Evaluating print and broadcast news in the San Francisco Bay Area from A to F.

Posted Sept. 15, 2003

Michael Shoer, President and CEO of NewsProNet, Responds

Grading the Graders: Your article about NewsProNet and how so many stations across the country utilize stories that we produce contained several significant omissions and inaccuracies. I found it curious that you would choose to downplay the information about how each topic is fully sourced, providing the local stations with direct contact information for all experts and sources involved in each story. We think this provides a significant journalistic safeguard and our clients continually tell us how useful and important this information is to them.   GTN comments: The question is whether the public, not the local station, is safeguarded journalistically. If these stations are provided detailed information on sources separately from the piece and nearly all decide not to use it, then the viewers are the ones who are deprived of context through that intentional omission.

Using a “secrecy” conspiracy as the theme of your story was in itself sensational. We do not seek to operate covertly. We have a web site and a station list. That’s how you found us. Companion content for each story used by our clients on their web sites includes our name. We do concern ourselves with providing stations in various geographic regions with stories that will not visually feel out of place within their local newscasts, although we do not make any effort to hide or avoid referencing locations when they are important and relevant to the story itself. In fact, we clearly identify the locations of all subjects in the scripts and additional background material we provide to each station that receives our services. We’re also far from alone in providing material to stations that they call their own, although we are pleased to be recognized above the networks and the many other content providers and feed services that contribute a great deal of content of interest and meaning to local news viewers who watch local newscasts in markets of all sizes across the country.

  GTN: NewsProNet is clearly not a secret to its subscriber stations, but it does encourage its stations to obscure the origin of the material. Why else would NewsProNet call its premier service, SweepsFeed, “the secret behind some of the most successful local television special reports units in North America”? The Web site is full of suggestions that local stations “re-track,” or re-record, and take full credit for completed pieces they had no hand in creating. It’s unclear what bearing the existence of other syndication services that may have deceptive practices has on those of NewsProNet. Locations of sources matter because without them, it is impossible for viewers to judge whether a story is important in their community, or merely to one person somewhere in the nation. Making stories appear local powerfully magnifies their perceived importance to viewers.

Most importantly, we stand by the accuracy and validity of the story you referenced and every story we produce. In an effort to address the specific information that we feel you reported incompletely and out of context, here is our response:

   

1. You took issue with the statement in the story that Innovis is, in effect, unknown or secret. That statement didn't come from us, but from several consumer advocates along with the Federal Trade Commission. The consumer advocates we spoke with told us that the majority of people do not know the company exists. One well-known credit expert told us, "They're kind of moving by stealth" and that "they’re not broadcasting that they’re around." The FTC told us that Innovis is fairly new and that it's important for all people to know about all the credit agencies to make sure information about them is accurate.

  GTN: There is a big difference between unknown and “secret,” the term used in several local versions of the Innovis story. Many thousands of companies have Web sites and 800 numbers but do not broadcast their existence. Are they “secret”?

2. To prove your point that Innovis is known, you mention that Innovis has a website. That, of course, is true. In fact, we mentioned that in our piece. The credit experts we spoke with, however, state that Innovis is much harder to get information from than the other major credit bureaus. At the time of our story, Innovis offered no link, information, or phone number on its site by which people could obtain their personal information. The other credit bureaus post credit histories online. As we mentioned in our story, we had to contact Innovis company headquarters to get a number for recorded instructions in order to request the Innovis credit report that we obtained as part of our reporting of this story.

  GTN: This much is true. Innovis is difficult to contact. But to call it a “secret” credit bureau is an exaggeration. The NBC 11 story claimed Innovis was collecting information “without your knowledge.” All credit bureaus collect information without notifying consumers.

3. You state that Innovis doesn't report to those who might approve your car or house loan. This is true. In fact, we stated clearly in our package that Innovis doesn't sell to car loan companies or mortgage lenders or even potential employers. Instead, it sells to creditors who compile mailing lists for things like charge cards. The experts we spoke with said that bad credit information on Innovis can prevent you from getting favorable credit offers and inaccurate information can always hamper your credit. Again, this point was clearly made in our piece.

  GTN: The interview with an apparent car buyer, which began the story, clearly implies that Innovis could prevent someone from getting an auto loan. Other versions started with the phrase, “your credit can make or break you.” As Mr. Shoer acknowledges, the harm the public might suffer if Innovis was in fact inaccurately reporting people’s credit information would be to receive fewer mass mailings of credit card offers -- what many consider junk mail. It is misleading to construct a story around a false premise and then add a disclaimer at the end that Innovis says its reports don’t have the effect portrayed.

4. You state that Innovis has received fewer complaints than other credit agencies. As you stated, this information came directly from our sources. Those same sources told us that it is tough to tell how many mistakes are made at Innovis because people don't even know about the agency and don't know to check the information for accuracy.

  GTN: By stating that Innovis’ information is “not always accurate,” as the NBC 11 piece did, NewsProNet raised the question of inaccuracy. Further, by urging viewers to contact Innovis to check their credit reports, NewsProNet gave the impression that the company had a real problem with accuracy that could harm consumers. But Mr. Shoer concedes that “it is tough to tell how many mistakes are made at Innovis.” When news organizations cannot tell whether a company is inaccurate, they should not claim that it is.

5. You state that our source from the Better Business Bureau, Ms Deana Wade, says her comment was taken out of context. I would say that the way you presented her comment in your article was out of context. When we used Ms. Wade's sound bite about how mistakes usually involved the type of information generally on people's credit reports, we led into that bite stating that, "like with all credit bureaus, mistakes can happen." We did NOT single out Innovis as making more mistakes than any other credit bureau. As stated above, it's tough to know how many mistakes are actually made at Innovis since no one knows to even check the company's reports, but we have no reason to believe Innovis makes more mistakes than any other credit bureau, and we did not state that.

  GTN: Reporting as NBC 11 did that “Some people have complained to the Better Business Bureau about mistakes on their Innovis report,” after having mentioned the other three credit bureaus in a positive light, gives the impression that Innovis stands alone. Why warn viewers to check their credit with Innovis, and not the others, if reporters “have no reason to believe Innovis makes more mistakes than any other credit bureau”?
And again, all of the information mentioned above can be quickly and easily verified by any of our client stations, since we provide them with the direct contacts for all the experts who are interviewed or contributed to the stories we produce.

Thank you for the opportunity to reply.

Michael Shoer

President & CEO

NewsProNet

   

 

 

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