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.”
The unusual effort in Hinsdale – which ultimately failed when Hinsdale voted yes to the $140m funding, was one of the more strident examples of what appears to be a sweeping effort to populate the country with local, rightwing-skewed news sites.
Locality Labs operates scores of sites across Illinois, Michigan, Maryland and Wisconsin, often sharing content. In Michigan alone, the Lansing State Journal reported, almost 40 sites opened in one fell swoop this fall.
“It is always a bit troubling in the current environment when websites don’t really indicate what they’re all about, and sort of hide who is behind them, and I think that’s clearly the case here,” said Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at the not-for-profit press watchdog Media Matters.
“In the fractured media environment that we’re operating in now, if you’re just scrolling through your Facebook feed or your Twitter feed and you see an article, you click on it and you might take in the information from there without really ever wondering what the source actually is.”