The Lenfest Institute and NewsGuard released a study on the state of credibility of California news media late last week. This follows the Pennsylvania Media Trust Report that came out earlier this summer. Here is the punch line; the most trusted source of information, local news, is being compromised by fake media posing as genuine hometown outlets.

In Pennsylvania, 30 percent of the most popular news websites are untrustworthy. According to Lenfest, this includes “local versions of national networks secretly funded by far right-wing and far left-wing groups masquerading as typical local news sites.”

In California, 38 percent of the news sites are actually “partisan operations with undisclosed politically motivated funding sources, serious conflicts of interest, and highly slanted coverage.”

You will love the names of these “chameleon sites,” from the Fresno Leader to the Santa Monica Observer to the Merced Times to the Santa Cruz Standard.

Dozens of these fake sites are run by Metric Media, which runs 1,000 sites nationally, including very partisan coverage on behalf of political campaigns or corporations.

One more stunning statistic; 12 web properties are responsible for two-thirds of the vaccine disinformation.

Here are a few solutions:

  • We must identify the fakers and call this out as propaganda, not news.
  • We need social platforms to raise up authoritative information and de-list the fakes, no matter how much social popularity they are accorded.
  • We need to inoculate the population, to look for quality information and not to share falsehoods.
  • We should have a role for business on issues of comparative advantage. That would include information on vaccination, return to office policies, supply chain or diversity and inclusion.
  • We need to amplify and promote the voices of true experts.

The decline in trust in media is a function of partisan politics, the stress on the business model and the continued demonization of the sector as biased and elitist. Ultimately, we can only run a functioning democracy and vibrant private sector if there is quality information that enables proper decisions at the polls and in the workplace.

Richard Edelman is CEO.