Metric Media Network
A network of websites that falsely present themselves as locally based news sites. The sites do not disclose their conservative agenda, and much of the content is created by algorithms.
Ownership and Financing
Sites in this network are owned by Metric Media LLC, which the company’s website describes as “a digital firm managing the online presence of the portfolio of local news sites.” The company was created in March 2019, according to Texas state business registration records. An August 2020 press release announcing Metric Media’s purchase of a local newspaper in Ohio states that the company is based in Chicago.
NewsGuard’s review of the Metric Media sites, as well as data from an August 2020 Columbia Journalism Review investigation by Priyanjana Bengani, found nearly 1,000 related websites with names referencing local cities, towns, or regions. The sites are organized in statewide networks in every U.S. state except Illinois, where a different network is operated by a separate company with ties to Metric Media.
According to the August 2020 press release, Metric Media owns a total of 1,227 sites. NewsGuard and CJR found that in addition to the nearly 1,000 geography-based sites, which are covered by this network Nutrition Label, Metric Media owns networks of websites focused on business, religion, and other subjects.
Metric Media has an affiliated nonprofit based in Harrisonville, Missouri, which obtained 501(c)(3) status from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service in August 2019. Metric Media sites that include About Us pages state that they publish “under a licensing agreement with the Metric Media Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit news content provider.”
The About section of the Media Metric Foundation website states that it “works with hundreds of freelance reporters around the country who adhere to strict journalistic standards—no political bias or favoritism, no unnamed sources, and a commitment to reporting only facts.”
The Metric Media Foundation appears to provide financial support for the company. According to its website, the foundation “funds data collection and reporting that currently appears on more than 1,000 online news sites across the country, and provides grants to community-oriented non-profit news operations.”
Metric Media also has a business relationship with a Chicago-based company called Locality Labs, which is owned by former TV reporter and media entrepreneur Brian Timpone. Locality Labs states on its website that “Since 2006, Locality Labs has been a leading collector and publisher of community-level public records for news publishers. Our clients include the largest media companies in the U.S.”
Metric Media CEO Bradley Cameron told NewsGuard in October 2019 — when NewsGuard reviewed the company’s Michigan sites — that Media Metric “retained Locality Labs because of their expertise in gathering and reporting data-driven stories.” NewsGuard’s analysis of the sites found that they continue to rely on analytics software operated by Locality Labs.
Metric Media sites run advertising. However, in order to produce and maintain content for more 1,000 websites, Metric Media appears to rely heavily on funding from its foundation. Donors to the foundation are not disclosed on the foundation’s site or on the sites in the network. As the foundation only received nonprofit status in August 2019, its tax filings were not yet publicly available.
Metric Media sites with About Us pages state that the company was “established to fill the void in community news after years of decline in local reporting by legacy media.” The About Us pages also state that the sites’ missions are to “provide objective, data-driven information without political bias. We provide 100% original reporting, including to share as much data as possible from government and other publicly available sources.” The sites sometimes disclose that they are “one of hundreds nationwide to inform citizens about news in their local communities.”
Sites in the network often include sections for Business, Community, Politics, Local Government, Real Estate, and Schools. The sites also often provide a directory of local business and organizations.
The sites’ names are associated with local towns, cities, and regions in the U.S., with titles such as Tuscaloosa Leader in Alabama, Erie County Times in Pennsylvania, Baton Rouge Reporter in Louisiana, and Findlay Times in Ohio. Many of the sites do not appear to have a physical presence or reporting staff in these locations. The sites often link to stories on other Metric Media sites that are focused on the same state.
According to a March 2018 article in the Columbia Journalism Review, most stories published on websites that were run by Locality Labs were “written by algorithm … using software that analyzes data (school test scores, for instance) and splices it by region to deliver to local publications around the state.” The same approach appears to be at work on Metric Media sites, which previously published articles attributed to “Local Labs News Service” and stated in privacy policies that they were operated by Locality Labs. The precise relationship between the two companies is not clear.
The Metric Media Foundation website states that its “platform allows stories to be written and published affordably. Reports draw from a database of public information on government spending, business transactions, and other data to ensure every story is automatically customized for each community.”
Articles that apparently were created algorithmically generally use information from agencies such as the U.S. Census Bureau, the Veterans Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data is also drawn from campaign finance records and other publicly available records. These articles are typically short and formulaic, starting with a data point or statistic and then identifying the source, and including a table of related data.
