The articles and Facebook ad dollars look like the efforts of a run-of-the-mill political group. But they are actually from a news outlet: CourierNewsroom.com, also known as Courier, which was created and funded by the Democratic-aligned digital organization Acronym. Courier has spent over $1.4 million on Facebook ads this election cycle, mostly to promote its flattering articles and videos about more than a dozen endangered House Democrats at the top of the Democratic Party’s priority list this November, according to Facebook’s political ad tracker.
But because Courier is organized as a media outlet, it does not have to disclose its donors or the total money it spends promoting Democratic politicians.
The $1.4 million in Facebook ads is likely just a fraction of the money behind the Courier project, which includes a newsroom of at least 25 people and eight separate websites with content often focused on local issues in presidential swing states. But this activity — creating an unregulated advertising stream promoting Democratic officeholders, more akin to a PAC than a newsroom — diverges from other partisan news outlets that are proliferating online as local newspapers struggle.
And in setting up the enterprise, Acronym — which is financed by some of the deepest pockets in progressive politics, such as liberal billionaires Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, and Laurene Powell Jobs, the majority owner of The Atlantic — has stirred outrage and provoked debate about the ethics of such political tactics and the future of the press.