"Central Basin Water District pays for positive stories by a firm that Google considers a news site. Officials call it innovation, but open government advocates fear it blurs the line between news and publicity."
"Readers who type 'Central Basin Municipal Water District' into Google News get a series of upbeat articles.
One story hails the benefits of Central Basin's new recycled water system. Another piece praises the agency's legal battle over groundwater rights. Others catalog the successes of its conservation programs.
What the average reader doesn't know is that Central Basin is paying nearly $200,000 in taxpayer money for the glowing coverage. In a highly unusual move, the water district hired a consultant to produce promotional stories 'written in the image of real news,' according to agreements reviewed by The Times.
The articles appear on a professional-looking news website called News Hawks Review. The site is indexed on Google News, carries its own advertisements and boasts an 'experienced and highly knowledgeable' staff of editors and reporters. But records show it is directly affiliated with a corporate communications firm under contract with Central Basin."