Drew Cloud doesn't exist. But these are the pictures @GoLendEDU used for him. If you know who this man is, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The story: https://t.co/jBGnzWr5pe pic.twitter.com/p0Bxa86iKF— Dan Bauman (@danbauman77) April 24, 2018
Thanks to an investigation by The Chronicle, we now know the truth.
Drew Cloud, a self-professed journalist who also claimed to be an authority on everything student loan-related, had a series of interesting new survey results, new data, and a great deal of quotable information that outlets, such as The Boston Globe, CNBC, and The Washington Post, among others, often used.
In his bio, Cloud said he had founded an “independent, authoritative news outlet" on the subject of student loans, but once The Chronicle investigated to verify the journalist’s existence, LendEDU admitted that the “journalist” was nothing but a farce.
When pressed for comment, LendEDU CEO Nate Matherson said: "Drew Cloud is a pseudonym that a diverse group of authors at Student Loan Report LLC use to share experiences and information related to the challenges college students face with funding their education."
In its apology, LendEDU says that picture of Drew Cloud is one of their friends. “When we pictured what Drew Cloud looked like, we pictured a friend of ours from college, so we used his photo.” https://t.co/jSvxuMXz21— Andy Thomason (@arthomason) April 25, 2018
But the fact that the character presented itself as an uninterested party with no affiliations with any lending companies is troubling.
As The Chronicle reported, the link between LendEDU and Cloud’s site hadn’t been openly disclosed. Until now.
Still, Matherson called Cloud’s site, The Student Loan Report, “very much a side project for our organization."
Matherson maintained “it is very common practice for online media companies to own or acquire additional media assets” in a recent email, and that “Student Loan Report LLC is a for-profit organization and is paid by some of the companies featured on our website.”
But in 2016, he described the company relationship to the site slightly differently.
In an email to a potential contributor, he wrote: "We have a new project that you might be able to help us with. We are launching a student loan industry news site called Student Loan Report located at studentloans.net."
The fiasco was duly noted on Twitter, and users mocked the entire ordeal endlessly.
Hmm...dismayed to realize I once tweeted a link "Drew Cloud" sent me. The company tells @Chronicle “all of the data we published on The Student Loan Report was vetted, accurate, and licensed from the related polling companies.” Still. https://t.co/POYYsQVQRX— Amy Scott (@amyreports) April 25, 2018
Wonder how LendEDU's investors (including @ycombinator) feel about the fact it created a "news" site, didn't disclose the connection and then created and actively pitched a fake spokesman https://t.co/qAK9Hua50K— Ben Berkowitz (@BerkowitzBT) April 25, 2018
This article on a frequently cited student loan "expert" who turns out to be a fiction created by the industry is great and reminder # 13,865 why "email interviews" should never be done https://t.co/0OhOUz4oez— Karen Weise (@KYWeise) April 24, 2018
Ha, "Drew Cloud."— Vince Mancini (@Filmdrunk) April 25, 2018
"Hello, fellow organism. It is I, Samuel B. Lockchain. Satisfactory weather we are having, do you not agree?" https://t.co/dkZcBsknOA
And a fun, weird fact. When you search "Drew Cloud" on Twitter you do get some results of people who literally drew Cloud, the protagonist from the video game Final Fantasy VII.— Chris Quintana (@CQuintanaDC) April 25, 2018
Some even said that news outlets who used Cloud as a source should issue a retraction.
Every single outlet that quoted "Drew Cloud" should post and publish corrections. And use this as a spark to reinvigorate actual reporting as opposed to copying and pasting press releases. https://t.co/EAIqlIKvMI— Kim Clark (@kclarkcollege) April 25, 2018
Regardless of what news organizations choose to do after this report, it’s clear that outlets should work harder to verify their sources. After all, news reports on student loan-related data meant to help students or, at least, report faithfully on facts only, should not rely on mysterious parties that come with strings attached.
If there are connections between experts and companies, they should be openly disclosed.
Banner/thumbnail credit: Reuters, Brian Snyder