NEW: A network of 1,300 websites aim to fill a news void left by vanishing local papers across the U.S. It is built on propaganda ordered up by conservative advocacy groups & Republican operators, according to a year-long investigation by me and @jacknicas nytimes.com/2020/10/18/tec…
The network is now in all 50 states, and it is active ahead of the U.S. November election. The operation is entirely virtual—editors assign freelancers around the U.S. to write community stories, often for $3 to $36 per job. nytimes.com/2020/10/18/tec… Image
Ordered up stories typically promote a Republican candidate or a company, or smear their rivals. We saw an assignment to paint Susan Collins’ rival in Maine a “hypocrite.” A hotel magnate who faced backlash for huge federal loan ordered up positive stories nytimes.com/2020/10/18/tec… ImageImage
Many sites are dormant, waiting to spring to life when local news arises. In Kenosha, one of the sites became active when protests erupted after the police killing of an unarmed Black man. It published articles about the criminality of the man & protesters nytimes.com/2020/10/18/tec… Image
The network also takes advantage of many under-employed and out-of-work journalists. The journalists we spoke to who write for the network said they overlooked their doubts because the pay was steady and journalism jobs were scarce. nytimes.com/2020/10/18/tec… ImageImage
The man behind the network is Brian Timpone, a Republican and a former journalist who has been obsessed with replacing the old print guard as a digital-news mogul. We traced at least $1.7M in public records to his web of companies, but there could be more nytimes.com/2020/10/18/tec…
Reporting on this whole thing has been a bit depressing re: the state of local news journalism today. But I'm grateful to all the sources who spoke to us and risked much to do so, and to @CJR's essential work tallying many of these sites months ago. cjr.org/analysis/as-el…
(Also many thanks to @btdecker @DisinfoIndex and the many, many folks at The Times—editors, researchers, data analysts, data and graphics folks listed in our credits—who helped get this heave of a story out there. You are all awesome.) Image

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12 Oct
New on Daily Distortions: Facebook engagement on articles from news outlets that regularly publish falsehoods and misleading content roughly *tripled* in this period going into the 2020 election compared to the 2016 Presidential election, @gmfus says nytimes.com/2020/10/12/tec…
Here's a terrifying chart showing that! nytimes.com/2020/10/12/tec… Image
Researchers at @gmfus used @NewsGuardRating to determine when an outlet was a consistent “false content producer” like sputniknews.com or waynedupree.com, or a news “manipulator" like Daily Wire or Fox News nytimes.com/2020/10/12/tec…
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