Sunday, March 20, 2016 || Originally Published: Crain’s Chicago Business || 3/15/16 || By Lyne Marek
Some Illinois residents are seeing a new newspaper show up on their doorsteps, one with a decided political agenda.
Liberty Principles PAC, a political action committee headed by conservative radio talk show host Dan Proft and with financial backing from Gov. Bruce Rauner, has teamed with publisher Locality Labs to produce a chain of 11 weekly newspapers, with at least five more on the way.
The advertorial-like papers focus on local and state political news, with stories about suburban city council actions, local election campaigns and the state’s pension crisis.
Proft, who leads Chicago-based Liberty Principles, says the newspapers are filling in areas of the state where there is a lack of political news while offering an alternative to the big dailies’ coverage, all while being transparent about their right-leaning bent.
“We have a point of view, and we want to advance thatp oint of view in terms of policy solutions,” Proft says.
The papers’ viewpoint may be their most unique aspect in a Chicago area news market that still has two daily newspapers covering politics, plus a recent surge of other political digital news outlets such as Politico and AlderTrack as well as a new political newsletter from Crain’s Chicago Business.
“Generally speaking, there’s a lack of reporting in most communities anymore,” said Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a former Chicago alderman who served as an independent in the 1970s. “Whether this chain fills that gap of needed information by people in the community is quite different from the fact that there’s a need.”
The Proft papers cover Chicago suburban areas such as western Cook County communities Maywood, River Forest, Forest Park and Westchester, as well as McHenry and Lake counties, plus the Quad Cities and Springfield.
Some 8,000 to 10,000 papers are distributed by mail and in news racks for each of regional editions. All the papers also have web sites.
Proft says the new chain isn’t just an election-year effort. He notes that his Liberty Principles PAC has been supporting legislators long before the election of Rauner.
In addition to funding from the Turnaround Illinois PAC, funded mainly by billionaire real estate mogul Sam Zell and also with contributions from Rauner, other people who have supported Liberty Principles include Citadel CEO Ken Griffin and Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts, Proft said.
The newspapers aim to spell out where tax dollars come from and where they flow to, detailing local school funding and individuals’ pensions, Proft says.
For instance, the West Cook News front page this week had stories about the 2002 arrest of Democratic State Rep. Chris Welch for domestic battery and another story about a Democratic rival criticizing Welch’s actions as a former school board president. Inside the newspaper were lists of retired firefighters from seven suburbs by name and the annual pension amount each is receiving under the headline “State Pension Rules Soaking Illinois Taxpayers.”
A letter from the publisher in each paper says it is produced by the Liberty Principles PAC, though no individuals’ names are listed. Proft is spearheading the effort. The chain of papers doesn’t have a name.
Locality Labs does business as Local Labs, and is led by Brian Timpone, who oversaw the online real estate business Blockshopper and more recently the former publishing operation Journatic that produced local news for the Chicago Tribune before revelations of plagiarism and fake bylines from foreign workers doomed that tie.
Timpone and Locality Labs started printing the papers last fall. Proft got behind the effort this year and helped them grow to additional areas, Timpone said.
Timpone expects the latest effort to expand. “Tribune and the Sun-Times don’t cover suburban government,” he said. “The community newspapers that exist have been stripped bare, and they don’t cover any of the issues that really matter.” VFP