Hinsdale story part of 'fake news' coverage
Last updated 11/20/2019 at 5:56pm | View PDF
Remember the “Hinsdale School News” some folks in town received right before the April 2 election? The eight-page publication — printed on newsprint to look like a local newspaper — was highly critical of the $140 million referendum Hinsdale High School District 86 had on the ballot, among other things.
At the time, no one was sure who was responsible for it. D86 officials sent a cease and desist letter to five organizations, including Chicago publisher Franklin Archer. An attorney representing Brian Timpone (remember that name) of Franklin Archer wrote that another entity contacted Franklin Archer to produce the publication. The attorney refused to reveal that entity.
A week later the referendum passed and we moved on.
Now our story is making news around the country.
Katherina Sourine, a reporter for the Michigan Daily, emailed me last month. She and Dominick Sokotoff were working on an article on local news sites appearing around Michigan under Locality Labs LLC and the Metric Media Foundation.
Guess who is CEO of Locality Labs? Timpone.
Their article — “Pseudo local news sites in Michigan reveal nationally expanding network — was published online Nov. 1.
Then The Guardian, an online news source covering American and international news, published an article Tuesday that opens with a mention of Hinsdale School News. It ran with a much more provocative headline: “How local ‘fake news’ websites spread ‘conservative propaganda’ in the US.”
“The unusual effort in Hinsdale — which ultimately failed when Hinsdale voted yes to the $140 million funding, was one of the more strident examples of what appears to be a sweeping effort to populate the country with local, right wing-skewed news sites,” Guardian reporter Adam Gabbatt writes.
Both articles state Timpone’s connection to Hinsdale School News as a proven fact. Sourine and Sokotoff spend several paragraphs explaining a rather complicated connection between Locality Labs, Timpone, Franklin Archer and a host of other individuals and organizations, all conservative.
Both articles also do a great job of highlighting what’s really at stake here — the credibility of local newspapers. Readers who aren’t paying close enough attention might not be able to differentiate between these sites or publications and real news sources.
In Michigan, 40 of these website have appeared this fall, “masquerading” as local news outlets, Sourine and Sokotoff write.
They interviewed one student from the School of Information at the University of Michigan who stated the risk quite incisively.
“I think these websites are really dangerous because it’s one thing to have a blog that explicitly states a person’s opinions and viewpoints, it’s another thing to make a politically targeted message under the guise of journalism,” Jamie Lai said. “And it feels like this is what the websites are going for; giving the guise of legitimacy and objectivity so independent or unassuming readers are more likely to give this more weight in their political considering than it should.”
In The Guardian article, Gabbott also talks about the number of local newspapers that have gone out of business, leading to “news deserts.” That opens the door for organizations like Locality Labs, who feed on readers’ greater trust in local news, according to source Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at the nonprofit press watchdog Media Matters.
I’m going to focus on the good news here — the fact that readers trust local news sources. I promise that we’ll do everything in our power to continue to earn that trust. And to let you know when an imposter shows up.
— Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected]