
Product placement in journalism is becoming more and more of an issue as large corporations take over news organizations and the Internet continues to disrupt traditional revenue models. TV news anchors have been on air live sipping iced coffee paid and provided for by the brand. In 1999, The Los Angeles Times was ripped for a scandal over its revenue sharing agreement with the Staples Center in which part of the deal was to publish a 168-page supplement.
Product placement can erode journalism’s critical role as the defender of the public trust. Soon, we may not be able to tell if what we’re consuming is objective news or a marketing script. During the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, CNN reporters commented on how many people were taking photos with a particular brand of mobile phone and its compatible tablet. Innocent statements? Maybe, but then again CNN anchor Don Lemon has been very giddy on twitter and elsewhere about his affinity for the same brand.
If the people can’t trust the press to deliver real straight news, then whom can they trust? This is where the Church can do some good. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution reads:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
There’s a reason why the Founders put the Church and the press in this clause, which is at the heart of what keeps Americans free. The Church and the press are two important institutions that deal with our minds. How we think determines what we do. If you can control a person’s thoughts, you can control his life. As mega corporations gain more control of the media, through ownership and advertising, and use that power to influence and control the government through lobbying and elections, we will be living within a very different America.
Preachers often rail against the media from the pulpit, yet underutilize the media’s power on behalf of the Kingdom. When people distrust the information they’re getting in the world, we must ask: can they honestly turn to your church for the truth? Congregations can learn something from Andrews and 50 Cent and become more media savvy.