What Happens to the News When Corporations Dominate Media?

The increasing prominence of product placement in the news is undermining journalism's role as a defender of the public trust and a source of trustworthy information.

50 Cent at the Daytona 500, where he garnered headlines for a failed attempt to kiss ESPN sportscaster Erin Andrews. Andrews is a spokesperson for SK Energy, the energy drink company cofounded by 50 Cent. (Photo Credit: Marc Serota/Newscom).

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.

About the author, Wil LaVeist

Wil LaVeist is an award-winning journalist, professional speaker, and author of Fired Up: 4 Steps to Overcoming a Crisis, Including Unemployment. Contact him at www.WILLAVEIST.com, and listen to The Wil LaVeist Show Wednesdays at Noon to 1 p.m. on 88.1 WHOV in Hampton, Virginia.
  1. In the early days when there was basically nothing but print media, even then they eventually relied on advertising to sustain the publications. Nothing much has changed except the types of media.
    “Congregations can learn something from Andrews and 50 Cent and become more media savvy.” Wil, what do you suggest?

    • Here’s a few:
      - Learn/understand how your local news media operates. Develop relationships with its leadership and utilize the media to reach people who otherwise wouldn’t attend your church or listen to, for example, Christian radio, TV, etc. CBN and TBN are fine, but it’s also “preaching to the choir” in many ways. Need to also reach the unsaved where they are.
      - Support, produce, create quality programing on all media platforms. Provide a positive alternative at the same quuality level.

  2. Dear precious servants of God,
    Holy greetings to you in the mighty name of Jesus Christ our Lord, savior and redeemer. Grace to you and peace from our Father and Lord Jesus Christ.
    I’m writing from Kenya and it was by the grace of our Mighty Lord that I visited your Web Pages via the Internet and was privileged to find your contact. After prayerfully reading your website, I was spiritually charged, moved and thrilled since I came to realize that we shared a common faith in the Lord.
    We’re a young growing Ministry whose major aim is to plunder hell to populate heaven. By so doing we practice Bible studies, Prayer and evangelism to various areas to meet and restore more lost souls.
    Besides the Gospel, we are involved in pity and compassionate ministries. We are taking care of orphans and 5 widows.
    I’m making a humble prayer request to our father that He may touch your hearts that we can be in partnership since we’re all brothers and sisters born of Him. And this I pray all discernment; that you may approve the things that are excellent that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ
    Secondly I would to invite you to come and fellowship with us and see the work that I am doing. It would be great for you will have a chance to teach your sound doctrine to us, preach, baptize and also establish your mission work here in Kenya . There’s only body and one spirit, Just as you were called in hope of your calling, One Lord, One faith, One baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all in you all.
    I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy for we are hoping to be in fellowship with you. Being confident of this very thing, that “He has began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” just as it is right for me to think this of you all since I have you in my heart.
    A ministry well done by His faithful servants brings Glory and Honor to God!
    We wish you God’s blessings for time and eternity, make you complete in every good work to do His will as ye faithfully labor in Him as you look forward to extend your love to us.
    May the peace and grace which cometh fro from Jesus Christ who hath loved and giveth us everlasting consolation be with you.I you wish to send us any books that can help us spiritually,I will appreciate very much together with my Church members.
    pastor
    Luke