At the East Bay Express, the Oakland, California-based alternative weekly where I spent years as managing editor, few things annoyed our reporting staff more than the annual ritual known as Best Of the East Bay. That’s the issue where we would corral them, along with scores of freelance contributors, to suss out and write up (without their usual cynicism) the area’s most noteworthy people, places, activities, art, music, products, services, eateries, bars, and so forth. The freelancers were eager for the work; the staff was merely resigned, knowing that it was this issue that paid their salaries. These Best Of issues have long been a cash cow for alt-weeklies and regional lifestyle magazines, often tripling the average issue’s page count. They are packed with advertising and are popular with readers. The Best Of formula has been such a winner that, over the years, daily newspapers and TV stations have attempted, mostly feebly, to replicate it. (Click here for our recent collection of snippets on the death of newspapers.)
While the hard-boiled news hounds found it beneath their dignity to cheerlead for local businesses, what resulted was at least a purely editorial product. We would run full-page ballots in the three preceding issues, as well as an online ballot, allowing readers to elect their own “reader’s poll” winners—we took pains to eliminate ballot stuffing and we disqualified obvious cheaters. Neither the winners nor the paper’s sales reps were alerted in advance as to who had won, nor did the ad reps have any part in selecting nominees. Allowing them to meddle would have destroyed the issue’s credibility. Which is why I don’t put much credence in “Best of the Bay Television,” produced by KRON 4, a former San Francisco NBC affiliate that bills itself “the Bay Area’s News Station.”
The station calls this show “the most comprehensive resource guide for the San Francisco Bay Area residents when it comes to services they need and use,” with 28 half-hour episodes and “nearly 1.5 million viewers per month.”
Call me skeptical. Not long ago, I posted here (see second part of the post) about how KRON 4 had contacted Amy Shelf, a lawyer friend of mine, and offered to feature her as a legal expert on one of its news shows for $1,000 per five-minute segment. (She demurred.) So while it’s an interesting and troubling addendum, I suppose the station’s latest overture to Amy would simply be par for the course. The gist: KRON 4’s Best Of is a pay-to-play endeavor.
“You have earned the right and are eligible to be broadcast on ‘Best of the Bay Television Series’, [their emphasis] exclusively representing your specialty in your Area,” the station informed Amy in an email come on. This apparently also earned her the right to pay for the privilege. Consider one of several “nomination” packages (click for pdf). For $1,495 per month for nine months, “nominees” like Amy—chosen by show producers, the station claims, based on “industry research”—are featured exclusively (first to sign up in any category gets it) in a produced TV segment that runs up to four times a month. The paying nominee also gets a 1,000-word profile and additional interview footage posted on the KRON 4 website, full rights to her KRON-produced segment, and the opportunity to be voted Best in the category by the show’s viewers.
In all, it’s a $70,000+ value, KRON claims. And all but worthless to the viewers.
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