I would be surprised if Zacks pays any news media to promulgate their research report. Frankly, if Zacks thought their work to be of value I should expect they would look to the media to pay them for the right to publish it, as they do their users for their premium reports. I would be interested to know if any of the media pay for Zacks premium service.
As well discussed of late, corporations pay the rating companies to prepare and publish their ratings, which is where the real potential for conflict lays. My own opinion is that the problem in the ratings has more to do with sloth, ennui and the fact that to dig in hard enough to find stuff the company wants to not be found is very time consuming.
Don't much about Zack's overall rating methodology, but their bank stock ratings appear to based primarily on technicals and price momentum instead of fundamentals. Or, to quote Cramer, if the price is going down, it's isn't undervalued.