Why a New Industry-Sponsored Fake News Section in the Denver Post Threatens the Newspaper’s Reputation

Apr 11, 2014

By Center for Western Priorities

Even the most seasoned Denver Post readers can be fooled by a new advertising ploy from oil and gas front group Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED), in which fake, industry-sponsored news stories are being published as part of a special “Energy and Environment” section on the newspaper’s website.

Each CRED-authored story uses the same font and layout as real Denver Post articles from real Denver Post reporters, undoubtedly attempting to pass CRED’s message off as real news. But, it’s not. It’s yet another paid effort that CRED is using to validate its now-dwindling credibility.

CRED is no stranger to promoting its message through paid advertising, as can be seen by the television, radio, online, and bus advertisements that the group has been running since its inception in September 2013. This time, the ad on Denver Post‘s website boasts “news” about oil and gas development in the state, when really, the group is just peddling its own version of facts. In the “Energy and Environment” section on the Denver Post’s website, CRED’s advertorial features several stories on natural gas exports, local control amendments, and other energy issues Coloradans have been following for months.

The Denver Post has been a leader in journalism in Colorado for more than a century, and nets over eight million online visitors each month. It’s a prominent and trusted news source for land and energy news in the West. The people who sell the ads and make these business decisions are letting down the newsroom and compromising the paper’s mission. Advertising is, of course, crucial to newspapers’ existence, but there is a line that has been crossed.

The Denver Post has the responsibility to recognize this line, and ensure that advertising is clearly separated from journalistic content. “Sponsored content,” like the CRED ads, have drawn scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission, which is responsible for protecting consumers from deceptive advertising practices. Some news outlets have even removed sponsored content after outrage from readers—the Atlantic, for example, admitted that it “screwed up” after running a Church of Scientology ad that caused public outcry.

The Denver Post has made an error in judgment. The paper should immediately pull the fake news section and provide readers with a clear explanation of how this won’t happen again.