For example, in August 2020, the Cleveland Reporter published an article headlined “123,648 residents die in Ohio in 2017,” citing data from the National Center for Health Statistics; the Miami Courant published “Best station to purchase diesel gas near zip code 33127,” using data from GasBuddy.com; and North Raleigh Today published “Miscellaneous durable goods wholesalers report $30.4 billion in April inventories,” citing data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“Over 90 percent of [Metric Media’s] stories are algorithmically generated using publicly available data sets or by repurposing stories from legitimate sources,” Columbia Journalism Review reported in August 2020. “In the remaining stories that have an authentic byline there is often a conservative bent.”
Metric Media sites also publish press releases from local politicians and organizations, which are attributed to “Press Release Submission.”
Most stories on Metric Media sites appear to be created by software. These articles rely on data from credible organizations, such as the U.S. Census Bureau and the CDC. The sites also publish press releases and articles that are rewritten from other local news sites, with credit. These articles give Metric Media sites a local feel, although the sites do not appear to conduct original reporting in their purported coverage areas. Headlines accurately reflect the content.
Some Metric Media sites feature a small number of original stories. These articles are produced by writers who describe themselves on LinkedIn as freelance writers, many of whom are not based in the locales where their stories are published. Other writers are employed by businesses connected to Timpone, the owner of Locality Labs.
For example, using LinkedIn, NewsGuard found a Montana-based writer who had written articles on North Carolina and Michigan sites. Another writer, based in West Virginia, published stories on Texas and Iowa sites. The West Virginia writer says on her LinkedIn profile that she works for Franklin Archer, which is the operating name of another Timpone company legally named Newsinator. The CEO of Newsinator is Michael Timpone, Brain Timpone’s brother, according to his Linkedin profile and reporting by The Guardian.
NewsGuard found that the short, algorithm-created articles on the site are generally accurate. However, the sites also have published articles that appear to advance the interests of Metric Media CEO Bradley Cameron’s other business, without disclosing the possible conflict of interest. NewsGuard also found an article that included false claims about COVID-19.
Cameron is also the founder and CEO of a Texas company called the Situation Management Group. Cameron’s biography on the company’s corporate site states that he was retained “by US-based hotel owners to assist their recovery plans as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In April 2020, many Metric Media sites published stories reporting on efforts by local hotel operators to ease lockdown measures in the wake of the pandemic, under headlines such as
“Philadelphia hotel general manager urges Rep. Scanlon to stop lenders’ COVID-19 ‘vulture tactics,’” “Langhorne hotel general manager urges Rep. Fitzpatrick to stop lenders’ COVID-19 ‘vulture tactics,’” and “Orlando resort general manager urges Rep. Demings to stop lenders’ COVID-19 ‘vulture tactics.’”
A version of this story, supportive of the hotel industry, was published on Metric Media sites in at least 13 states, according to NewsGuard’s review. They were nearly identical, with the names of the hotel managers and lawmakers changed.
Other stories about the hotel industry published on sites in the network have included “Nine furloughed Alexandria hotel workers describe worries about worldwide COVID-19 pandemic” (March 2020); “Hotel CEO grateful for government help but says more will be needed,” (April 2020); and “Cleveland’s KeyBank fails to respond to hotel industry COVID-19 crisis ‘Fairness in Hotel Lending Standards’” (May 2020), among many others.
None of these stories disclose that the CEO of the company that owns the sites also works to advance the interests of “U.S.-based hotel owners,” as Cameron’s biography states.
Cameron’s online biography also states that he “served in the 1990s as senior advisor to the Republican strategy leader in the US House of Representatives” and is currently “retained by political leaders and donors to direct national reform initiatives, manage state-based initiatives, and direct litigation and other strategies.”
None of the sites’ political content, which generally supports conservatives, includes a disclosure about Cameron’s paid political work.
In July 2020, Metric Media site Grand Rapids Reporter published an article with inaccurate information about the COVID-19 pandemic in Michigan. The article, headlined “State Report: Kent County COVID recovery rate 99.94% through June 30,” claimed that Kent County, Michigan, had “an estimated 223,400” COVID-19 cases, and that in 223,269 of those cases, the patient recovered, “representing 99.94 percent of cases.”
After the story received significant engagement on social media, Dr. Adam London, the Kent County Health Department Director, told Grand Rapids television station WZZM that the story’s reported COVID-19 case count was wildly off. “Because that number is false, London says every other statistic in the article will be incorrect too. This includes the recovery rate over 99%,” WZZM reported.
