EAST LANSING, Mich. — There are so many places to get news these days.
Whether it's online, through social media or on television, there is no shortage of local and national news options. For some, it's becoming more challenging to spot the difference between objective journalism and political commentary.
Now dozens of websites in Michigan are popping up under the guise of local news, making it even harder. The Lansing State Journal first reported on these news sites that cover many areas in Michigan, including The Lansing Sun or the Grand Rapids Reporter.
"It certainly sounds like it's supposed to be a local newspaper," said Dr. Matt Grossmann, Michigan State University's Director for the Institute of Public Policy and Social Research. "It looked like there was a network and there was about 37 different sites with different Michigan geographic locations."
These websites all appear to be local news outlets and Grossmann first saw it advertised on Facebook.
"In combination with it being advertised on Facebook, it's unnerving because it could seem like a news source and a local news source for people to be confused about," Grossmann said.
But fortunately Grossmann knows what to look out for when reading stories online.
"These folks seemed to have gone out of their way to make it look like this was an unbiased and a local source rather than a political, national conservative source," Grossmann said.
He noticed some of the information was in fact local and came from other websites.
"But when you get to the politics or the local government, they're pretty clearly from a conservative political perspective," Grossmann said. "I saw that they had taken some data from a news source that's affiliated with a Michigan conservative think tank."
While it's acceptable to have news that comes from different political perspectives, the essential aspect is transparency. And these news sites are not divulging their political bent. 13 ON YOUR SIDE reached out to Metric Media, the company the websites claim to be a part of. However the contact page is blank.
"It didn't appear to be an outlet that was trying to make money or sell ads or adhere to any journalism standards. It seemed more like an effort to influence the political debate," Grossmann said.
He believes people already have a hard time distinguishing real journalism from commentary.
"That means that if people encounter these kinds of stories they may think 'well this is no more biased than any other news source,'" Grossmann said.
These sites all appear to be formatted the same and appear to cover local news.
"It is concerning that people may not know how to evaluate the sources of information that they're seeing," Grossmann said.
That concept is exactly why he stresses that voters do their research, which can be tricky.
"None of these stories were blatantly false. They're relying on real information but they certainly came from a conservative perspective," Grossmann said.
It's important to remember that all news has to come from somewhere.
"You're not getting your news from Facebook or the internet generally, someone wrote it and it's useful to figure out who that is," Grossmann said.
Grossman says generally, legitimate websites will clearly mention whether they're reporting from a liberal or conservative perspective. However, the news sites he came across claim to be approaching the news in an objective fashion.
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