Warning: You may slap your forehead after reading this.
In September, we told you about
Coghlan Consulting Group’s practice of publishing positive news articles about its clients on a fake news site set up to look like a real news site (which was even indexed by Google News, though it’s not anymore).
Its client in that instance was the Central Basin Municipal Water District of California.
Coghlan’s efforts on behalf of Central Basin could be construed as content marketing—a popular and powerful new tool for PR and marketing professionals.
But there’s an important distinction in this case: Masking the content as objective journalism—without mentioning that its associated with Central Basin—is unethical. A PRSA representative called Coghlan’s actions “an egregious breach of ethical standards for public relations.”
The plot thickens—and it ain’t pretty.
Now, the Los Angeles Times is reporting
that the fake site, News Hawks, was publishing stories by “journalists” that didn’t exist.
Take Mike Adams, for example. More than 20 stories had his byline on them. His bio stated that he had a degree in construction sciences at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. But the L.A. Times
revealed that there is no such program at the school.
Then there was the issue of his photo (since removed, but shown here
), which was lifted from Flickr
. Sources in Adams’ stories say they never met or talked to the man.
More tales of fakery from the L.A. Times
The site also claimed its award-winning general assignment reporter, Hannah Grimm, was a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. But Bill Santin, of Columbia's Registrar's Office, said no person of that name has graduated from the school in the last 100 years.
There are more atrocities where that came from.
News Hawks publisher Tony Marino refused to comment about the fake reporters, though he defended the site back in September.
Adams’ stories are now credited to “publisher.”