In fact, Kent County had reported 5,000 COVID-19 cases, London said. Even if you assume that the actual number of cases is 10 times higher than the number of reported cases — as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has suggested — the figures reported by Grand Rapids Reporter would be greatly inflated, London said.
It is not clear where the statistics cited by the Grand Rapids Reporter came from. The story remained on the site, uncorrected, in August 2020.
The sites do not disclose a political orientation or agenda, often stating on their About Us pages that they publish “objective” journalism without “political bias.” For example, the Politics section of the Marin (California) Leader one day in August 2020 consisted entirely of stories reporting donations to Democratic and Republican candidates by local residents in amounts as small as $10, generated from Federal Election Commission data.
Yet articles by the outside authors and other non-algorithmic content on Metric Media sites typically promote conservative politicians and policies, or criticize liberals, often in news articles that present only one side of the issue.
For example, Metric Media’s sites in Michigan have frequently published news stories highlighting criticism of Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic — under headlines such as “Rep. Afendoulis accuses Gov. Whitmer of using pandemic as stepping stone” (May 2020); “Afendoulis opposes policy of nursing homes accepting COVID-19 patients” (June 2020); and “Barrett supports ‘Unlock Michigan’ petition drive against Whitmer” (August 2020.)
NewsGuard’s review found similar criticism of other Democratic leaders in other sites in the network. For example, the Philly Leader published articles headlined “New Jersey physician: Resuming normal business, physical activities should be personal choice” (June 2020) and “Philadelphia doctor: Lockdown doesn’t make scientific sense,” (May 2020). Metric Media sites in Texas published stories including “Kaufman County GOP chair criticizes Houston mayor over ‘disruptive politics’” (August 2020) and “Popular Fort Worth eatery closes, blames COVID-19 politics by county, city officials” (August 2020).
These articles, which centered on criticism of Democratic policymakers, included no response from the officials who were criticized, and there is no evidence that such responses were sought.
Metric Media’s Georgia sites have also published stories that advance the interests of a Political Action Committee that is a client of Cameron’s company, Situation Management Group, without disclosing the connection.
According to Federal Election Committee records, Situation Management received a $1,400 payment on July 24, 2020, from the Concerned American Voters PAC. According to the records, the payment was for “Digital Media Services” to oppose Andrew Clyde, a candidate in the Aug. 11, 2020, Republican primary runoff election for Georgia’s 9th Congressional District. Concerned American Voters made two additional payments of $2,800 each to Situation Management on July 30. Both payments were specified for “Digital Media Promotion & Management (7/30-8/11)” — one opposing Clyde and the other supporting his opponent, Matt Gurtler.
On July 24, 2020, the day the first payment was received, Georgia Mountain News — a Metric Media site — published a story titled “Court records: Georgia congressional candidate has history of intellectual property violations” about controversies involving Clyde. In total, Metric Media produced five stories about the Georgia primary runoff election at the same time Cameron was paid $7,000 by the PAC — under headlines such as “Popular conservative talk show hosts backs Gurtler in GOP runoff against Clyde” and “Political contributions from Republican candidates for 9th District imply Matt Gurtler as more independent, conservative.”
These articles all highlighted support for Gurtler or criticism for Clyde. None mentioned the contributions from the PAC to Cameron’s company. Clyde defeated Gurtler in the runoff election.
Metric Media sites present themselves as neutral sources of local news, thanks to the predominance of algorithmically created local content. At the same time, the sites rely on non-local writers who produce articles, including stories with an undisclosed political agenda or that present possible conflicts of interest that are not disclosed.
Therefore, NewsGuard has determined that sites in the network do not gather and present information responsibly.
When NewsGuard reviewed Metric Media’s Michigan websites in October 2019, CEO Bradley Cameron said in an email: “We also have no interest in failing models that are too expensive because they rely on ‘local’ reporters instead of just reporting local facts (which can be gathered from anywhere more affordably via phone calls, emails, and data searches). In our model, we don’t care which of our reporters writes a story, only that it is fact-based and accurate.”
In an October 2019 statement, Cameron told NewsGuard: “We also don’t seek to exercise editorial control, so my engagements with other corporations, political leaders, and others is not a conflict, it is why I was retained.”
Because the sites in the network do not disclose a political orientation yet predominantly promote conservative policies and principles, NewsGuard has determined that the sites do not handle the difference between news and opinion responsibly.
