Media on Media

A new British invasion, media transparency in Spain and more.

Phony ‘news’ portals surpass US newspaper sites, researchers say

If you find yourself looking these days at what appears to be a local US news site, the odds are what you’re seeing is fake. That’s according to a NewsGuard report finding that there are now 1,265 “pink slime” sites (politically motivated sham news outlets) versus 1,213 legitimate local news sites operating across the country. Hundreds of those have emerged just in recent months, a spike driven by the intensifying presidential election and AI’s ability to churn out so-called content whose production once required living, breathing writers.

Axios finds that half of these sites target swing states. Nearly 200 of them are of Russian provenance. What may be most depressing about the pink slime wave is that it takes advantage of  readers so starved for news that they may not even recognize the difference between a fake and the real deal. Northwestern last year listed 204 of roughly 3,000 US counties that had no local newspapers, digital news publishers or public radio newsrooms. 

This is Us, and How We Work

Highlights from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford’s 2024 Digital News Report include just 23% of Hungarians and Greeks trusting most news most of the time, the lowest figures in the sample. In Argentina, interest in the news has plunged 32% since 2017, and 45% of Argentines avoid the news entirely. In Spain, in just five years, the percentage of people worn out by the news has surged from 26% to 44% in just five years. 

Jordi Juan, the director of Catalonia’s La Vanguardia, cited that figure in a column about how the daily newspaper is trying to rekindle with its readers a relationship built on trust and transparency. “Media outlets must come back down from the Ivory Towery in which we’ve isolated ourselves,” he writes. “This is the moment to approach and embrace our readers so that they can see us with absolute clarity.” 

To do this, La Vanguardia recently opened its weekly newsroom-wide meeting to its 150,000 subscribers, online and in person at Barcelona’s Cosmo Caixa. It’s also hosting frequent events spotlighting its journalists and their work in order to connect with audiences and ease their growing anxiety around manipulated, biased or outright fake news, including in legitimate outlets. There’s not much encouraging news about the news business these days, but the steps La Vanguardia is taking should inspire similar moves among its peers as they, too, struggle to reach a faithful audience. 

Revenge of the Brits 

Fleet Street vet Tom McTague writes in The Atlantic about the recent takeover of plum US media publisher and editor assignments by his fellow Brits—and the consternation it’s provoked among American journalists. Emma Tucker at the Wall Street Journal. Mark Thompson at CNN. Will Lewis at the Washington Post. Daisy Veerasingham at the AP. 

These are just a few of the most prominent positions currently held by UK expatriates. But it was 

Lewis’ appointment of “longtime Fleet Street hack” Rob Winnett as the Post’s editor—a role Winnett stepped away from late last week—that brought widespread discontent and debate over “the question of whether…two very different journalistic traditions can successfully be bridged.” 

McTague’s piece is witty and savvy, two of the traits he claims British journos value more than Americans. Yanks feel that “Fleet Street is intractably tawdry. McTague instead sees the difference boiling down to a welcome “degree of unseriousness” at UK publishers at odds with the pervasive earnestness of American media. The British scene is a clubby one whose insularity US journalists deem inevitably corrosive, but that in fact leads to holding power to account with a “fraternal fury” not seen in America. 

“American culture has been invading Britain for decades,” McTague writes. “The British Invasion of American media is the empire striking back.”