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NBC-5: Free Meals Were a "News Decision"

By Scott Smith in News on Dec 7, 2006 6:30PM

In a follow-up to a story we ran yesterday, Toni Falvo, NBC-5’s Director of Research, Programming and Press says that she sees no impropriety in accepting free meals from the restaurants featured on the station’s “Good Eats” segments, though such a practice is outside of the journalistic standards used by other local food critics and reporters in both the print and broadcast media.

2006_12_willworkforfood.jpgIn an interview, Falvo described “Good Eats” as “a feature on our newscast, it’s not a restaurant review” even though the word review was used in previous segments and viewers are identified as “Good Eats Reviewers.” To the best of her knowledge, no other food reporting is done by the station, outside of recipe segments.

The Association of Food Journalists has a set of guidelines that, while not enforceable, "are provided to food journalists and their employers who are interested in ethical industry suggestions for reviewing restaurants." When reviewing restaurants, the guidelines state that employers of food journalists should "pay in full for all meals and services."

In response, Falvo said that the station was "not using a food journalist" though one of its reporters, LeeAnn Trotter, appears in all the segments and dines with the viewers. Falvo said the opinions of the restaurants are the viewers' alone. She did not believe that featuring a restaurant on a segment titled “Good Eats” could be seen as an endorsement of the restaurant by the station or by Trotter. Falvo said it was “a news decision” for the station to accept the free meals and for Trotter to appear in the reports, but was unsure about how that decision was made. She also had no comment on a segment about Eleven City Diner, which was suggested by a friend of the restaurant’s owner, who appears in the segment. Trotter claimed in a separate interview that the station ensured that “no ties” existed between the viewers and the restaurants.

In addition, Falvo said NBC-5 utilizes viewers for movie reviews as well, but the viewers pay for the cost of viewing the film. When asked why viewers pay for movies, but not the meals, she said “because these [‘Good Eats’ segments] are set up to be taped at the restaurant” and reviews of the films were not taped at the venue. When asked how the decision was made to accept free meals, but not free movie tickets, Falvo said “I would have to discuss it with news.”

While we’re unaware of the total cost of all the comped meals eaten by “Good Eats” reviewers, based only on the meals and drinks featured in the Erie Café report and using the restaurant’s menus, the cost of the meal would be about $130. Using similar measures, the approximate cost of the meal in the Butterfly segment is around $70 while other meals featured in “Good Eats” appear to cost between $40-50.

When asked if receiving a payment in the form of free meals from the restaurants featured in these segments constituted a form of advertising, Falvo replied, “I’m not going to comment on that.”

Image: The Little Art Factory.