Partisan Pa. websites masquerading as local news threaten trust in journalism, new report finds

People with financial interests to protect and political axes to grind are funding websites that resemble local news outlets, with the express purpose of manipulating the attitudes of the general public.

Journalists are far from perfect, and no human being is truly unbiased; however, there’s a big difference between responsible journalism that leans left or right, and partisan propaganda that’s camouflaged to resemble a neutral account of the facts.

It’s an uphill battle teaching my students how to determine whether a source is trustworthy.

Credibility is determined by examining nine apolitical factors, including not repeatedly publishing false content, regularly correcting or clarifying errors, clearly labeling news versus opinion content, avoiding deceptive headlines, disclosing ownership and financing, and more.

Of concern, however, is the remaining 30% of organizations, which includes partisan-funded local news sources that threaten to erode trust in local news, according to the report. They’re part of a new wave of websites designed to look and feel like hyperlocal outlets, but with undisclosed sources of support, rampant conflicts of interest, and “highly slanted coverage” that strongly reflects the political leanings of their funders, the review found.

And those partisan ties span both sides of the political spectrum.

“If every person when they click on a link thought for a second before believing the information and asked themselves: Have I heard of this source? Do I know anything about it? Is this an actual, credible news operation?” said Matt Skibinski, the author of the report and NewsGuard general manager. “That would be one of the ultimate solutions.”