#707: The Daily News

November 2nd, 2016

It’s got sports on the back, a preview of Augustana College basketball’s new season.

That seems newspapery.

It’s got boring calendar items too, meeting dates for the Keep Moline Beautiful Commission and the Andalusia Township Library Board. That certainly seems like newspaper turf.

But does a newspaper purporting to print the news of Rock Island, Moline, East Moline and Milan print pieces on how Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis was “refusing to honor the United States of America by standing during the national anthem.” Does the Quad Cities readership care about the seating situation of a woman who was diagnosed with cancer last year 181 miles away?

Does a newspaper run lists of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union members’ disciplinary records under the headline “Reprimands of state workers shed light on patronage-driven culture”?

“Illinois state workers seeking to negotiate a new contract with the state don’t just want more money; they want less accountability,” the maybe-newspaper declares.

Is Rock Island Today, a freebie weekly you can get delivered to your Chicago apartment if you ask for free copies on their website, a newspaper? Or is the publication funded by the conservative Liberty Principles PAC something different, something newer and scarier?

Rock Island Today is one of 14 maybe-papers and websites the right-wing political action committee is funding across the state. With names like the DuPage Policy Journal, the McHenry Times, the Metro East Sun, the Lake County Gazette, Chicago City Wire, the West Cook News and, most irksome to me for co-opting the career path I’ve chosen, the East Central Reporter, they serve a mix of political hit pieces from conservative operatives like the Illinois Policy Institute and local news culled remotely by employees of Local Labs, the descendant group of that Journatic company that got the Chicago ‘Bune in such hot water a few years ago.

My Rock Island Today is thin and gray, like a local freebee newspaper. Terrible photos and crudely cropped political mugshots, like a local freebee newspaper. But shoved among the Penny Savers and local chamber of commerce magazines as reading materials in diners and coffee shops throughout the region (or its brother publications throughout the state), it piles political opinion into a news-like wrapper.

I am among the thousands who worked in newspapers for years, hustling and busting to give those gray pages, that familiar masthead style, those crudely cropped mugshots some respectability.

Then a right-wing hatchet man with layout software and a super PAC decided to swipe that respectability, use the style we created to hide his political maneuvering.

But is it a newspaper?

The partisan press isn’t new. That’s the way papers were until media consolidation and 20th-century megapapers meant a Sun-Times or ‘Bune had to become all things to all people. Your politics determined whether you would read the Trib, the Sun-Times, Daily News, Herald-American or any of the other newspapers that dabbled the city streets, as proliferate and profligate as news blogs today.

Is my thin, gray, oh-so-newspapery Rock Island Today a return to that damnable time when news couldn’t be trusted as news or will it be called out as the political hackery I feel it to be?

I can hope, but I just don’t know.

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