SWNS – the click-bait news factory?

SWNS – the click-bait news factory?

This piece sort of follows on from two articles I wrote last year where I lamented the quality of local news websites which have become nothing more than never-ending streams of ‘click-bait’ for the sole purpose of delivering advertising. If you haven’t already, you can read those below, to save me repeating myself again!

The other day I came across the following article on the Birmingham Mail website, and a similar version also appeared on the BBC News website.

Couple who hadn’t paid for gas in 18 years shocked to receive £11k bill

After initially reading the Birmingham Mail article, I found this story a bit suspect – after all, its not usually difficult to find out who your energy provider is when you move into a new property, but that’s all another story now.

It was pointed out on Twitter (or X or whatever it is called now) by some eagle-eyed users that this same couple also appeared in a different news story the previous month.

Same couple it seems, from Tamworth again, here’s a link to the article from the Stoke Sentinel website (another Reach site!)

Royal Mail threatens to boycott this Staffordshire home – because of cat Ernie

Is that why they never got their letters from the gas supplier? Definitely maybe.

Crass comments aside, what is interesting is that in both articles, supposedly several weeks apart, the photos used show this couple wearing exactly the same clothes, and posing in the same place in their kitchen, though obviously with and without the cat.

The question being asked by many people is “is this fake news?” I’ve seen the term ‘crisis actors’ been used, which I think is a bit strong as there’s no immediate ‘crisis’ being pushed in either article. But it would seem to me that this couple, whoever they really are, might just be actors who have been paid to pose for a series of photos to be used in news articles.

The next question then is “why would anyone do this?” Well, money and attention is usually a good starting point. I would question whether this is actually a real couple from Tamworth, though both articles use the same names for consistency, I find it strange that they would appear in the news twice in the space of five weeks, in totally different stories. What are the odds?

The next thing that intrigued me was that the photo copyright credits were given to South-West News Service / SWNS. I’d never heard of this outfit before, and my first impression was it was some ‘south-west’ based agency (Devon, Cornwall, Somerset etc), and in which case why would they have credit for a photo of a couple from Staffordshire? (a Midlands county if you’re unaware)

So a quick Google search led me to the SWNS website, and suddenly it looked like I had found all my answers!

SWNS discovers, creates, and distributes amazing content that will captivate your audience!

Our premium content offering drives huge audiences across digital, broadcast, social and print for large media brands across the globe.

Our live feed of original and verified stories has become a must-have resource, powering media outlets around the world.

Original journalism, national and international syndication partnerships, and user-generated content. ​

Our digital-first approach means everything we do is image-led, attention-grabbing and engaging

SWNS generates hundreds of pieces of original content each day using digital tools, on-the-ground journalists, and user input.

SWNS has a team dedicated to unearthing exclusive one-off content, helping clients set themselves apart from the competition

​All of our content is verified and rights-cleared, giving publishers the peace of mind that content is fact-checked and legally safe​.

Now all of that may sound nice and fantastic on the surface, but my first impression with the cynical mind that I have is that this company is nothing more than a ‘click-bait factory’, churning out ‘content’ for news media sites (to fill in the gaps between the adverts obviously!)

If you’ve ever wondered why some ‘odd’ news stories suddenly ‘go viral’, or find themselves on all news websites, now I think you have an idea how this happens.

Take a look at their ‘latest work‘ and you’ll recognise the ‘style’.

SWNS is part of the SWNS Media Group and a cursory look on their website just convinces me more that this is what is wrong with news media nowadays, and where so much of the ‘content’ that appears on local news websites comes from.

Yes, they can bandy around phrases like “verified”, “fact-checked” and “legally safe”, but you do have to wonder how much of their ‘content’ is just being generated or ‘churned-out’ just to satisfy the demand from news websites.

Is it also not beyond the realms of possibility that characters such as “Lee and Jo from Tamworth” can just be ‘created’ to flesh out ‘fake’ news stories that never actually happened?

The trouble with ‘modern journalists’ employed by the various Reach Plc publications is that they are no doubt under pressure to meet a quota of articles, so are very likely to turn to ‘oven-ready’ news stories provided by organisations such as SWNS, and they will happy ‘regurgitate’ them without question, even if they are suspicious or fake.

Gone are the days when newspapers employed ‘roving reporters’ down on the ground who went looking for local news stories and did their own investigations and enquiries.

It’s far easier now to just sit at your desk in an office – or even at home – and just unquestioningly recycle press releases, tweets, Mumsnet/Reddit posts, TripAdvisor reviews, Rightmove listings, and of course ‘syndicated news feeds’.

That’s why all local news websites look the same now.