NPR tracks down "fake news" entrepreneur claiming up to $30,000 a month from ads: "I have a beautiful life"

fake-news
The Denver Guardian looked enough like a real news site to convince legions of Facebookers that its fake news about Hillary Clinton was worth sharing. The anonymous creator reused an old handle in an early posting there, though, allowing NPR to track him down to the LA suburbs.

Jestin Coler, 40, weasels at first, claiming it's all an attempt to "highlight the extremism" and show "how easily fake news spreads." But he's soon boasting of a business operation that brings in five figures a month from ads.

Coler's company, Disinfomedia, owns many faux news sites — he won't say how many. But he says his is one of the biggest fake-news businesses out there, which makes him a sort of godfather of the industry.

At any given time, Coler says, he has between 20 and 25 writers. And it was one of them who wrote the story in the Denver Guardian that an FBI agent who leaked Clinton emails was killed. Coler says that over 10 days the site got 1.6 million views. He says stories like this work because they fit into existing right-wing conspiracy theories.

"The people wanted to hear this," he says. "So all it took was to write that story. Everything about it was fictional: the town, the people, the sheriff, the FBI guy. And then ... our social media guys kind of go out and do a little dropping it throughout Trump groups and Trump forums and boy it spread like wildfire."

As with other fake news hucksters, Coler says he also targeted liberals and lefties too, but found that they didn't fall for it the way others do. Read the rest

White Supremacy Euphemism Generator for journalists

newspapers

Reading recent coverage of Donald Trump's friends on the far right, it struck me that even when people pander to the idea Western culture's wellbeing is inseparable from European ethnicity, they somehow avoid being called white nationalists or supremacists by journalists. Read the rest

NYT: Trump "Obese"

trump

After having promised to reveal a medical status report, then reportedly deciding not to, millionaire presidential candidate Donald Trump finally offered a handful of details via TV host Dr. Mehmet Oz. He takes statins and weighs 267 pounds, which Oz describes as "slightly overweight" but which The New York Times eagerly informs us is, in fact, medical obesity for a man of Trump's height.

Over many months, Mr. Trump has sought to raise questions about the health of Mrs. Clinton, 68, and his supporters have asserted that she is hiding something about her health (her aides have denied this). But Mr. Trump has answered almost no questions about his own health over the last 15 months of his campaign, except for issuing a highly unusual doctor’s note.

So the appearance on Dr. Oz’s show, announced on Friday, had been anticipated as a potential breakthrough, as Mr. Trump’s aides had said that over the next few days he would release results from the physical examination, which was conducted last week.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, told Fox News that she did not think the candidate should release medical information on a television show.

This paragraph at the end of the Maggie Halberman's story caught my attention:

He has also been criticized for questionable assertions over the course of his television career, and sometimes speaks in the same type of hyperbole as Mr. Trump, which the medical profession has been known to reject.

What you are supposed to know from these words: that Oz is paid to pitch weight-loss pills on his show, that he describes them as "magic," and that his colleagues think he's a quack. Read the rest

The rise and fall of Theranos

holmes

The rise and fall of Theranos is gripping stuff. The $700m startup touted a revolutionary one-prick suite of blood tests that never worked well. But it managed to keep its failures hidden, writes Vanity Fair's Nick Bilton, thanks to the secrecy and controlling policies of its founder, Elizabeth Holmes. Holmes seems to have been aware of the technology's failure from an early stage, but was committed to it in a way that suggests a cult more than a company. Read the rest

Print is not dead

NO

The New York Times' Daniel Victor posted this to the site yesterday, an item soon jokingly hailed as being among the newspaper of record's greatest hits. A clever blog post given the swanky headline font, perhaps Victor's trusted with publish-button privileges and it's just one of those little jokes editors tolerate now and again.

Today, amazingly, wonderfully, the Times printed it.

The hashtag search Pulitzer is good this morning if you like reading serious journalists lamenting, on Twitter, what this turn of events says about the increasing triviality of their business. Read the rest

Horror stories from Vice freelancers

vice

Vice, the media powerhouse said to be worth upwards of $5bn and "sloshing with cash" thanks to annual revenues in the $900m range, treats its freelancers badly, according to Columbia Journalism Review. Work goes unpaid, payment is late when it comes, assignments are rescinded, and freelancers seem generally expected to work like salaried staff, pitching in on tasks related to their work without further compensation. Read the rest

"Closing the book", Gawker releases data on traffic and posting statistics

Illo: Rob Beschizza

Josh Laurito offers a fascinating look at the internals of a top-flight blog. Gawker, bankrupted by the Hulk Hogan lawsuit verdict and having sold off all its blogs (except Gawker.com itself) to Univision, is to cease publication this week.

Since it’s not totally clear to me what will happen to the site’s archives or how long I will have access to data about the site, today seems like a good time to jot down some of the numbers we have about our writers, our community, and posts.

Read the rest

Univision to buy Gawker for $135m

Illo: Rob Beschizza

Univision won the auction for Gawker Media with a $135m bid, reports Peter Kafka.

... the auction is a disappointing conclusion for Gawker Media owner Nick Denton, who founded the company in 2002. Last year, as rival media companies like Vice, BuzzFeed and Vox Media (which owns this site) were raising money at increasingly high valuations, Denton was arguing that his company was worth $250 million or more.

The price was depressed by the circumstances of the sale: a $140m award against it after publishing a Hulk Hogan sex tape and losing the subsequent lawsuit, which was secretly funded by vengeful billionaire Peter Thiel. Though experts generally expect Gawker to prevail on appeal, it was forced into bankruptcy by the penalty and the only other bidder was Ziff Davis, at $90m.

