Pink Slime: Fake-local News

A map, table, and timeline of fake-local (“pink-slime”) news sites in the USA.

Pink-slime news sites appear to be local news but are not. They assume the names of localities in every state, from Alabama’s Tuscaloosa Leader to Alaska’s Mat-Su Times, but have no local reporters nor newsrooms. Pink-slime sites (named after a meat-processing byproduct) have been caught plagiarizing copyrighted content, spreading propaganda, and selling pay-for-play pretend-news stories to prop up a candidate or smear a rival.

The slime oozes from a network of interconnected corporations and nonprofits. They profess to support local journalism yet siphon readers from legitimate hometown papers. Fortunately, few readers have been sucked into the slime. See details and data below the map.

Pink Slime USA: Map

Fake-local news site coverage areas: city county/region statewide

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.

As Local News Dies, a Pay-for-Play Network Rises in Its Place, New York Times

Interlinked Pink Networks

PublisherSites
American Catholic Tribune Media Network6
Franklin Archer (subnets: Local News Network, Metro Business Network)193
Local Government Information Service (LGIS)36
Local Labs (and Newsinator)16
Metric Media LLC (subnet: Florida News Network)980
Star News Network9
The Record Inc10

Except for Star News, the pink-slime publishers are incestuously intertwined. Priyanjana Bengani, of the Tow Center, in her original 2019 and expanded 2021 investigations, exhaustively documented the networks’ overlapping management.

To summarize: Franklin Archer and Newsinator are fictitious names for DirecTech LLC. And DirecTech is a fictitious name for Newsinator LLC. And the brother of Franklin Archer’s director is the manager of Newsinator, who is the founder of Local Labs, and the publisher of The Record, and the owner of Metric Media, a for-profit funded by the nonprofit Metric Media Foundation. MMF also takes donations for the for-profit LGIS and wrote a hefty check to Franklin Archer, which works with the Catholic Tribune network.

Together, they own more news sites than USA’s largest legitimate newspaper chain, Gannett/GateHouse — a total 1,200+ fake-local sites plus dozens of national trades. And hardly any of their publications are read by anybody.

Sites Unseen

Pink-slime sites are unvisited, unmaintained, and unranked.

  • Many are irregularly updated. At the start of 2022, hundreds of Metric Media homepages still lead with a 2020 Biden tax-scare story.
  • The networks claim to “offer publications on our network of Google News approved sites.” We checked: None are approved by or included in Google News (which indexes most real newspapers).
  • The networks claim to have been “established to restore local news in communities across America.” Yet 98% of their sites’ localities have a local paper; 75% have a daily. They try to compete directly with authentic newspapers — but are losing.
  • Almost all (93%) of the pink-slime sites have no Alexa Traffic Rank, i.e., no detectable visitors. “If no one in our measurement panel visited a site over the past 3 months there is no rank at all for that site,” says Alexa, which measures web pageviews.
  • The pink-slime fail rate is high: 93% of their domain names were recently registered (2017–2021), 72% in 2019 alone. Yet 11% are already offline.
  • Franklin Archer once published 90 city guides, e.g., the Bison (SD) Guide, the Elk Horn (IA) Guide, the Peculiar (MO) Guide. Now, all those guides are lost. Just one remains online, though many are still listed on their site.

Pink Slime USA: Table

The following table is the most complete, up-to-date (2021-12) index of fake-local news sites. It combines the pink-slime networks’ publication lists with Tow Center and New York Times data. The table includes only fake-local news, covering a city, county, region, or state. National sites connected to the networks are listed separately at the bottom.

All links to fake-local sites/publishers on this page — in the table, text, and map — go to the Wayback Machine, not to the pink-slime itself, so as not to boost their pageviews.

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Struck-through domains above are offline (domain for sale, 404, etc.). See the spreadsheet for the raw data (download CSV).

A pink-slime timeline

2017–2021

The following articles track the spread of pink slime during the past few years (updated 2022-01).

* Indicates research that is a source of the fake-local data and domains above.

2012

A decade ago, Local Labs (formerly Journatic) experimented with an earlier incarnation of pink-slime journalism. They ran a service that remotely generated stories for local media, often dirt-cheaply written by robots or overseas authors, using fake bylines. A 2012 This American Life investigation exposed the secretive story-production process.

• We produce original local content.
• We power it all via a proprietary tech/labor platform [that] includes human content production workflow (“assembly line”), algorithm development, low-cost / distributed labor.

Local Labs (formerly Journatic) presentation to Global Editors Network

Methodology

Thanks to Priyanjana Bengani, a senior research fellow at Columbia Journalism School’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, for her pioneering work outing pink-slime. Sources for the map and tables are from the networks’ publication lists, original research, and:

As the local news industry collapses, a secretive network of pay-to-play news sites is seeking to take its place.

A Partisan Future for Local News?, The Daily

The associated spreadsheet houses raw data with each site’s rank, year online, papers-per-county, network and sub-network, along with calculations and explanations. The map updates the work of Philip Napoli and Jessica Mahone, from Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy. Thanks to Penny Abernathy and her UNC US News Deserts project for the county-level count of daily and weekly newspapers, to Alexa Traffic Rank for their site rankings (gathered via their API), and to Visualping for auto-monitoring publication list changes.

Despite its reputable sounding name, the Arizona Monitor is not a real news site.

Kelli Ward touts endorsement from fake-news site, Politico

The script that searches the Google News index for a site is at GitHub. Domain-name registration dates come from DomainBigData: The average registration year for pink-slime domains is 2018; for US daily newspapers, it’s 1998 (whose average first-year in-print is 1870, see data at News Netrics).

Hours after the Politico report, the Monitor went offline, which goes to show that cockroaches do scatter once the light hits them.

What Happened To the Arizona Monitor Website?, Tucson Weekly

Nationals, nets, nonprofits

The following sites are not fake-local news (so not in the pink-slime table above) but are national and nonprofit sites associated with the pink-slime publishers.

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Editors: Josef Verbanac and Claire Golding.