October 8, 2021
During the last local election cycle in DuPage County, it was nearly impossible to learn about candidates running for local boards, including schools, libraries, park districts, COD, and more. A few news outlets published sporadic articles about candidates but there was no consistent, reliable, unbiased source of information, which has presumably been a major factor in the low voter turnout. The overall turnout for DuPage County in the April 2021 election was 16.57%, which is incredibly low compared to the 76.55% turnout from the general election.
Why is 16.57% concerning? Because when only a slim minority of residents participate in elections, groups that represent a slim minority can take over boards and make decisions that are not necessarily in the best interest of the community.
As an example, 26% of voters elected members to the Glen Ellyn School District 41 board in the 2017 consolidated election. In January 2018 – just a few months shy of the 2019 consolidated election – the school board voted 4-3 to fire a popular superintendent despite outcry from teachers and parents. More recently, the newly elected Niles Public library board moved fast to slash services, cut hours, and dismantle the budget while ignoring protests from the community. Once these boards are in place, the community can do nothing but watch as these public institutions are underfunded and/or dismantled.
Many studies have linked the lack of local journalism to low voter turnout. As Meghan Rubado, assistant professor of urban studies at Cleveland State University, says “If there’s nobody reporting on…..candidates, about legislation, about how money is being spent, or the budgeting process, how will people know that they require a quality challenger?” Worse, the local news desert appears to have created an opportunity for organizations posing as legitimate news to fill that gap with their own agenda.
The DuPage Policy Journal is a perfect example, given a “questionable” status by Media Bias/Fact Check who says they are “an imposter site, [that] lacks transparency, and publishes false information. As a result, we rate them right-center, biased, and Questionable.” The DuPage Policy Journal has the look of a legitimate news source, with tabs for Local Government, Politics, Real Estate, Community, etc. However, as of the time that this newsletter was written, every single article under the “Schools” tab was about “Critical RaceTheory.” Not just a couple. Every single article.
Another example is the Illinois Policy Institute (IP) – a non-profit, self-described “independent organization” with funding ties to conservative groups including the Koch brothers and ALEC according to Source Watch (IP does not list donors publicly). IP articles are regularly published without any disclaimers about the fact that IP is not a news outlet but rather an organization pushing for lower taxes and smaller government.
In fact, there are hundreds of these agenda-driven, questionable news outlets in Illinois. Click here for a map to find out more. Many of these have the exact same articles published, just under different town names. Remember the “Schools” tab from the DuPage Policy Journal? Now check out the “Schools” tab from the Kane County Recorder, or the “Schools” tab from the Kendall County Times. Or the McHenry Times “Schools” tab. And so on. Now let’s check out one of the news sources from far away – say the NW New Mexico News. Looks like they have the exact same “Schools” tab, too.
Journalist Adam Gabbatt does an excellent job explaining the dangers of these local “faux news” websites in his article in The Guardian from 2019. Gabbatt says that “each [website] has the look of a local news organization, with information on prices and local businesses … what the sites all have in common is praising Republican politicians, and denigrating Democratic ones.” In the article, Matt Gertz, senior fellow at the watchdog Media Matters, is quoted as saying that “there’s this understanding that local news is in shambles right now” and that since people still seem to have more faith in local news than national news, “there’s an idea here that you can move in and take advantage of that.”
Picture a world where robust local media existed. It would be easy to find information on candidates and local boards. It would hold elected officials accountable and keep the public engaged. Perhaps voter turnout would increase, ensuring that those elected represent the majority and not the vocal minority.
That is the impetus for starting this newsletter and for getting a blog going on the DuPage for Progress website. A small voice attempting to accurately report on the activities of our local elected boards, increase voter turnout, and educate residents on issues that impact their daily lives. In full transparency, we are not journalists. We are concerned community members and volunteers. Our goals are stated clearly above.
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