|Chevron Richmond erupting on August 6, 2012 |
Source: Greg Kunit, Oakland Local
Back in February, the citizens of Richmond, CA woke up to a pleasant surprise – a fresh source of local news in the heart of a city underserved by the media and ever thirsty for some hard-hitting journalism.
The Richmond Standard appears to be just like any other community newspaper. It has articles about the city council, area nonprofits and a police blotter with captivating headlines. It even has an entertainment section. It’s led by a full-time editor, and its common-sense motto proclaims that it delivers “community-driven news.”
There’s just one thing wrong with this paper. If you happen to scroll to the bottom of its website you may be surprised to see this wee bit of legalese: “Chevron and Chevron Richmond are shorthand for Chevron U.S.A. Inc.’s Richmond Refinery and its other divisions located in Richmond.”
As it turns out, this newspaper is a project of Singer Associates, Chevron’s high-priced PR firm. Its editor, Mike Aldax, is in fact an account executive for the company, which proclaims that it is famous for being an award-winning corporate “fixer” that does damage control after major public health catastrophes, many that appear to be the result of alleged negligence.
The Richmond Standard is a corporate fiction, an astroturfing tool that attempts to trick readers into reading news through the lens of a company that just two years prior sent 15,000 local residents to the emergency room. Unfortunately, this sort of thing isn’t just a project of a cynical, desperate company.
A Disturbing Trend
Since the dawn of the Web Age, the news has become a commodity, and news organizations have begun to adopt a similar strategy that melds misdirection, reporting and public relations to create a product that blatantly defies journalistic principles and sullies a once great industry.
As news organizations come to the brink of bankruptcy, they increasingly turn to sponsored content to raise much-needed funding. These articles look like real news but are actually fancy press releases formatted like hard-hitting reporting.
This trend is damaging the public’s trust and eroding the integrity of once-trusted outlets. Most recently, the New York Times, a source once thought to be bucking trends by maintaining the quality of its reporting, has started to permit sponsored content in an effort to maintain profitability.
Now, the only difference between the Richmond Standard and the New York Times, is that the Grey Lady has many suitors, while the other has just one.
Do Your Part
Everyone can do their part to unravel this trend. Subscribe to the New York Times and your local newspaper. Donate some money or time to Richmond Confidential, an independent and nonprofit news agency covering Richmond. And always take a second look at the author of that article you are reading – he or she may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.