Why it pays to pay for online information


If you read this blog, you know that I frequently advise others to conduct a background investigation on themselves. It pays to know what others find when they search for your name on Google or another search engine. But what if the news isn’t good? What if, among your results, you discover information that you don’t want others to see? If you follow the path of some high-power executives, you can hire a reputation management firm to help bury the bad news that Google might reveal.

A December 2019 article in The Wall Street Journal tells the story of Jacob Gottlieb, who wanted to start a new hedge fund. The only problem was, several news articles covered problems related to the demise of his last fund. A basic Google search revealed stories of suicide, securities fraud, and a messy divorce. So, Mr. Gottlieb hired a reputation management firm, which launched “a favorable news blitz to eclipse the negative stories.” The result? Flattering information appeared in several so-called independent news outlets, and these articles came up higher in Google results, basically burying the bad news.

The company defended their practices, since “A single false accusation can cause permanent damage to a person or a company’s hard-earned reputation.”  The only problem is, as the WSJ points out, this wasn’t a case of misinformation, and the tactics and sources used to disseminate this “good news” were questionable, at best.

Working with this type of firm may turn out well for Mr. Gottlieb and other executives who hire them, but it  can mean trouble for anyone who needs the truth. Imagine trying to conduct due diligence and make an informed decision before investing or moving forward with your deal. 

Which brings me to another piece of advice I often share: If you want to conduct a through search or investigation, you need to go beyond Google and invest in fee-based sources for online information. Relying on just one source or a search engine’s algorithms will not provide the full story, and you could be missing out on something important.

There are lots of benefits to paying for your news sources, and this WSJ article highlights what I consider the most important: Fee-based sources vet their sources, so they’re more accurate and authoritative. They can’t be manipulated the way these “reputation management” firms manipulate search results. And you won’t find any of these shady sources of fake news described in this article.

It’s that simple. That’s why my company subscribes to a variety of products that provide access to hundreds of databases. For all our due diligence and other investigations, we use – in addition to Google and other search engines – LexisNexis, ProQuest Dialog, and Dow Jones Factiva, among others. 

So, in addition to evaluating all your sources and each piece of information you extract from them, if you’re a serious researcher or investigator, you must invest in fee-based sources for news and other online information. It’s the only way to uncover the truth – not someone else’s version of it.



  • Chris Cochran /

    Thanks for your insights and sharing the WSJ article. I missed that one last month. Great reminder of the challenges of due diligence and how/why one has to counter the “isn’t everything on the [free] web?” mentality with clients/leadership when questions about the budget for online services come up.

    • Marcy Phelps /

      Thank you, Chris. Yes, if you rely on just the free web, you could be missing vital information. You definitely get what you pay for when it comes to online information.

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