The Ghost Media
Supreme digital reporting into algorithmic local news imposters.
I am not a political reporter by any means, nor is this blog in a position to cover politics or media first-hand, but this is a story worth presentation and a bit of dissection. When Extratone (very) briefly published political content, I modified a WordPress plugin to change any mention of our current president - the text "Donald Trump," "President Trump," "President Donald J. Trump," etc. - to simply "Tump," and added a corresponding explanatory subhead in our Style Guide. Though none of this content is available anymore, I'd like to clarify that I have also adopted this rule into my own personal Style Guide.
Great News: The boring but very nasty magazine, The Atlantic, is rapidly failing, going down the tubes, and has just been forced to announce it is laying off at least 20% of its staff in order to limp into the future. This is a tough time to be in the Fake News Business!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020
What Tump says does not typically bother me, emotionally - he is a Real Shithead and I know he thrives on Tweet embeds (ahem) - but his Tweet about The Atlantic last week really Ticked Me Off. This is the beginning of my "journey" with this story. Immediately after I (rather pitifully) lashed back at Tump, I noticed The Atlantic's McKay Coppins Tweet a link to his story: "The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President." Here is the mother of all the hyperlinks that follow. Please forgive my following regurgitation, but you wouldn't just read the whole story, would you?
Coppins describes Brad Parscale - Digital Director of Tump's 2016 election campaign - as "a 6-foot-8 Viking of a man with a shaved head and a triangular beard." He links to ProPublica's revealing profile of the behemoth, but more interesting to myself is the absurd journey Brad undertook to get where he is today:
Parscale Media was, by most accounts, a scrappy endeavor at the outset. Hustling to drum up clients, Parscale cold-pitched shoppers in the tech aisle of a Borders bookstore. Over time, he built enough websites for plumbers and gun shops that bigger clients took notice—including the Trump Organization.
Big Brad "graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio in 1999, majoring in international business and economics," before going to work for his dad in California before his company's bankruptcy in August 2003. Brad moved back to San Antonio and incorporated Parscale Media in October 2005.
In San Antonio, Parscale built a volume business. He did fast, inexpensive work for small enterprises like Dury’s Gun Shop, Quest Plumbing and D&D Farm and Ranch. He pitched clients by day, often making cold calls, and cranked out websites at night. On the side, he sold his own software add-ons to website developers.
A "marketing consultant" who apparently worked with Big Brad for two years described him as "the type of guy who would oversell capabilities and then figure it out." Big Brad sounds like My Kind of Shithead. In 2009, he paid for two advertisements in Forbes and Texas Monthly so he could cite them as "Top 10 web designer awards," but - when Tump came around - he sold his work to the cause ridiculously cheap:
In February 2015, the Trumps asked Parscale to craft a simple landing page for the presidential exploratory committee. Parscale did it for $1,500, completing the work on his laptop at home over a weekend. He got another call in June and agreed to build the Trump presidential campaign’s website for $10,000.
Through the end of 2015, the Trump campaign had paid Giles-Parscale just $39,000, mostly for “website development,” according to Federal Election Commission filings. By February 2016, his firm was receiving monthly six-figure sums for “digital consulting.” In June, he was named the campaign’s digital director.
A "Republican consultant who knows Parscale" described him as "a huckster." I'll say.
- [x] "The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President" | The Atlantic
- [ ] "The Left’s Plan to Slip Vote-Swaying News Into Facebook Feeds" | Bloomberg Businessweek
- [ ] "Big Tech’s Big Divorce From Democrats" | New York Magazine
- [ ] "Social bots distort the 2016 U.S. Presidential election online discussion" | First Monday
- [ ] "Text campaigns are changing American politics — and nobody's ready" | Vice
- [ ] The Discord Post
- [ ] The Tump Tweet
- [ ] "Using the power of publishing to influence: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s entry into the news biz" | Nieman Lab
- [x] "The Myths of the “Genius” Behind Trump’s Reelection Campaign" | ProPublica
- [ ] "Pseudo local news sites in Michigan reveal nationally expanding network" | The Michigan Daily
- [ ] "Conservative Illinois publications blur lines between journalism, politics" | Chicago Tribune
- [ ] "LocalLabs, Formerly Journatic" | Hawthorne Strategy Group
- [ ] "About Us" | Lansing Sun
- [ ] "Advocacy Groups Blur Media Lines" | Washington Post
- [ ] "Plagiarism and a resignation at Journatic" | Columbia Journalism Review
- [ ] "New weekly newspaper mailers part of GOP Super PAC strategy in west Cook County" | Cook County Chronicle
- [ ] "How local 'fake news' websites spread 'conservative propaganda' in the US" | The Guardian
[ ] "Hundreds of ‘pink slime’ local news outlets are distributing algorithmic stories and conservative talking points" | Columbia Journalism Review
[ ] "Exposing the “‘pink slime’ journalism” of Journatic" | Media Nation
A mix of "journalism" and "automatic."
[ ] "Chicago Tribune Stops Using Journatic After Discovering Plagiarism, Fabricated Quote" | Jim Romenesko
As a result of serious breaches of the Tribune’s journalistic standards, we have suspended indefinitely our use of Journatic as a third-party producer of editorial content for our suburban TribLocal publications.