Metric Media CEO Bradley Cameron told NewsGuard in an October 2019 email that the network does not have a political agenda. “We have no interest in partisan political reporting and believe partisan media is ineffective and in decline — plus, we are a 501(c)3, so must remain strictly non-partisan,” he said, referring to the Metric Media Foundation.
Metric Media sites do not state a corrections policy, and NewsGuard did not find corrections on the sites.
In August 2020, NewsGuard sent two emails to Cameron and three to the Metric Media Foundation’s press line, inquiring about Metric Media sites’ editorial practices, their approach to corrections, and their handling of opinion, but did not receive a response.
Metric Media sites with About Us pages describe their ownership by Metric Media and licensing agreement with the Metric Media Foundation — although the sites do not list any of the foundation’s donors. The sites also do not disclose possible conflicts of interest involving CEO Bradley Cameron.
Because these potential conflicts of interest created by the work of the sites’ CEO are not disclosed on Metric Media sites, and because the sites do not disclose any donors to the foundation that funds the sites, NewsGuard has determined that the sites in the network do not meet the standard for disclosing information about ownership and financing.
The sites in the network do not disclose information about their editorial leaders or content creators. Some stories are attributed to authors, but no biographical or contact information is provided.
Display advertising on the sites is distinguishable from editorial content. However, as noted above, Metric Media sites have published stories that appear to be paid for by a political action committee but which are not labeled as advertisements or paid political content. Therefore, NewsGuard has determined that the sites do not clearly label advertisements.
NewsGuard sent two emails to Cameron and three to the Metric Media Foundation’s press line, inquiring about the sites’ transparency practices, but did not receive a response.
Metric Media was created in March 2019, according to Texas state business registration records. The company expanded and claims to be “the largest producer of local news content in the nation,” according to the Metric Media Foundation website.
Locality Labs, the company that appears to provide the technology to automate Metric Media stories, has a history of violating journalistic norms. According to Security and Exchange Commission records and to the Columbia Journalism Review’s December 2019 report, Locality Labs became the new name of a company called Journatic, which Brian Timpone founded in 2008. Journatic offered “hyperlocal” stories, similar to Metric Media, to publications throughout the U.S, including the Chicago Tribune, The Houston Chronicle, and The San Francisco Chronicle.
In 2012, an investigation by public radio program This American Life and reporting by other news organizations revealed that the company had outsourced the “hyperlocal” stories to overseas contractors in the Philippines, relied on fake bylines, and took content from other sites without credit. Timpone told The San Francisco Chronicle that stories with fake bylines were limited to real estate stories, and said the use of fake bylines “was an oversight and mistake but hardly malicious.”
Editor’s Note: This Nutrition Label was updated on Aug. 20, 2020, to reflect that upon further review, NewsGuard has determined that the site does not meet the standard for distinguishing advertising from editorial content. The criteria checklist has been adjusted accordingly.
Written by: Kendrick McDonald
Edited by: Eric Effron
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Ownership and Financing
- Texas Business records: https://opencorporates.com/companies/us_tx/0803269971
- IRS: https://apps.irs.gov/app/eos/displayAll.do?dispatchMethod=displayAllInfo&Id=12153266&ein=833525020&country=US&deductibility=all&dispatchMethod=searchAll&isDescending=false&city=&ein1=833525020&postDateFrom=&exemptTypeCode=al&submitName=Search&sortColumn=orgName&totalResults=1&names=&resultsPerPage=25&indexOfFirstRow=0&postDateTo=&state=All+States
- August 2020 Press Release: https://mountvernonnews.com/local-news/2020/08/02/mount-vernon-news-under-new-leadership/
- CJR 2020 investigation: https://www.cjr.org/analysis/as-election-looms-a-network-of-mysterious-pink-slime-local-news-outlets-nearly-triples-in-size.php
- CJR 2019 investigation: https://www.cjr.org/tow_center_reports/hundreds-of-pink-slime-local-news-outlets-are-distributing-algorithmic-stories-conservative-talking-points.php
- Locality Labs: https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1548647/000154864713000004/xslFormDX01/primary_doc.xml
- CEO Bradley Cameron: https://www.situationmanagementgroup.com/brad-bio
- Metric Media Foundation: https://bsd.sos.mo.gov/e-commerce/company/search/1589239
- Metric Media Foundation: https://www.metricmedia.org/