* From the Guardian…
In March this year, the small Illinois town of Hinsdale, in the western Chicago suburbs, was facing a crisis.
The village’s district had a funding shortfall, and a referendum was scheduled to determine whether $140m could be pumped into Hinsdale’s schools.
The referendum was hotly contested – an organized, enthused Vote Yes campaign was pushing hard for people to back the vote. It looked like the referendum might deliver a yes verdict.
Enter Locality Labs, a shadowy, controversial company that purports to be a local news organization, but is facing increasing criticism as being part of a nationwide rightwing lobbying effort masquerading as journalism.
The company, with two other linked organizations, was responsible for the Hinsdale School News, a print newspaper that was distributed around Hinsdale voters. The paper had the Hinsdale high school district logo, and the look of a journalistic organization. But, as the Hinsdalean reported, the “newspaper” was stuffed full of articles, mostly byline-free, which had a distinct anti-referendum skew.
“The depths of what they went to were pretty egregious,” said Joan Brandeis, who was part of the Vote Yes Campaign.
“This was purposely done to mislead people into thinking that was a publication from the district.”
We’ve talked about Locality Labs several times. These are the Proft papers run by Brian Timpone.
There’s this thing called the First Amendment, so the papers cannot be regulated or put out of existence. It’s possible, perhaps, to argue that some of them should be regulated like campaign committees, but that’s a dangerous path to tread. I mean, if you make that argument, are you gonna require the Tribune editorial board to register, too? Good luck getting that done.
The Hinsdale referendum passed, so Timpone’s paper didn’t have a deciding influence.
But this should be a lesson for everyone. When campaigns are being planned, the possibility that one or more of these Locality Labs outlets could start engaging is something that should be factored into the equation. And whining to an overseas news outlet is not a plan.