FAIRBANKS — Universal Pictures has reached a settlement with a handful of Alaska newspapers, including the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, for using fabricated “news archives” to promote a recently released movie.
Universal agreed to pay $20,000 to the Alaska Press Club, along with a $2,500 contribution to a scholarship fund for the Bethel-based Calista Corp. Anchorage attorney John McKay, who negotiated the settlement on behalf of the seven media organizations, said an emergency shelter in Nome also will receive an unspecified amount of money, although it wasn’t listed as a recipient in the settlement agreement.
Universal created an elaborate series of online news articles in the promotion for its movie, “The Fourth Kind.” The movie claims to be a true story about a plague of alien abductions in Nome a decade ago.
To bolster that claim, articles were posted that professed to be from real Alaska publications, but were actually created to bolster the movie’s storyline.
The articles included an obituary and news story about the death of a character in the movie, Dr. William Tyler, that supposedly were from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Neither the story nor the obituary ever appeared in the newspaper.
Fake articles were listed from other newspapers in Alaska, including The Nome Nugget, alongside authentic news stories. Part of the settlement also requires Universal to remove the fake “news articles” promoting the movie from the internet.
McKay said that attributing false stories to real publications undermines those newspapers’ credibility.
“If people can’t rely on the fact that when they look at a news article on the Web that it’s from the newspaper it appears to be, or is written by the reporter it appears to be, it erodes confidence in the world of journalism,” McKay said.
McKay said it didn’t appear that the advertising campaign was cleared by attorneys at Universal Pictures, and he praised the company for responding quickly to the complaints.
“I think they were embarrassed by it and acted very promptly,” he said.
The settlement comes as an unexpected boon for the Alaska Press Club, which is an independent journalism organization in the state. Club President Kathleen McCoy said the $20,000 received from Universal roughly doubles the organization’s annual revenues.
“We’ll spread this around and try to put this toward training for journalists around the state,” McCoy said.
The Alaska Press Club wasn’t part of the complaint against Universal, but John McKay suggested they receive settlement money as part of a compromise that would benefit Alaska journalism.