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Wed Aug 5, 2020, 11:50 AM

As election looms, a network of mysterious 'pink slime' local news outlets nearly triples in size


By Priyanjana Bengani

AUGUST 4, 2020

THE RUN-UP TO THE 2020 November elections in the US has produced new networks of shadowy, politically-backed “local news websites” designed to promote partisan talking points and collect user data. In December 2019, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism reported on an intricately-linked network of 450 sites purporting to be local or business news publications. New research from the Tow Center shows the size of that network has increased almost threefold over the course of 2020 to over 1,200 sites.

Identifying these new sites is a result of further analysis of the closely linked entities with conservative ties illustrated in Figure 1 (below). The Tow Center focused predominantly on Metric Media, Franklin Archer, Local Government Information Services (LGIS), and Locality Labs. Both Metric Media and Franklin Archer claim to be the largest local news provider in the US, though many of their sites have low visibility in both search and social media. Over 90 percent of their stories are algorithmically generated using publicly available datasets or by repurposing stories from legitimate sources. In the remaining stories that have an authentic byline there is often a conservative bent. As reported by the Lansing State Journal and The Guardian, this includes articles about voter fraud using data from the Heritage Foundation, negative pieces about elected Democratic representatives, and stories supporting conservative candidates. This low-cost automated story generation has come to be known as pink slime journalism. In addition to the hundreds of titles that ape the look and feel of local news, our research has detected new sites in this network that address single subjects, appeal to religious orientation, and focus on business news.

Figure 1: The organizational structure of the network

The recent increase in activity is in line with the election cycle. It is becoming an increasingly common campaign strategy for PACs and single-interest lobbyists to fund websites that borrow credibility from news design to help advance particular agendas. The proliferation of politically-funded local news sites across the political spectrum raises questions about how these entities represent themselves to the public, and how they are categorized by search engines and social platforms.

The number of news media properties funded by often obscure political interests has been growing for a number of years and will reach a new peak in the 2020 election cycle. A recent report from Open Secrets highlighted “dark money” networks funded by liberal-leaning donors. Academics Jessica Mahone and Phil Napoli recently plotted some of these known entities on a map to show the geographic concentration of the networks. But the definitions of what constitutes a politically funded network are hard to establish, particularly if the financial and ownership structures are not clear. A recent report from Politico outlined how Courier Newsroom, a group of politically affiliated local news sites, was spending large amounts of advertising money on Facebook on articles promoting Democratic candidates. Establishing how politically funded networks are intrinsically different from news organizations with strong political affiliations such as Breitbart or Fox News is often difficult. Politically funded networks can appear on Facebook pages classified as “Media/News company,” and articles from partisan sites are indexed by Google News.

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Reply As election looms, a network of mysterious 'pink slime' local news outlets nearly triples in size (Original post)
swag Aug 5 OP
swag Aug 5 #1
zipplewrath Aug 5 #2

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Wed Aug 5, 2020, 11:51 AM

1. Updated list of pink slime domains

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Wed Aug 5, 2020, 02:14 PM

2. FNN

Alot of those in Florida are the Florida News Network which is basically a "news" service for radio stations. They've branched out into the internet equivalent of the "neighborhood flyer" market, which is basically an advertising platform. Not much apparently political about them.

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