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
|American Catholic Tribune Media Network||6|
|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 Network||9|
|The Record Inc||10|
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.
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.
A pink-slime timeline
The following articles track the spread of pink slime during the past few years (updated 2022-01).
- Reporting local news from thousands of miles away, Gateway Journalism Review 2017-11
- Democrats cry foul as photos tie GOP to Maine Examiner, Sun Journal 2018-01
- Kelli Ward touts endorsement from fake-news site, Politico 2018-02
- Hey! What Happened To the Arizona Monitor Website?, Tucson Weekly 2018-02
- Conservative Illinois publications blur lines between journalism, politics, Chicago Tribune 2018-04
- New media sites arise in Illinois, but so do questions, State Journal-Register 2018-11
- ‘Hinsdale School News’ is no such thing, The Hinsdalean 2019-03 (PDF)
- Hiding in Plain Sight: PAC-Connected Activists Set Up ‘Local News’ Outlets, Snopes 2019-03
- Dozens of new websites appear to be Michigan local news outlets, but with political bent, Lansing State Journal 2019-10
- Americans Trust Local News. That Belief Is Being Exploited., New York Times 2019-10
- Pseudo local news sites in Michigan reveal nationally expanding network, Michigan Daily 2019-11
- These Hugely Popular Local News Sites In The US And Canada Are Fake, BuzzFeed 2019-11
- How local ‘fake news’ websites spread ‘conservative propaganda’ in the US, The Guardian 2019-11
- Look out for Junk Sources in Google News, ResearchBuzz 2019-11
- Hundreds of ‘pink slime’ local news outlets are distributing algorithmic stories and conservative talking points, Columbia Journalism Review (Tow Center) 2019-12*
- These Fake Local News Sites Have Confused People For Years. We Found Out Who Created Them, BuzzFeed 2020-04
- Hundreds of hyperpartisan sites are masquerading as local news. This map shows if there’s one near you., Nieman Lab 2020-07*
- As election looms, a network of mysterious ‘pink slime’ local news outlets nearly triples in size, Columbia Journalism Review 2020-08*
- Mount Vernon News under new leadership, Mount Vernon News 2020-08
- Kern Valley Sun Under new Leadership, Kern Valley Sun 2020-08
- Chicago-based Metric Media buys Mount Vernon News, trims print product to 2 days per week, Knox Pages 2020-08
- Reopen schools narrative spreads across shadowy local news sites, Storybench (Northeastern University) 2020-08
- Understanding ‘pink slime journalism’ and what it reveals about conservatives and liberals, Deseret News 2020-09
- Your State’s Been Pink-Slimed, Iffy.news 2020-09
- The News Site Was Bogus. Facebook Still Let It Build A Real Audience., BuzzFeed 2020-10
- As Local News Dies, a Pay-for-Play Network Rises in Its Place, New York Times 2020-10
- Here Are the Hundreds of Sites in a Pay-to-Play Local News Network, New York Times 2020-10*
- When local news isn’t local, Montana Free Press 2020-10
- A Partisan Future for Local News?, New York Times: The Daily 2020-10-28
- Number of publications linked to former Springfield reporter balloons, State Journal-Register 2020-10
- A new report shows how partisan websites are eroding trust in legitimate local news sites in Pennsylvania, Lenfest Institute for Journalism 2021-03
- The Real Story Behind the Dallas Express, D Magazine 2021-06
- California News Trust Report: Dozens of partisan websites posing as local newspapers, exploiting and undermining readers’ trust in local journalism, NewsGuard 2021-07
- The Metric Media network runs more than 1,200 local news sites. Here are some of the non-profits funding them. Columbia Journalism Review (Tow Center) 2021-10*
- Advocacy groups and Metric Media collaborate on local ‘community news’, Columbia Journalism Review (Tow Center) 2021-11
- Follow The Money: Right-Wing Funding Of ‘Pink Slime’ Websites Tracked In New Study, WGBH 2021-11
- Exploiting the local news desert, Editor & Publisher 2021-11
- Right-wing operatives deploy massive network of fake local news sites to weaponize CRT, Popular Info 2021-11
* Indicates research that is a source of the fake-local data and domains above.
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.
- Switcheroo, Act Two: Forgive us our Press Passes, This American Life 2012-06
- Journatic worker takes ‘This American Life’ inside outsourced journalism, Poynter 2012-06
- Exposing the “‘pink slime’ journalism” of Journatic, Media Nation 2012-07
- Fake Bylines And Outsourced Writers: How Journatic Does Journalism, The Atlantic 2012-10
• We produce original local content.Local Labs (formerly Journatic) presentation to Global Editors Network
• We power it all via a proprietary tech/labor platform [that] includes human content production workflow (“assembly line”), algorithm development, low-cost / distributed labor.
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:
- New York Times data | article
- Nieman Lab data | article
- Tow Center 2020 data | article
- Tow Center 2021 data | article
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.
Editors: Josef Verbanac and Claire Golding.