|Brian Timpone's network of "news" websites from 2010 to 2020|
New York Times graphic; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.
A fast-growing network of nearly 1,300 websites aims "to fill a void left by vanishing local newspapers across the country," Davey Alba and Jack Nicas report for The New York Times. "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."
The websites masquerade as local-news outlets, employing simple layouts and providing enough wire stories and community event content along with its political coverage to lull readers into thinking they're legitimate news sites. "But behind the scenes, many of the stories are directed by political groups and corporate PR firms to promote a Republican candidate or a company, or to smear their rivals," Alba and Nicas report. "The network is largely overseen 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. He has built the network with the help of several others, including a Texas brand-management consultant and a conservative Chicago radio personality."
Timpone is involved with or oversees a network of interconnected media companies with nebulous ownership such as Locality Labs LLC, Metric Media, Newsinator, Franklin Archer, and Interactive Content Services, Alba and Nicas report.Some liberal operatives are trying the same scheme, but lately it's been mostly conservatives—and not just Timpone. "The Free Telegraph' states nowhere on its homepage that it’s published by the Republican Governors Association," Christine Schmidt reports for Harvard University's NiemanLab. "Politico and Snopes uncovered a network of sites in key 2020 states (The Ohio Star, The Minnesota Sun, The Tennessee Star) created by Republican consultants and mislabeling people paid to elect a GOP candidate as 'investigative journalists' who were now covering them."