A fast-growing pay-for-play network of more than 1,300 news websites that have stepped into communities all across the United States has filled a void left by vanishing local papers, the New York Times recently reported.
They resemble legitimate news websites and claim to provide objective news without political bias. However, Times said much of what they put out is paid for by partisan interests.
“The network, now in all 50 states, is built not on traditional journalism but on propaganda ordered up by dozens of conservative think tanks, political operatives, corporate executives and public relations professionals,” Times reported.
How does the pay-for-play network work?
When hotel magnate Monty Bennett’s business suffered a blow from the pandemic, he ordered up a few articles from the DC Business Daily that took a swipe at China and its supposed failure to contain the virus, according to Times.
The pitch resulted in an article that published his claims on DC Business Daily, which Times said appears to be a straightforward business and politics news outlet in Washington.
“A national hotel chain executive said he is fed up with the way the United States is dealing with China in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic,” the article stated. There was no disclosure that Mr. Bennett ordered the article.
The Ashford CEO, a major donor to President Donald Trump’s campaign, then ordered a few more articles that advocate for the federal government to pass a stimulus package favorable to the hotel industry.
Ashford has received about $70 million in federal loans intended for small businesses, Times reported, making the publicly-traded company the single largest recipient of such loans. After public backlash, however, Mr. Bennett returned the federal money.
Going against journalism’s basic principles
This kind of pay-for-play reporting goes against fairness and accuracy — among the basic tenets of journalism — but it is the model Times said created by Brian Timpone, a TV reporter turned internet entrepreneur who has sought to capitalize on the decline of local news organizations for nearly two decades.
What sets Timpone’s massive pay-for-play network ahead of other partisan-run news sites, is it is now twice as large as Gannett, the country’s largest newspaper chain, Times said.
Times said the fast-growing network resembles ordinary local-news outlets, with names such as Des Moines Sun, Empire State Today, and Ann Arbor Times. Just like any local newspaper, the platforms employ simple layouts and stories reporting local politics, community events, and even national issues.
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