November 29, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — A Democrat strategist and founder of a political activist organization has helped launch a new media company hosting digital “local newspapers” aimed at influencing key swing-state voters in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, according to a Bloomberg report.
Tara McGowan, founder of “a nonprofit digital strategy group that organizes progressives online to vote and volunteer” is reportedly “raising $25 million from a host of wealthy liberals to establish a for-profit media company, Courier Newsroom, that has already started rolling out digital newspapers with local reporters and editors in six key swing states — Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.”
The report explains that the idea is to create digital news articles that appear as though they come from an ordinary local newspaper, when in fact that “newspaper” has been created with the primary intention to influence voters in elections.
According to the report, the project is motivated by McGowan’s frustration at “her party’s (Democrats) inability to challenge, or even clearly comprehend, Trump’s dominance of the digital landscape -- and the threat it poses to Democrats’ chances in 2020.”
The report states:
“Coming out of the 2016 election, the question she wrestled with was how Democrats can defeat the huge right-wing echo chamber. The answer she’s landed on is that they don’t need to. Hillary Clinton lost because Trump beat her by fewer than 80,000 votes in three critical swing states: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Ousting him in 2020 would probably come down to a similar sliver of voters — so Democrats wouldn’t have to drown out all of the conservatives’ efforts on social media, but only capture and persuade a small portion of strategically situated swing-state voters, to avoid the same fate.”
The report states that since 2004 more than 2,000 newspapers have closed down and also claims that “research has found that American adults consistently rate local news as the most trustworthy source of information”.
So it would appear that as an alternative political strategy, rather than spending money on traditional political advertising, such as television ads or ads on social media platforms such as Facebook, McGowan is pushing her partisan political aims through a series of digital “local newspapers.”
The report explains:
“(N)othing alerts readers that Courier publications aren’t actually traditional hometown newspapers but political instruments designed to get them to vote for Democrats. And although the articles are made to resemble ordinary news, their purpose isn’t primarily to build a readership for the website: It’s for the pieces to travel individually through social media, amplifying their influence with persuadable voters.”
Speaking of the initiative, McGowan concedes that “(a) lot of people I respect will see this media company as an affront to journalistic integrity because it won’t, in their eyes, be balanced … (w)hat I say to them is, (b)alance does not exist anymore, unfortunately.”
The report highlights the fact that McGowan’s Virginia “local newspaper” the Dogwood includes a mixture of Virginia politics and policy stories alongside local news stories such as “Dogwood Dog of the Week.” According to the report, “(t)o McGowan, emulating the homespun, hyperlocal style of the fast-vanishing small-town newspaper is important for building familiarity and trust.”
The report makes clear that the focus of Courier “newspapers” is not attempting to build their reputation among the general population of the areas that they cover -- but rather they are strategically investing in targeting the “80,000 swing-state voters Clinton was missing.” The report explains that McGowan is “using her sizable war chest and digital advertising savvy to pay to have her articles placed into the Facebook feeds of swing state users she’s identified as most likely to respond to them, then using that feedback to find more people like them. In digital advertising, this is known as “building a custom audience.”
The report describes a strategy focused on targeting specific people and influencing the way those people act at election time. Facebook has a history of such actions -- it would seem that the difference in this instance is that a series of “local newspapers” have been created by a centralized body to take advantage of the trust placed in such sources. As media analyst and political commentator Mark Dice has pointed out in his book The Liberal Media Industrial Complex:
Facebook has admitted conducting several experiments on users to test how well they could manipulate people by making changes to what they see in their news feeds. In 2010, they toyed with 60 million people’s newsfeeds to see if they could increase voter turnout in the midterm election that year and concluded they were able to get an extra 340,000 people to the polls.
On their own website, they bragged about a case study that found that “Facebook as a market research tool and as a platform for ad saturation can be used to change public opinion in any political campaign.”
The Bloomberg report describes the way McGowan and Courier are using Facebook to push news stories to particular individuals:
Instead of boosting a news article on Facebook as a one-off promotion, as the presidential candidates are doing, McGowan and Courier will continually gather data on interested readers, which Facebook — for a price — will use to find more of them. “Everybody who clicks on, likes, or shares an article,” says McGowan, “we get that data back to create a lookalike audience to find other people with similar attributes in the same area. So we continually grow our ability to find people.” What’s more, it’s suddenly clear that targeting voters through the guise of a media company could provide an important edge over other methods. Last week, Google imposed tight restrictions on microtargeting political ads, and Facebook is weighing similar measures. But because Courier Newsroom is a for-profit media company, McGowan says those restrictions wouldn’t apply.”
This would seem to suggest that restrictions may be placed on ads that are either openly or deemed to be political ads from using social media to target particular groups of people, whereas the sort of disguised political lobbying to which McGowan freely admits will be permitted.
The report goes on to describe the recent Virginia state elections, which saw a sweeping victory for pro-abortion Democrats, as a “trial run” for McGowan’s project. The report notes that “(a)ccording to Facebook, the Dogwood spent about $275,000 on Facebook ads through election week” with the result being that “its articles trended on election day, were shared by a number of Democratic elected officials, and made their way into the feeds of thousands of Virginians, both organically and through paid promotions.”
McGowan would appear to be reasonably pleased with the Bloomberg report, having pinned it to the top of her Twitter page, albeit with a proposed alternative headline. She posted a link to the article along with the suggestion that “Progressive Nonprofit Invests in Local News Startup to Counter Misinformation with Facts + Promote Civic Participation Where Voters Get Their Information Online” would have been a more accurate headline.
“Progressive Nonprofit Invests in Local News Startup to Counter Misinformation with Facts + Promote Civic Participation Where Voters Get Their Information Online” would be a slightly more accurate, albeit far less click-baity headline, @business ����♀️https://t.co/aP1K81Bav4— Tara McGowan (@taraemcg) November 26, 2019
She did not, however, dispute any of the assertions made in the article and the focus of her political agenda is made strikingly plain in the personal description on her Twitter profile, which reads “founder/ceo of @anotheracronym working to get Trump TFO.” “TFO” is an acronym for “the f**k out.”
The “About page” of her non-profit organization, Acronmyn, is open that “is a values-driven organization focused on advancing progressive causes through innovative communications, advertising and organizing programs.” And while the Courier’s “About” page claims that “(f)acts and firsthand sources are our north star,” it is worth bearing in mind that McGowan is happy to tweet rhetorical assertions such as “(t)here is truth and there is Trump.”
It remains unclear to what degree of political impact, if any, the Dogwood campaign had in the Virginia elections or what impact such organizations may have over the course of the next year. What is clear is that the media and digital landscape in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election will be significantly altered from 2016.
Regardless of whether or not one sympathizes with McGowan’s own political or worldview,
In an era of “fake news” and media manipulation, many will agree with McGowan that “(m)isinformation not only runs rampant but is now being condoned by the most powerful social media platform in the world.”