A growing number of conservative groups are bankrolling startup news organizations around the country, aggressively covering government and politics at a time when newspapers are cutting back their statehouse bureaus.
The phenomenon troubles some longtime journalists and media watchdogs, who worry about political biases and hidden agendas.
The news outlets have sprouted in larger numbers in recent months to fill a void created by the downsizing of traditional statehouse coverage and to win over readers, including those from the tea party movement who don't trust the local paper or the TV news.
"Our state Capitol used to be bustling with the media," said Matthew Brouillette, president of the Harrisburg, Pa.-based Commonwealth Foundation, whose news outlet, the Pennsylvania Independent, went live in January. "Now, you can swing a dead cat and not hit anybody in the state Capitol newsroom."
The news outlets usually receive their money from right-leaning, free-market organizations. Idahoreporter.com, for example, is funded by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a think tank that has barraged local governments with public records requests since last year in an effort to expose waste.
Similar news operations are now in place in Washington state, Michigan, South Carolina, Montana, Wyoming, Florida, West Virginia, Arizona, Missouri, Maryland, Nebraska, Illinois, Texas, Tennessee, Ohio and elsewhere.
The outlets publish almost exclusively on the Internet and usually look like traditional news sites. For example, the front page of Idahoreporter.com recently featured stories about proposed tax increases, higher park fees, a labor report, and the funding of a college scholarship program. The lead stories all had accompanying graphics and photos; some stories have video.
Journalism watchdogs say they have not noticed any obvious slant in the coverage. But some of these news organizations have been barred from capitol press corps because of rules that forbid lobbyists from membership.
And there are fears that these organizations are trying to advance a certain agenda by the stories they decide to cover — even if the articles themselves are unbiased...read on
More and more of these sites will pop up and appear to be MSM type news websites, but actually are propaganda arms for conservatives. It's the Fox model. Be afraid. Be very afraid.