[This is an archived page on the history of the Pacifica freelancers' strike, January 2000-March 2002. For current information, please go to http://www.fsrn.org]

Feature Story News: Is it Pacifica or is it Fox?

by Vanessa Tait, Pacifica Reporters Against Censorship, February 2000

Since the Pacifica stringers' strike began on January 31, Pacifica Network News (PNN) has been increasingly relying on reports from a corporation called Feature Story News (FSN). During the first three weeks of the strike, 17.6% of PNN's stories were by FSN correspondents, as compared to only 6.6% in October 1999.

Based in Washington, D.C. since 1992 and operating news bureaus in New York, London, Paris, Moscow and Jerusalem, FSN bills itself as offering "a unique service in the news industry" by providing "ready-to-air television and radio news material, tailored to individual on-air styles," according to their web site at http://www.featurestory.com. Former Pacifica news correspondent Bill Wax is FSN's Washington news editor.

But are Pacifica listeners receiving the kind of critical news reporting that they have come to expect from the network? FSN's reporters also report for mainstream media. Among FSN's more than 50 clients are Voice of America, ABC Radio, Wall Street Journal Television, Radio Vatican, PBS's "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer," the British Forces Broadcasting Service, NBC/Mutual, and the Fox News Channel.

FSN's relationship with Fox News is particularly close. In October 1999, FSN signed an agreement to serve as Fox's Moscow bureau. Under the terms of the contract, FSN will "host a Fox News correspondent in FSN's Moscow bureau and supply Fox with producers, camera crews, videotape editors, plus editorial and technical support in the Russian capital. In addition, [FSN chief correspondent Simon] Marks will continue to serve as an on-air correspondent for Fox News" in Moscow, according to Businesswire for October 29, 1999. FSN's corporate income is between $1 and 2.5 million yearly in sales, according to American Business Disc.

Lest FSN's clients worry about broadcasting the equivalent of spoken wire copy, FSN's web site assures them that "every story we supply is different: produced and edited to suit your program's on-air style, delivered by your deadline, and complete with your sign-off." But how different can they be? Reporters drawing on mainstream sources and filing for clients like Voice of America or the Wall Street Journal do not cultivate alternative sources and cannot provide the kind of independent, critical reporting that Pacifica listeners expect. Purchasers of FSN's services do not have full editorial control over FSN's reporters. The company's web site informs potential clients that "time-permitting, you will receive a script of your story in advance."

One PNN freelancer witnessed this scene while on location at the WTO in Seattle: "FSN reporters filed 'customized' stories in the following fashion. They would read a script over the phone line or ISDN, play their interview cuts and then sign out several times with their name and different IDs, like NPR News, Voice of America, ABC Radio. It was obvious those tags would be just be appended to the standard report during the production process back at the FSN studio. I have no way of knowing if that was their usual way of operating, but it would make sense given the incredible pressure of actually producing a number of customized stories every day."

Pacifica Network News has long used FSN correspondents occasionally, when it didn't have a reporter on location and needed a taped report. But the overwhelming increase in the use of FSN during the current crisis is part of a disturbing trend -- which began before the current freelancers' strike -- toward canned news and analysis from Pacifica Network News. Since November 1, when Mark Bevis took over PNN editorial duties after Pacifica management removed Dan Coughlin as news director, the number of FSN reports on PNN's air has steadily increased (November's PNN casts were 16.2% FSN stories; December's were 18.1%, and January's were 24%).

By increasingly contracting out its news reporting to FSN, Pacifica Network News is losing its very reason for being: providing independent reports from around the world, which draw on unique news sources rooted in movements for social change.

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