We have previously noted how the credentialed media have bemoaned the loss of their ‘gatekeeping’ function. And once again yje editors of The New York Times are trying to delegitimize other people exercising their Freedom of the Press:
As Local News Dies, a Pay-for-Play Network Rises in Its Place
A nationwide operation of 1,300 local sites publishes coverage that is ordered up by Republican groups and corporate P.R. firms.
By Davey Alba and Jack Nicas | October 18, 2020 | 6:23 PM EDT
The instructions were clear: Write an article calling out Sara Gideon, a Democrat running for a hotly contested U.S. Senate seat in Maine, as a hypocrite.Angela Underwood, a freelance reporter in upstate New York, took the $22 assignment over email. She contacted the spokesman for Senator Susan Collins, the Republican opponent, and wrote an article on his accusations that Ms. Gideon was two-faced for criticizing shadowy political groups and then accepting their help.
The short article was published on Maine Business Daily, a seemingly run-of-the-mill news website, under the headline “Sen. Collins camp says House Speaker Gideon’s actions are hypocritical.” It extensively quoted Ms. Collins’s spokesman but had no comment from Ms. Gideon’s campaign.
Then Ms. Underwood received another email: The “client” who had ordered up the article, her editor said, wanted it to add more detail.
The client, according to emails and the editing history reviewed by The New York Times, was a Republican operative.
Maine Business Daily is part of a fast-growing network of nearly 1,300 websites that aim to fill a void left by vanishing local newspapers across the country. Yet 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, a Times investigation found.
There’s more at the original.
Here are some of the articles on Sunday’s Times website:
- ‘Lock Them All Up’: Trump Attack on Michigan Governor Fits Damaging Pattern
- The Radicalizer in Chief: Violent extremists and conspiracy theorists found their tribune in Donald Trump.
- The Case Against Donald Trump
Adding The Philadelphia Inquirer to the list:
- Judge strikes down Trump plan to slash food stamps for 700,000 unemployed Americans
- Even seniors are abandoning Trump in Pa. Downplaying the pandemic was the last straw.
And The Washington Post:
- A Biden opening: Trump falls short on pledges on infrastructure
- Trump clings to one marker of success: Crowd size
- As coronavirus cases rise, red-state governors resist measures to slow the spread, preach ‘personal responsibility’: Health experts have said that recommendations, rather than restrictions, are insufficient in combating reckless behavior.
Not all of the above listed articles were in the opinion sections, but I would point out here that the photo the Times used clearly showed that the newspapers they chose as illustrative of their argument had “Opinion” very visible beside the duplicate article.
It was not so long ago that the credentialed media enjoyed a ‘gatekeeping’ function. It didn’t matter what someone wrote, if an editor did not approve it, it would not get published.¹ Rush Limbaugh chipped away at that, due to his talent in radio, and with the development of weblogs, blogs, Little Green Footballs and Powerline destroyed the credibility of CBS News when they exposed Dan Rather’s use of forged material in an ‘exposé’ designed to hurt President Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. CBS News did the most cursory of evidence evaluation of material brought to them by a biased source, and the forgery was so obvious that LGF and Powerline writers were able to spot it on images on their television screens, in a time when high definition television was not the universal standard.
Blogs exploded in popularity, as people were now able to enjoy their own freedom of the press without a gatekeeper having stopping power. How widely it was disseminated depended upon both luck and the research and writing skills of the authors.
The network is one of a proliferation of partisan local-news sites funded by political groups associated with both parties. Liberal donors have poured millions of dollars into operations like Courier, a network of eight sites that began covering local news in swing states last year. Conservative activists are running similar sites, like the Star News group in Tennessee, Virginia and Minnesota.
But those operations run just several sites each, while (Brian) Timpone’s network has more than twice as many sites as the nation’s largest newspaper chain, Gannett. And while political groups have helped finance networks like Courier, investors in news operations typically don’t weigh in on specific articles.
While Mr. Timpone’s sites generally do not post information that is outright false, the operation is rooted in deception, eschewing hallmarks of news reporting like fairness and transparency. Only a few dozen of the sites disclose funding from advocacy groups. Traditional news organizations do not accept payment for articles; the Federal Trade Commission requires that advertising that looks like articles be clearly labeled as ads.
So, the Times’ complaint is that Mr Timpone, “a TV reporter turned internet entrepreneur who has sought to capitalize on the decline of local news organizations for nearly two decades,” has been successful?
The history of newspapers in the United States is one of papers being started for political reasons; think William Randolph Hearst here. Some survived and some failed, and many claimed to ‘evolve’ from partisan journals to (purportedly) straight news organizations. It has become more obvious, from CNN and MSNBC and Fox News, that the cable news networks have their own political biases, but the print newspapers have their own. As I noted yesterday, the Lexington Herald-Leader, the closest thing to a major daily in a large swath of eastern Kentucky, is solidly biased in favor of Democrats, despite having a readership which continually votes for Republicans, often by large margins.
The New York Times has long been a supporter of freedom of the press . . . for itself. Freedom of the press for others? Not so much.
¹ – Full disclosure: I was a staff writer for the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s student newspaper, back in the dark ages. I did have a few article submissions published by the Lexington Herald-Leader, but as many never saw the light of day as were published.
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