The view from the Harrisburg Hardees

By Nathaniel Dean Fortmeyer and William Recktenwald

The local paper looks a lot different to Harrisburg, Ill. residents Karen and David Stilley than to fellow residents Mike and Angella Gauch.

To the Stilleys the SE Illinois News is a welcome replacement for the retrenching local paper, the Harrisburg Register. To the Gauches, the paper is a propaganda sheet that targeted them in a politically slanted “expose,” without ever talking to them.

Karen Stilley, her husband David, and friend Edgar Humm meet every day at the Harrisburg Hardee’s. They and their retired friends consume the paper along with their coffee. It is published by Dan Proft’s Local Government Information Services (LGIS).

On a summer morning, Karen, a retired banker and Harrisburg resident, read the paper aloud to her friends, as she often does.

“I have read these papers regularly for two months. They are a good source of information covering different areas,” she said. It also fills an information gap left by the local newspaper, the Harrisburg Register, which now prints three times a week instead of daily.

Karen’s husband, David, chimed in, “I believe the coverage. All papers lean left. With these papers, you get local coverage, and they have a lot of articles about Fowler. The coverage is always positive.”

Fowler is Sen. Dale Fowler, a Republican from Harrisburg. Sen. Fowler frequently receives favorable coverage from Proft’s publications.

A friend at the Stilley table, Edgar Humm, a retired contractor, said the Proft paper balances coverage. “Sometimes we need left and right leaning papers,” he said. “The national media found out, with the results of the Clinton-Trump campaign, how accurate their coverage was.”

David agreed: “The utopian situation is unbiased news. But it will never happen.”

Humm readily admits that the publications have a clear bias. “If you read this paper, and do not come to the conclusion that it is pro-Rauner, you are stupid.” Mr. Humm added.

Mike and Angella Gauch of Harrisburg have a different perspective.

A July expose targeted the unsuspecting couple who had lobbied in Springfield during their summer vacation for passage of the budget agreement to fund state government.

Mike is superintendent of schools in Harrisburg and Angella a teacher in Carbondale. The story labeled them a “public employee power couple” who could lobby in July to protect their combined $220,000 income because they didn’t have to work. One passage read:

“When the tax hike passed, Angella Gauch lauded state legislators on Facebook telling them thanks for ‘standing strong for kids.’ She didn’t thank them for standing strong for the Gauch family, although she might have. Angella and her husband pulled in more than $220,000 from taxpayers last year.”

The Gauches were surprised by the story because the paper had failed to contact them for comment — one of the fundamental obligations of a news organization. “I was one of 350 school superintendents who signed on to a request to pass Senate Bill 1. It is not perfect but we need the funds to send our kids to school.

“It is pretty clear that this (story) is a message to others that they have that ability to stir up trouble in our home areas.

“I am not sure where some of those numbers came from…. Did they include the district’s costs for my health insurance and add it into my salary? I don’t know because no one has asked me about this. The first I knew about it is when a friend sent me a link on Twitter. There was a photo from my wife’s Facebook page, at least it was a nice photo.

“My wife had the day off and she did go to Springfield with me. Her interests are in kids getting an education. I am sorry that they dragged her into this.”