Yet Another Kind of Fake News

As more newspapers and other media outlets cut staff, public relations and advertising make gains. The Minnesota-based firm ARAnet provides "free print and Web content. ... More than 65 of the nation's top 100 newspapers, including the Star Tribune, use" ARAnet content, which "carries client messages." ARAnet president Scott Severson says his firm provides "high-quality consumer content" that "just happen[s] to be underwritten by our clients." ARAnet clients pay $4,500 for content creation, tracking and reporting; media outlets use it for free. One ARAnet article "offered to auto sections" was sponsored by Lexus. Severson explains, "The article was about safety systems and mentioned Lexus. The best advertising doesn't look like advertising." It also doesn't carry clear disclosure. ARAnet's "online articles typically are identified as sponsored content," but its "print articles merely carry an 'ARA' designation, similar to the 'AP' identifier that runs with Associated Press articles." Other ARAnet clients include Home Depot, Microsoft, Best Buy and UPS.


...This type of content bothers me as much as it does journalists and unsuspecting readers. Using any "fake news" tarnishes the legitimacy of the "real news."

I'm working hard to get journalists interested in what my clients do for a living, and to explain why the public should care about it. I can accept rejection from gatekeepers - I face it every day. It's hardly fair play when deep-pocketed companies can bypass these gatekeepers.

I understand media today is suffering from numerous pressures, but I won't allow my clients in any pay-for-play "opportunities." I want coverage in legitimate, reputable, ethical media outlets; it does not serve my clients when the public is forced to question the credibility of the message or the messenger.