From David Gregory's July 31 Daily Nightly blog: "I was stuck on an airport tarmac today for three hours so at first I missed the news about signs of recovery for the economy." Forget the so-called leading economic indicators. The surest sign that the economy is recovering is the number of sponsored segments on Nightly News. In July, Nightly News featured 12 segments ("Making A Difference" or "What Works") sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline or Pfizer, and one broadcast that was sponsored entirely by the University of Phoenix. This beats the old record (set this past March) of 11 sponsored segments and one fully sponsored broadcast. By comparison, in July of 2008, Nightly News featured a mere seven sponsored segments, and no fully sponsored broadcasts. So things are definitely looking up. If the economy continues to improve, Nightly News may soon see its first month with 15 sponsored segments. Let's all keep our fingers crossed.
Unfortunately, this does not bode well for viewers who are interested in seeing actual news. "Making A Difference" and "What Works" are manufactured segments. They have no news value. They are created for the specific purpose of attracting viewers and sponsorships. The segments are popular, as Brian is fond of telling us, and viewers tune in to watch these mini-reality shows. And that's the primary goal of Nightly News--to attract viewers, maintain the top rating and charge the highest ad rates. News is an afterthought, which is odd for a broadcast called Nightly News. With the word "news" in the title, you'd think the producers would be more concerned with presenting actual news. But it would seem that their motto is "no news is good news". And by that standard, the July 30 "Making A Difference" was, in all respects, the ideal segment. It was about two Milwaukee firefighters (brothers, no less) who rescued a mother and two children from a burning car and then raised money to pay for their medical care. It was selected not because it was newsworthy, but because of its dramatic, emotional value. But there's so much more going on with that segment. It was about firefighters, and we all know that when it comes to firefighters, Brian is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. The segment also included two prominent mentions of Ronald McDonald House, so Nightly News yet again managed to insert a gratuitous plug for a favorite sponsor. After the segment, Brian informed us that the parents of the injured child would be appearing on Friday's Today show, and it's no secret that plugging Today is one of Brian's main jobs. And as if all that wasn't enough, the segment was sponsored by Glaxo, so they paid NBC to plug McDonald's and Today! Brilliant! That is as close to a perfect MAD segment as the producers could ever hope for. By the way, another story that night, about a 7-year-old boy who took his family car for a joy ride, also ended with a "programming note" (translation: shameless plug) from Brian informing us that the boy and his parents would be appearing on the Today show. And a July 28 story about Michael Phelps ended with a "programming note" telling us that the swimming world championships would be airing the following weekend on NBC. Well done, Brian. He just keeps plugging away.