Posted by: mbtrotter | November 2, 2010

The journalists sell out.

Selling out is good for concerts and sporting events (and The Who), but not for journalists. Journalists serving as commercial spokespersons, however, isn’t a new concept born in these days of newsroom cuts. All the way back in 1994, LA Times’ Jane Hall wrote about the rise of reporters lending their credibility to various businesses.

This week’s episode of How I Met Your Mother touched on the issue.

Could a journalist really justify starring in such a horribly produced commercial? Although I’m unfamiliar with the production values of their particular ads, it seems Beth Duffy of Newsplex in Charlottesville, Va., and CNN commentator Linda Ellerbee are OK with being shills for a travel company and Maxwell House coffee.

While they’re fine with selling out, their viewers and colleagues disagree. More importantly, the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics calls for journalists to “be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.” I’m fairly certain that includes starring in commercials.

The big deal in all this is journalists sacrifice credibility when endorsing products, and they don’t have much left to lose. How can a journalist reliably cover an issue that affects his or her commercial interests?

To go a step further, I’d like to see journalists stop making cameos in movies. It’s been done several times, by reporters local — a Wisconsin anchor in “Feed the Fish,” the late Hal Fishman in about half the movies made since 1977 — and national — Christiane Amanpour in Iron Man 2 — and is also an obligation other than the public’s right to know.

Even if a journalist emerges from his or her commercial or “acting” role with credibility unscathed, there’s the potential of being dragged down by association with a dud.

Just try to be taken seriously after that.

All video in this post is the copyrighted material of 20th Century Fox Television and was purchased by the author for not-for-profit use.



  1. Wow. I like the show and remember how hard Robin works to have employment. Seeing her in the comercial does not bother me….and seeing the journalist having cameos in movies do not bother me much either.
    I do not feel very connected to any journalist, only to the content of the broadcast. I look at them as people and expect that they will behave as people. I do not feel that journalist and/or their employers are free from bias anyway so I try not to pay attention to the underlaying messages of TV and print.

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