The Central Basin Water District--a public agency that serves more than two million L.A. County residents--is paying nearly $200,000 in tax payer money to ensure that Google News searches associated with their department display positive results.
The Los Angeles Times reported that, in an ethically questionable PR move, Central Basin hired the New Hawks Review to produce promotional stories "written in the image of real news," as made evident by a document reviewed by the Times.
The News Hawks Review website defines itself as an "Internet News site with up to date news articles...written by experienced and highly knowledgeable staff of reporters and writers." The publication is indexed as a news channel on Google News.
But it appears as though the New Hawks Review is really just a professional looking news site. The Times unveiled that the New Hawks Review is directly affiliated with Coghlan Consulting Group, the communications firm that was hired by Central Basin to promote a positive image.
Central Basin pays Coghlan Consulting Group $11,500 each month in exchange for four news stories and other promotional services. In the agreement with Central Basin, Coghlan names the New Hawks Review as a "member" site, but it is registered to an associate.
Before today, a Google News search of the "Central Basin Water District," "water conservation," or "recycled water" would yield positive media coverage for the department, the Times reports.
It now appears as though Google News has removed articles written by the New Hawks Review. In an ironic twist, a search for the Central Basin Water District on Google News now predominantly displays this story of the department's questionable actions.
Elise Hennigan is a graduate student at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, which has partnered with KCET-TV to produce this blog about policy in Los Angeles.