Loosely Rewritten (If That) Copy From a Cigarette Company On Examiner.com: Insert Quip About 'The Future of Journalism' Here

Categories: Health, Media
Cigarette ad.jpg
Where there's smoke, there's ... more shenanigans from Examiner.com
The other day, thanks to Google Alerts, I stumbled across an Examiner.com article about the Top-10 places to meet men in San Francisco. This isn't a need for me personally -- and I feel for the woman who resorts to surreptitiously chatting up would-be suitors at Giants games or sporting goods stores. Still, it was a cute enough little piece and certainly seemed to be written by the person whose name adorned the article.

In other words, it was not a batch of thinly veiled tripe put out by, say, a dating Web site -- and promoting that dating Web site over other dating Web sites. Sadly, considering the seeming lack of oversight (or knowledge of journalistic norms among contributors) at the Examiner.com site, as well as their anything-for-a-click ethos, that's what we'd expect to see. And, lo and behold, less than a minute of searching found us the equivalent.

Last week, apropos of nothing, Sonya Smith -- the "SF Health and Beauty Examiner" cribbed an infomercial masquerading as crap Web content titled "Jose Canseco Endorses Smoking Everywhere (e-cig)." Never mind that no one who doesn't sleep in a room with padded walls would seriously consider admitted steroidal pioneer Canseco's advice on what to put in his or her body; the piece is essentially a cut-and-pasted commercial for one particular brand of electronic cigarette featuring whole paragraphs lifted from other shills (who, in turn, lifted them from the company's propaganda). Based on the links at the bottom of the story, this is at least the third Examiner.com article in which Smith has specifically plugged the Smoke Everywhere cigarette.

While the idea of any cigarette or nicotine delivery device appearing in a "health" column is bizarre, that's just the tip of this iceberg. Take the following paragraph from Smith's "article," which reads as if it should be bellowed by a pomade-headed, overly chipper 1960s-era British spokesman wearing a red jacket and tan pants:

Smoking Everywhere Electronic Cigarette looks like, feels like and tastes like a traditional cigarette but it's anything but a traditional cigarette! It's just a much better way to smoke! It is a non-flammable product that uses state of the art cutting-edge micro-electronic technology which provides smokers a real smoking experience without the fire, flame, tobacco, tar, carbon monoxide, ash, stub or smell found in real cigarettes. Smoking Everywhere E-Cigarette offers smokers a much healthier way and the freedom to smoke everywhere, and a brilliant, unique way to work on quitting the unhealthy habit for good!
This is not the stuff of Beckett or Joyce -- but it is almost certainly someone else's copy. This paragraph appears, verbatim, here, at the LA's The Place.com Web site, in a February story about Grammy gift baskets -- three months before Smith's piece on Examiner.com. And that paragraph was just a very loosely re-written version of Smoking Everywere's PR material (though it warrants mentioning that at least the cigarette company was honest -- or legally compelled -- enough to mention that the device's lithium battery just might blow up in your mouth).

A number of questions swirl to mind, the first of which is, What the hell is going on here? Smith writes on her page she is not being paid for her e-commercial, she's simply passing along a recommendation for a product she likes (while linking directly to the company's online sales page). This brings to mind a Groucho Marx quip from the movie Monkey Business; searching for a kidnapped heiress, he shouts to the baddie, "Have you got a girl in that hayloft?" When the mug yells "no," Groucho replies "You're a bigger fool than I thought."

The larger question is, what the hell is going on with Examiner.com? Earlier this month we wrote about how one of the site's Los Angeles freelancers decided to write utter nonsense in order to generate page views (that's how these freelancers earn their pay) and wasn't stopped until lawyers' letters rolled in. SF Weekly's Matt Smith previously reported on what appeared to be gratuitous plagiarism on the site.   

This appears to be how it goes when you hire vast swaths of folks unfamiliar with what is or isn't ethical journalism (or, perhaps, willfully ignorant), pay them per Web click, and apparently offer absolutely no oversight when it comes to proactively maintaining above-board behavior.

Having people work for free is an attractive business model -- Simon Legree could tell you that. And it appears to be the wave of the future: While the Chronicle continues to show experienced, professional journalists the door, whole zip codes are now apparently counted within the paper's endlessly expanding "City Brights" blog pages.

For professional journalists, this leaves a bitter taste in our mouths (unlike, say, the coffee-flavored e-cig). The market has once again told us to put it in our electric cigarette cartridges and smoke it.
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