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Column: When it comes to local news, trust who you know

In the past week, there have been articles from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Poynter Institute, a worldwide leader in journalism ethics and training, about the illegitimacy of pop-up websites and publications claiming to provide local news.

Talk about fake news.

The New York Times’ piece was an in-depth investigation into an Illinois-based national network of websites that pollute the internet and social media with articles paid for by sources seeking to spin public thinking or win favor with the message they spin. The Times reported “the network is one of a proliferation of partisan local-news sites funded by political groups associated with both parties.” One source, according to the Times, has paid $441,000 to place articles on the network.

Fake news, according to the Associated Press, consists of “deliberately false stories that appear to come from credible, journalistic sources. They’re designed to be spread around the internet — previously as jokes, but increasingly often, to influence political opinion.”

From the network’s headlines, to its stories, to its photos, the information appears legitimate. The problem is, the content can’t be trusted. Many of the network’s websites are supposedly fronted in our own backyards and purport to be providing you local news. In reality, according to the New York Times’ report, this content is being written by people hundreds or thousands of miles away who are being told what angles the stories should have. Their paychecks are being funded by sources who pay to get their message out to the public. The head of the network, Brian Timpone, who lives in the Chicago suburbs, hasn’t responded to Shaw Local News Network or the New York Times about the pay-for-publication claims.

While the Times’ investigation into the network isn’t news to us, as Shaw Local News Network outlets have reported on the network in recent years, it should give us all pause.

Credible, dependable and reliable local news is vital. You need to know where your news comes from and believe it can be trusted. When something like this network, which has over 1,300 websites nationwide, provides unreliable information, it impacts us all.

Shaw Local News Network, publisher of your hometown newspaper, provides credible news written and reported by people who are your neighbors. We are a local and independent news source, and have been since 1851. Our news team pledges to get both sides of a story. And no outside source is telling us what to report and how it should be presented to you.

It’s becoming increasingly harder for news consumers to determine what’s real. Let me offer some tips on how to tell a real news story from fake news.

* Watch out for Facebook clickbait. It’s easy to get pulled in by a friend or relative’s post sharing a story that might seem alarming or outrageous. Don’t fall for it.

* Consider the source of the information. Is it a legitimate news website?

* Do you recognize the source of the article? If not, review a familiar news source to see how they report on the subject.

* Look for balance in an article. Are both sides represented in the story?

* Ask who would benefit or be harmed by the story?

* Determine what’s missing from the story, such as the alternative view or key sources.

* Are there signs the story is low quality, such as ALL CAPS or poor grammar and misspellings?

* Does the news seem too good to be true? Or is it too outlandish to be true?

* Check the website’s “About Us” section, which could be a clue of the legitimacy of the website.

* And, please, check for legitimacy before you share a story on social media.

Serving our communities is our mission and an honor for us at Shaw Local News Network. Trust who you know.

Dennis Anderson is vice president of news and content development for Shaw Media and a News Leaders Association board member. He can be reached at or on Twitter @dennisedit.

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