I got an unsolicited email from an online news site offering to run a story on my client in exchange for answering a few questions:
- What is your organization's background?
- How has it changed over time?
- What are its main products and services?
- Who are some of its biggest customers and how did the company attract them?
- How does your organization differentiate itself from its competition?
- What are your organization's biggest challenges?
- What are Your organization's plans for the future?
- Could you please include two or three images (or could we have permission to reprint images from your website) to run with the story?
- Who should we attribute these answers to?
I chuckled at the audaciousness of the request, and then it occurred to me. While sites that live on "contributed" material aren't legitimate news sources, they're flourishing like unchaperoned bunnies on a summer picnic.
For a lot of flacks, these sites are easy publicity. They're another hit to include in the coverage report and repost on the company's web site. It doesn't matter that nobody's ever heard of the source, as long as it sounds good.
For the online news sites, it's easy profit by selling click-through advertising on web pages stuffed with free content. Beats having a newsroom full of reporters demanding paychecks and office furniture.
In the end everybody's making money on one of the Internet's most disingenuous contributions to the information age: Publicity masquerading as journalism masquerading as news media.