Opinion

The Foxes are Winning: Partisan Local News Sites are Getting the Upperhand

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Back in October, I wrote about the launch of partisan local news sites and how they were filling the void in local news in towns across the country. Since then, the amount of such sites has grown from a few hundred to more than 1,000. While some high-quality objective local news sites have launched since then, they are being dwarfed in size and scale by the partisan sites.

One example of the new wave of partisan local news sites is The Georgia Star News, which was recently portrayed by NPR as a leader in misinformation to advance partisan political objectives. The local news site is part of the Star News Network, a group of similar sites that have a decided political bent to them and spew misinformation on a daily basis. The articles look like something you would see on any other local news site with one glaring difference - these are calculatingly pernicious and misleading, typically about hot button topics including reparations, the Wuhan Lab, and the border “crisis.” The articles are designed to sow distrust and rally readers to support former President Trump and his viewpoints.

Partisan local news sites are not a one-party affair. Democratic organizations and PACs also have created a stable of partisan local news sites that similarly mislead the public. For example, The Keystone in Pennsylvania is funded by Acronym, a Democratic advocacy organization, and is part of the Courier Newsroom, a network of similarly partisan local news sites. Advertising on The Keystone appears to basically contain Democratic Party campaign ads. Somehow, The Keystone spent more than a million dollars during the 2020 election cycle, typically bashing former President Trump while promoting Democratic candidates.  

There have been some notable achievements in local news during this same period of time, from Axios launching several local news ventures to Village Media’s expansion to our own work here at TAPinto, where we now have more than 90 franchised local news sites in our network. 

Unfortunately, all of our efforts combined number less than 150 objective local news sites in the United States. If we include one-off hyperlocal news sites in the country that are sustainable, the total number of objective local news sites is still a fraction of the number of partisan local news sites.   

Meanwhile, the media punditocracy continues its grim predictions for local news, which results in actively discouraging people from entering the field. And these doom and gloomers also hamper the interest of those with capital who could help scale successful local news efforts, leaving investment money on the sidelines. Many of these same pundits ignore local media success stories, further engendering malaise.

Scaling high-quality objective local news sites is possible. It’s hard work but it’s possible. And that’s what’s needed to both fill the void in local news and provide an alternative to the partisan local news sites seemingly popping up everywhere. Those of us on the front lines need to ignore the media intelligentsia and focus on the task at hand—scaling quality nonpartisan local news. The pundits would be wise to have a similar focus. The more they talk down the industry, the more foolish they look as we succeed.

Michael Shapiro is founder and CEO of http://TAPinto.net, a network of 80+ franchised online local news sites in New Jersey, New York and Florida. 

Read more of  Mike Shapiro’s “Industry Insight articles on EditorandPublisher.com

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