A feature on page A1 of today’s Providence Journal shows Rhode Island’s largest media organization is subtly moving away from local, unbiased reporting toward generic corporate propaganda posing as neutral news coverage.
The Inside Sources story appears to be a news article about cannabis cultivation and energy use. But the ProJo’s new content partner is more akin to fake news than the journalism Rhode Island’s paper of record built its once-stellar reputation upon. The wire service was founded by a Republican operative with a reputation for creating “native” or sponsored content. The story itself is overtly one-sided and relies on discredited information to make its case, hallmarks of Inside Sources content.
While the Journal uses several wire services to augment its diminishing local content, including the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and New York Times, Inside Sources creates a different kind of news product than does the AP, the Post or the Times. There’s a clear pro-Republican, pro-industry bias to most of Inside Sources content. UPDATE: Providence Journal editor Alan Rosenberg says the newspaper gets the Inside Sources content through it’s subscription to the Tribune News Service.
News stories cover topics such as “McCain Praised by Unions for Killing Obamacare Repeal” and “Activists Costing Youngstown Thousands of Dollars for Anti-Fracking ‘Bill of Rights.’” An August 4 op/ed titled “The Establishment — on Both Sides — Weaponizes ‘Fake News’” says, “The left is largely to blame for the weaponization of “fake news” as a bludgeon against free speech.” There are more opinion pieces than news, and all of the opinion pieces advocate for conservative policies and many don’t accurately portray progressive positions. The news pieces focus squarely on conservative issues and conservative viewpoints.
The publisher of Inside Sources is a former Mitt Romney communications director who has been flagged for creating misleading content. According to Snopes:
On 6 November 2016, web site InsideSources.com published an editorial (“What the Dakota Access Pipeline Protesters Aren’t Telling You”) that was picked up and run by newspapers across the United States. The piece appeared in opinion sections days before the filing of a motion by Energy Transfer Partners [PDF], and made a variety of rebuttals to what the author said were claims and demands made by Dakota Access Pipeline protesters.
The author of the piece, Shawn McCoy, was bylined as “publisher of InsideSources.com,” with little biographical information accompanying the widely-published op-ed. However, McCoy’s footprint in online media is rather large, both as a political operative for the 2012 Mitt Romney campaign as well as apparent author of native content for politically-aligned groups like the Taxpayers’ Protection Alliance (funded by similar groups like Americans for Job Security).
Inside Sources seems to have a special affinity for advocating for the energy industry, headlines range from: “Ohio Pipeline Construction Brings Boost to Local Businesses” to “Why People Like Al Gore Hate The World’s Poor.”
The Inside Sources article that appears in the ProJo – “Pot’s really not so green” – offers a very one-sided look at energy use in indoor cannabis cultivation. “Marijuana is barely legal, but already it seems that weed is not green enough,” the piece concludes. “Will environmentally conscious tokers soon need to consider their carbon footprint before reaching for a joint?”
It claims to be a news article, but does not offer both sides to the story. Furthermore, the piece seems to be advocating for a specific type of outcome. “With marijuana cultivation poised to take off, some are starting to worry about the environmental effects, and specifically the carbon footprint, of marijuana cultivation, suggesting that state governments may need to step in to regulate,” reads the Inside Source’s material in today’s Providence Journal. The Inside Sources author relies on a 2014 law journal article written by an energy industry lawyer and a report on national energy use in cannabis cultivation that has been discredited elsewhere.
It’s unclear if this the decision to partner with Inside Sources was made by new ProJo editor Alan Rosenberg or if was a corporate decision made by Gatehouse Media, parent company of the Providence Journal. Update: Rosenberg said it was a local decision and Gatehouse does not make editorial decisions for the Providence Journal.
This report will be updated. I asked Rosenberg to comment after publishing this post. He commented below. The links he shared are from 2016, and came out before the report in question was called into question.
Editor’s note: The original headline to this post “ProJo’s partner Inside Sources is fake news” was changed because the nebulous definition of fake news was detracting from the substance of the article. And because people made really good points about “fake news” being best understood to mean patently false information.