**Originally we were planning on breaking down all of the data we collected but it was just too big for one column so we will probably be doing a follow-up**
It has now been 2 years since the Signal exchanged hands, and at the time questions swirled on what this would mean for the troubled media outlet. There were some people that felt optimistic that the new local owners could bring the Signal back to its former glory, others not as optimistic.
Then last December the Signal released a column entitled “A pledge for civic engagement” where they pledged the do better for the community stating “For nearly 98 years The Signal has provided news and information in the Santa Clarita Valley, telling readers what’s going on and how it affects their lives. Today we commit to take it to a new level, providing enhanced opportunities for education on issues, to engage in active problem-solving and to work for a solution at the grassroots level.”
It has been a year since the Signal made this pledge and Right on SCV wanted to see how they did, So we took it upon ourselves to collect data on the Signal’s 2017 reporting especially in regards to political reporting. We analyzed over 200 articles on topics ranging from Veterans issues to Health Care. In an effort of full transparency, we have provided the data of our findings for anyone that would like to go over it. We will make some provable observation and some undeniable claims.
We will start with some positive takeaways. It is clear based on the amount of content produced that the Signal cares about Veteran issues. It is unclear if their Director of Veteran Affairs is a paid or volunteer position which would tell us if the Signal is willing to put some budget behind the Veteran stories.
Another positive which isn’t necessarily a commentary on the Signal per say but more a commentary on Santa Clarita as a community is that SCV, in general, loves their feel-good police and firefighter stories. Nearly every positive story about law enforcement taking down bad guys or firefighters keep the valley safe had hundreds of legitimate social media shares. We also learned from our research that the vast majority of the community generally does not share local political stories.
Now you might have just asked yourself why we would add the word “legitimate” before social media shares in that last paragraph? We phrased it this way because we recently learned that the Signal adds fake shares to SOME political stories.
How do we know this?
The Signal’s website uses a WordPress plugin called MashShare which is a social media sharing plugin that is inspired by the tech blog Mashable. Now Mashshare has a setting that allows a site to add Fake shares to all of the articles, but we don’t believe that the Signal uses this feature because there seems to be some sort of method to which article they try to make appear with ridiculously inflated share numbers.
Looking at the support documentation for MashShare we learn that the plugin is built on a service called SharedCount.com.
“Sharedcount.com is using public available API services of the social networks which deliver only the number of shares for a specific webpage. Sharedcount.com is not able to see who shared anything, only how often.”*
What this means in layman’s terms is that any person can copy and paste any URL into sharedcount.com and get a real number of how many times that URL has been legitimately shared on Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin, and Stumbleupon.
Sorry Signal people don’t care about Columbus day and Logan Smith running for city council as much as you would like them too.
Feel free to test it out yourself
Just pick a link on the Signal’s website like here, here or here for example and then copy the Url that is in the top browser bar and paste into the box on the box on Sharedcount.com and click analyze URL. It will give you instant results.
Right on SCV was able to replicate the process of manually adding fake shares on to individual articles. We did this by installing a default wordpress and mashshare and then modify one number in a database table.
So what is the big deal?
Well normally fake shares, followers, and likes aren’t that big of a deal it is just more embarrassing than anything else but in the Signals case there are a few issues but the biggest is that they sell advertising on this site. Sales are usually based on traffic, reads, shares and so on. If ads are being sold based on inflated numbers then the Signal would have an integrity issue. If they are selling advertising based on actual numbers only seen or expressed to the advertisers then no foul! This might also call into question the traffic and other statistics of The Signal’s website.
Another part of why it matters goes back to what we alluded to early in that they seem to have a pretty clear pattern to the articles that they choose to add fake shares to. Of the articles, that we would classify as positive for democrats which included articles about Caforio, Hill, Stern, Logan Smith, Greenway, Phoenix and Christy Smith compared to positive articles written about Republicans which included Knight, Knight, Wilk, and Miranda.
Of the 52 Positive democrat articles the Signal added 10,467 fake shares on to the articles for an average of 201 fake likes per article while of the 105 Positive Republican articles the Signal added 4,862 fake shares for an average of about 46 per article. Of the 59 negative Republican articles, the Signal added 3,235 fake stories shares for an average of 55 fake shares per article.
Now when it comes to negative articles we were unable to find a single negative article written about democrats. Stern voted for Sanctuary State and the very unpopular gas tax that caused a successful recall effort against Josh Newman and not a peep from the signal about it. Democrats even unethically changed the rules for Recall elections and still nothing. Julie Olsen wished death upon the parent of Saugus Union student and called another constituent a C*** and this wasn’t newsworthy but Joe Messina’s comment that democrats at Congressman Knight’s town hall acted like a “Bunch of 17 year old spoiled brats” was news worthy enough to add 279 fake shares to the article? The Signal then bends over backward to spin Julie Olsen’s flimsy apology into a good light, perhaps the Signal was a little embarrassed that they just gave this woman an award?
Regardless of whether you are politically minded or not, having a local paper that is full of leftist activist journalists trying to push one agenda over another is not something that Santa Clarita should embrace. With all the outrage about “fake news” since the 2016 election cycle, it is more important than ever that we demand better from ALL news sources including our local news outlets.
If you are a subscriber or an advertiser of The Signal, you should ask yourself if this is the type of organization that you want to support with your money or at very least call them (661-259-1000) and demand that they start covering the local news without bias.