In no way am I suggesting you give these people the time of day, but a website called the Houston Leader appeared on our radar this week. If you go to Google and type the words “Houston Leader,” we’re the first one you’ll find – probably because we’re 63 years old and have been trusted for as long as we’ve been in business. We’re also the second result for that search.
But coming in at a whopping No. 3 on the list is houstonleader.com, and because Google ranks them so high, you know they must be a legitimate operation, right? They sure sound like it.
According to their website, “Houston Leader is Houston’s most trusted source for local news,” they proclaim. “With a focus on local content, the Leader thrives to maintain a non-partisan newsroom making our content the most reliable source available in print and across the web.”
I’m not sure you can argue with a news organization that throws around the words “reliable” and “trusted” these days.
Houston Leader’s first story cited a 30-year-old scientific study that said people living on a vegan diet were more likely to struggle from mental illness. Personally, I’d get a little ill if I had to forgo pulled pork the rest of my life, but that’s beside the point. Remember, this is the most trusted source for local news. So local, in fact, that I started receiving emails from all over the world about this vegan study.
A British rabbi sent me a note suggesting I should check the veracity of the scientific study we irresponsibly published.
“An article being circulated by the Houston Leader on vegan diets on Facebook quotes the ‘Council for Dietary Research and Improvement,’ an organization which doesn’t seem to exist when Googled,” Rabbi Pertz wrote to me. “…The entire article would seem to be a case of mis-reporting on a serious topic with serious health implications for many of your vegan readers.”
First of all, how does Rabbi Pertz know our vegan reader population? That’s confidential information.
The Houston Leader’s next trusted, local story was a bang-up piece of investigative journalism on the Trump White House sending PED-laced drinking water to the New England Patriots right before kickoff of Super Bowl LI.
Now I know there’s a swelling movement to see President Trump impeached three weeks into his administration, but don’t you think this is a set-up? Somebody else sent the Patriots their PED water.
The stories get even more trusted and local. There’s a story on a local teenager who started making huge profits – $4,900 a month, to be exact – by starting his own food delivery business. Other than the fact that Papa Johns has really upped their wages, I read about this “local” teenager, who attends Western Lakes High School.
Did you know there’s not a single school in all of America called Western Lakes? Have these editors at the Houston Leader even been to Houston? Don’t they know the two western lake areas of this city are called Humble and Montgomery?
When we get to the end of 2017 and talk about all the catch-phrases of the past 12 months, my guess is we’ll all remember those precious months when we pointed our finger at every headline and called it “Fake News.”
I’m sure the good folks at the Houston Leader would take offense at such a description, and so do I. Fake news is not new. The National Enquirer was founded in 1926. It became a sensational tabloid in 1953, exactly one year before The Leader (the real Leader) published its first edition.
At its peak, the Enquirer had 6 million subscribers – a lot of people once paid for “fake news.” These days, they only have about 1 million subscribers.
But the Enquirer isn’t the only semi-phony publication out there, and some of the top selling, grocery-store magazines are filled with all kinds of rubbish that people pay hard-earned money to read.
While we’ve always tended to keep our guilty reading in the grocery store aisles, we’re obviously in a new era of media and pop-up sites like the Houston Leader are the perfect example. They take advantage of people who will read anything just because it appears online. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not; it makes for interesting banter.
I have no problem with that (except when they start linking their idiotic stories to our website, taking advantage of our hard-earned name). My problem is that legitimate, respected news sources like the Houston Chronicle are following the trend.
No kidding, near the top of the Chronicle’s website this week was a headline (and subsequent photo/video gallery) that read: “Challenge: Try not to laugh at these cat videos.”
That’s the most important thing for people to read about Houston that day? One day after the Super Bowl left this wonderful city?
The business model, in case you’re wondering, is to get as many people as possible to click on different pages of a website. Every click means a couple of pennies, and those pennies add up to real dollars (with very little effort).
My problem isn’t with fake news sites like the Houston Leader. My problem is that real news – the real local, trusted news we once relied upon to make decisions – has followed the way of the vegan diets and their mental illnesses. Nothing, not even integrity, is beyond grasping for a few extra website views.
So in case there’s any confusion, we are not the Houston Leader, and we will never publish stories that don’t matter to the Heights, Oak Forest, Garden Oaks and the neighborhoods of North Houston. We may go down in a blaze of real journalism glory, but we’ll never revert to tactics of pretending to be something we’re not. Just ask the Russians.