Google and Facebook Have Decimated Local News and Pay for Play Networks Are Taking Their Place

Since 2004, 2,100 newspapers have folded across the country, a 25 percent decline. We have been raising the alarm for some time now that the onslaught of the tech giants has put local news under threat of complete shutdown, but it seems it’s even worse than we thought.  A recent New York Times investigation uncovered an operation of 1,300 websites churning out coverage ordered up by Republican operatives and P.R. firms impersonating local news sites. While the network claims to fill a void left by vanishing newspapers, its solution is to use the credibility of journalism to push propaganda for the benefit of conservative think tanks, political operatives, corporate executives and public relations professionals. 

To the plain eye, the simple layouts and articles about community events and local politics mimics that of an ordinary local news outlet, but behind the scenes, the operation is rooted in deception harming the integrity of local journalism. With no clear ad labels or disclosed funding, there is no transparency and no integrity. And the “clients” have immense influence over the content these networks include — they pay to produce a certain amount of copy each day and “in some cases, the clients will provide their own copy.” Another way for these outside groups to hijack news cycles — and a complete and utter violation of ethical journalism.

The following is a statement from Laura Bassett, former Senior Politics Reporter for HuffPost who was laid off in January 2019, and co-founder of the Save Journalism Project:

Disinformation in the 21st century has run rampant, but the threat has escalated exponentially. Despite the many attacks on the media, consumers rely on the media for crucial information, especially recently as we navigate an election and a global pandemic. When this network of conservative operatives target small localities and flood them with propaganda, the integrity of local journalism writ large is under threat. For decades, local news was a way to create unity within communities, to inform its constituents on community happenings, local and national elections, and ensure accurate and objective reporting. This network is an attack on journalism and it’s only possible because the tech giants have decimated the industry.