You’ve probably seen the story around: LendEDU, a student loan refinancing company founded by University of Delaware students that we’ve covered several times, invented a student loan expert journalist named Drew Cloud (which, let’s be real, is a fake-sounding name) of The Student Loan Report — a supposed independent news outlet.
Over the last two years, Mr. Cloud has been quoted in actually legit news publications like the Washington Post and CNBC (while we have covered LendEDU quite a bit (even back when they were called ShopTutors), we’ve never quoted Cloud, partly because we don’t generally cover student loan refinancing on its own, but also because we have stellar editorial standards unlike those WaPo plebes 💅).
Last week, Dan Bauman and Chris Quintana published an expose on Mr. Cloud for The Chronicle of Higher Education called “Drew Cloud Is a Well-Known Expert on Student Loans. One Problem: He’s Not Real:”
Drew Cloud’s story was simple: He founded the website, an “independent, authoritative news outlet” covering all things student loans, “after he had difficulty finding the most recent student loan news and information all in one place.”
He became ubiquitous on that topic. But he’s a fiction, the invention of a student-loan refinancing company.
That student loan company, as you’ve guessed by now, is LendEDU.
Exposed, founder Nate Matherson (who was most recently covered in Technical.ly Delaware after an interview about loan forgiveness with Broadway World, of all publications) took to the LendEDU website to explain everything.
It boils down to this: Drew Cloud was a pen name for a group of LendEDU employees with a photo of a friend of theirs attached. The Student Loan Report is run by LendEDU — far from an independent news source. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet, kids!
Matherson seems to have been under the impression that the fact that Drew Cloud was in fact LendEDU didn’t qualify his work as unbiased because it was, according to him, all accurate. They tried to keep the entities (a student loan refi company and a student loan news publication, mind you, not a student loan refi company and a cupcake shop) separate.
It was a bad, deceptive plan. I know, in this age where Content is King, it might seem outside-of-the-boxy and clever, but it’s basically the content version of black hat SEO, even if all of the content is “high quality.”
Matherson apologized — how could he not, after getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar? — and admitted to wrongdoing:
(1) We never disclosed that “Drew Cloud” was a pen name that represented a group of us writing these posts. I really regret that. We are proud of our personal backgrounds and where they have brought us today. We should’ve chosen to be clear about who was authoring the posts. We have made a change on the site, effective immediately, to use each author’s real name for every post. We will also retroactively notate posts by Drew Cloud.
(2) We have always worked to keep editorial separation between The Student Loan Report and our other site, LendEDU.com, which is our main business. However, there have been nine Student Loan Report articles that mention LendEDU. We now realize that we should’ve had a disclosure that the sites were owned by the same company.
The sad thing is, if the LendEDU team is that knowledgeable, their content would still have value on a company blog where their connection to the company is transparent. Companies do it all the time. Having experts working for you is good.
Making a fake news outlet where an “objective” journalist plugs the company repeatedly? Don’t do that. Not because it will backfire and make you look like fools, which it will, but because it’s simply the wrong thing to do.