The Copper Courier in Arizona and the Decatur Times in Alabama both describe themselves as startup news sites helping to fill the void from the decline of local news outlets across the U.S.
In fact, they are both the fruit of partisan efforts to shape the news narrative, from the left and the right, ahead of the 2020 election.
The Copper Courier is part of a network of eight sites launched in battleground states, backed largely by Acronym, a liberal nonprofit with close ties to Democratic donors. Acronym has been building out the network, called Courier Newsroom, over the past 18 months. As of May, the sites had an $11 million budget and aimed to publish around 300 original articles and videos a week that it would promote aggressively on social media, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
Decatur Times is part of Metric Media, a network of sites with ties to well-established Republican donors and operatives, including the head of the GOP small-dollar fundraising operation, according to Federal Election Commission records and people familiar with the matter. Metric Media already has more than 1,000 sites, including many in swing states, that blend right-leaning news stories with news releases and data scraped from public databases.
The digital news landscape is filled with outlets that have a slant on the news. What separates networks like Courier and Metric Media is that they are targeting individual states and cities, hoping to capitalize on readers’ trust in local news sources for information on everything from coronavirus updates to politics. And they are doing that while playing down their partisan interests and often obscuring their donors.