A recent article in the LA Times illustrates the blurring line between promotion and news. A local water district hired a consultant to write "news" articles promoting the district and posting them to a fictitious news website. Then the promotional stories appeared in news results in Google. People searching for information on the water district would then find a series of upbeat positive articles about the district. 

This raises several ethical questions that go beyond simple consumer generated media. The classic paradigm of using journalism to vet stories and determine validity of news events has eroded to the point where anyone can create a "news source" and get promotions classified as legitimate news articles. 

This takes the "advertorial" approach to promotion to new heights. Disguising PR as independent news can really boomerang on a company - as the water district learned. The story in the Times created a backlash that erased any goodwill that the company may have earned from its strategy. 

One day after the article appeared, Google removed the "news" website from its search index. It will probably take longer for the water district to overcome the stigma created by this failed PR strategy.