At least 10 TV stations across the country aired a news package in the past week scripted and produced by Amazon without identification — even featuring a voiceover from a company spokesman.
The segments, first reported by Courier, a startup focused on local news and funded by left-leaning groups, used identical language that originated from promotional material Amazon released Thursday on Business Wire, a service for news shared by companies.
In the prepackaged segment, Amazon touted its plans to spend $800 million on health and safety efforts to keep its workers safe. Two of the stations that aired the segment said doing so was a mistake.
"It was an oversight on our part that we didn't check all the bells and whistles, and it won't happen again," said Wesley Armstead, news director at WVVA in Bluefield, West Virginia. WVVA is an NBC affiliate owned by Quincy Media.
Holly Steuart, general manager of WTVM, an ABC affiliate in Columbus, Georgia, pointed to a lack of experience in her newsroom as the reason the segment made it to air.
"It came in as an email," Steuart said in an email. "It was a failure of our internal news management system. We have a lot of young producers here on their first jobs."
Amazon, owned by Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, has been in the headlights lately given media coverage of workers' complaints about lack of protections during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Amazon is scheduled to host shareholders at an annual meeting Wednesday, and employee relations is expected to be a major point of discussion.
A spokesperson said that Amazon has previously provided news media with company video and that the company created the segment in response to a large number of requests from journalists hoping to visit warehouses.
"This type of video was created to share an inside look into the health and safety measures we've rolled out in our buildings and was intended for reporters who for a variety of reasons weren't able to come tour one of our sites for themselves," Amazon said in a statement.
Representatives for ABC News, CBS News and NBC News declined to comment and directed questions about the segments to the local stations. While regional news broadcasts are made locally, they carry the brand of their affiliated broadcast networks. The majority of the stations that aired the Amazon-produced segment are affiliates not owned by a network. However, WTVJ-NBC Miami is owned by NBCUniversal.
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Robert Thompson, a professor of television at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, said the incident reflects poorly on all journalism at a particularly sensitive time. Social media and local news were cited as the most popular sources for consumers to get news related to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey from Magid, a research-based consultancy.
"Journalism is a key part of the way democracy functions, and it is so under siege," Thompson said. "This is the last thing it needs. Shamelessly airing portions of something someone else produced, it would be like reporting on new studies about vaping and having it produced by Juul."