This weds Gawker to The Onion and Fusion in the Univision website stable; The Onion is very much its own thing, but Fusion's web presence is quite similar to Gawker itself and one wonders will it blend? Read the rest

Facebook declares war on adblockers, claims it can prevent them detecting ads

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Facebook claims it has developed a way to force ads to appear irrespective of whether visitors are using adblockers, and will soon begin doing so. The Wall Street Journal reports that the technique is "relatively easy" because Facebook doesn't use third-party ad tech—another way of saying that as Facebook serves both content and ads itself, it is at liberty to make them technically indistinguishable from one another.

“This isn’t motivated by inventory; it’s not an opportunity for Facebook from that perspective,” Mr. Bosworth said. “We’re doing it more for the principle of the thing. We want to help lead the discussion on this.”

It'd be understandable if they took an ads-or-GTFO attitude, or presented this as a fuck-you to adblocking companies, many of which are now sleazy middlemen who can be bought off (which Facebook has vowed not to do.) But Facebook insists that users damage the "Facebook experience" when they take matters into their own hands, so it's still, to them, a battle for control over what users can do on their own computers.

Depending on how they are counted, between a quarter and a third of users block ads. Desktop ads account for only a small portion of Facebook's total ad revenue, but command higher rates than mobile ads and are apparently regarded as a soft target for growth:

Facebook stands to gain financially from showing ads to ad-blocking users. On the company’s second-quarter earnings call in July, Facebook executives said its “ad load”—the volume of ads its users typically see—was in a “good zone.” That means it doesn’t think it can push many more ads to users than they already see during the time they are spending on the social network.

Read the rest

Poster for the inevitable Hulk Hogan and Peter Thiel vs Nick Denton and Pierre Omidyar movie

hulk

Billionaire Pierre Omidyar "steps into the ring" in the long-running legal fight over privacy and journalistic freedom, fought lately between Hulk Hogan and Gawker Media. The intervention, on Gawker's side--Omidyar is himself a media man, now--came after it turned out billionaire Peter Thiel was secretly funding Hulk's suit.

Alternative subtitle: "No matter who wins, we news."

Cast it in the comments. I'm thinking Kenneth Branagh as Denton, Michael C. Hall as Thiel, Christopher Lambert as Omidyar, Hulk Hogan as Terry Bollea, and any random carnie as Hulk Hogan. Read the rest

Daily Mail insists it isn't a copycat, sues Gawker

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The Daily Mail, a notable British tabloid, is suing Gawker after the latter posted "My Year Ripping Off the Web with the Daily Mail Online," an expose of the paper's sourcing habits.

In it he said: “Unlike at other publications for which I've worked, writers weren't tasked with finding their own stories or calling sources.

“We were simply given stories written by other publications and essentially told to rewrite them.

“And unlike at other publications where aggregation writers are encouraged to find a unique angle or to add some information missing from an original report, the way to make a story your own at the Mail is to pass off someone else's work as your own.”…

The Mail Online claims that its “reputation as an ethical, upstanding, and law-abiding company has been impugned”

Gawker's response:

We’re not surprised that the Daily Mail doesn’t like what James King had to say about his time working there, this baseless complaint doesn’t even attempt to refute the vast majority of the author’s detailed anecdotes about his experience as a Daily Mail writer

There seems little doubt how the Mail generates content: the "writethroughs," of day-old stories found elsewhere, are published for all to see. The expose seemed damning, and the Mail's response to it at the time was remarkably self-damning. But the devils are in the details, lawsuits are very expensive to fight, and Gawker is known to be getting tired of them, so here we are.

My favorite thing about The Daily Mail is its ludicrously incompetent photoshopping. Read the rest

Who, exactly, is asking Facebook to censor things for us?

facebook-10-big1

Today in Betteridge headlines: "Should Facebook Block Offensive Videos Before They Post?" Read the rest

A look at a commercial viral video outfit

goviral

"Such is the state of online video," reports Wired, profiling Jukin Media, a 100-employee "viral video" farm. Read the rest

Will websites end up content providers for social networks?

make money on keyboard

News sites will soon be "wire services" competing in social networks' internal attention markets, writes Ezra Klein. Scary! Read the rest

Online quizzes explained

Online "character quizzes," suddenly ultra-viral thanks to adroit Facebook-centric designs at sites like Zimbio, are all the rage. Are they fueled by narcissism? No, says Devon Maloney: it's fear: "We crave the peace of mind that comes from believing the human condition is quantifiable." Which is to say, of course, our own conditions. It's the Myers-Briggs sorting hat for a new generation, telling you what you just told it. Read the rest

Reddit eyes journalism

Matthew Ingram talks to Reddit GM Erik Martin about the site's plans to build out crowdsourced reporting features—and how it will guard them against misuse and chaos.

Martin admitted the moderator system is flawed in some ways, or at least could be improved — by making it easier for users to switch from one sub-Reddit to another, for example — but he also argued that the democratic (some would anarchic) approach the site takes to virtually everything has positive impacts. Someone once asked who created a specific sub-Reddit, and Martin said he had to admit “I have no idea, someone just came along and did it… the fact that it even works at all, when you think about it, is just crazy. It shouldn’t work, but it does.”

Reddit's crowdsourced reporting threads are often the best places to find real-time aggregation of breaking news. But the screw-ups can't be dismissed glibly. If Reddit took a little more responsibility for the major subreddits (the ones that it promotes to the general public as central sections of the site, such as r/news) and applied a more policy-driven approach to how they're run, it would be much easier to communicate the implicit distinctions here between moderation and anarchy (i.e., journalism and histrionics). Read the rest

The second-best headline of all time

With "Obama's pot dealer beaten to death for farting in gay lover's face", I think The Daily Mail may reasonably claim to have created the second-best newspaper headline in human history. Read the rest

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