A Few Good Wrenches

Three stations run a fake news story designed to help GM recruit young auto technicians

Submitted by Daniel Price on

For the past several years, the U.S. automobile industry has anticipated a debilitating shortage of qualified auto technicians. The problem, beyond increasing demand, is that fewer American teenagers are choosing a career in car repair, apparently turned off by the "grease monkey" stereotype associated with auto mechanics.

To counter both the staffing and image problem, automakers have stepped up their efforts to recruit high school students. Some, like General Motors (GM), have used TV news to help push their agenda.

In March 2006, GM hired Medialink Worldwide to create a video news release (VNR) about the demands and rewards (mostly the rewards) of being a modern auto technician. The nearly two-minute fake news feature included positive soundbites from Bob Slovey, a GM Goodwrench manager; Ted Lynhart, a GM auto dealer; and Kevin Reinhardt, a young car repair technician. The VNR concluded with a referral to the website of the Automotive Youth Educational Systems, a non-profit partnership between automakers, auto dealers, and over 400 U.S. high schools.

The VNR was blended into the newscasts of three different stations. Two of them—KOSA-7 (Odessa, TX) and WSJV-28 (South Bend, IN)—ran the story complete and uncut with the original voice of the narrating Medialink publicist, Andrew Schmertz. At WSJV-28, anchor Steve DuVal introduced the narrator as "FOX's Andrew Schmertz."

The third station, WWTV-9 (Cadillac, MI), edited the VNR slightly for length and enlisted a reporter to re-voice the original narrative audio. At no point did any of the three newscasts divulge to viewers that the entire news feature was produced by Medialink and funded by General Motors.

KOSA-7 had previously been observed airing a complete VNR about ethanol fuel that was funded by Siemens AG. Additionally, the Center for Media and Democracy has monitored the use of two other VNRs from General Motors and Medialink, one about the company's headquarters in Detroit and the other about online car shopping.

Update: WSJV-28's station news director Ed Kral has responded to the Center for Media and Democracy. See our WSJV-28 station page for details.

View the original VNR, as well as the WSJV-28 news feature, below.