There are lots of shady ways online reputation consultants game the system for their clients, but this is the first time we’ve seen something this egregious from a public entity.The Central Basin Municipal Water District of California is paying nearly $200,000 in taxpayer money to a corporate communications firm to run a news site that churns out promotional stories for it, according to the Los Angeles Times.
NewsHawksReview.com looks like a regular professional news site. It has stories covering multiple beats, its own ads and says it has a staff of editors and reporters (although it’s not really clear exactly who writes the stories).
And it managed to get itself indexed on Google News, giving the site a significant amount of exposure and increasing its perceived credibility.
But documents that the LA Times dug up show that it’s actually under contract with Central Basin, and is disguising PR as independent news, which Google generally frowns upon.
This is far beyond what marketers call “brand journalism” (such as corporate blogs). It’s simply misleading — nowhere on the site is the affiliation shown.
There’s no word yet on whether Google will pull the site from its feed.
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