Safeguarding Against Pink Slime

The vacuum created by the collapse of local news is being filled in part by hundreds of “pink slime” websites. 

Pink Slime websites claim to be covering local news using professional standards but are not. Some create content using algorithms without having any local reporters or hire people in the Philippines to don fake bylines for U.S. community news. Some are financed by political money (both from the left and the right), running articles supporting a politician of a particular party, without disclosing their political or partisan backing.  Some offer a “pay for play” system,” in effect running press releases without disclosing that they’re paid for. Some scrape content from other sites without permission. 

They are a mix of for-profit sites, 501c4 organizations, groups funded by PACs or 527 groups, and some 501c3 nonprofits.

The most effective way to stop the spread of pink slime is to strengthen local news. But that needs to be done in a way that doesn’t inadvertently help some of these sites

So the local news payroll tax credit was carefully constructed to both bolster real local news sites and exclude most bad-faith actors. But this was done without requiring the government to make scores of subjective judgments. It must be done in a way that protects the First Amendment.

The bill requires:

  1. The news organization must employ at least one full time local reporter, residing within the geographic area
  2. It cannot be controlled or get more than half of it funding from a 527 organization
  3. It cannot be controlled or get more than half of its money from a 501c4 organization
  4. It must carry media liability insurance
  5. It must disclose it’s ownership

Our analysis is that these will filter out most pink slimes sites, without requiring the government to make judgments about the quality or nature of the content created.