Conservative radio host Dan Proft and his company Local Government Information Services are sending their “North Cook News” publication to households across Evanston. Credit: Duncan Agnew

Earlier this month, retired middle school history teacher and longtime Evanston resident Leslie Yamshon picked up what looked like a newspaper delivered to her home. The paper was titled “North Cook News,” with a slogan at the top featuring the phrase “Real data. Real news.”

Before reading the articles published in the paper, Yamshon thought it looked like a normal local news operation, with typical advertisements and a back page featuring the names and photos of former high school football players from the area now playing in college.

But then, she started to read. A box in the top left corner of the front page read, “Special Sex Education Edition: What are they teaching your child in 2022?” Below that was a reference to an article on page 2 about a Naperville elementary school teacher, with the phrase “Teaching boys to be girls.” 

For Yamshon, the kicker was the lead story in the paper, titled, “No more boys and girls? Pritzker family leads push to replace ‘myth’ of biology,” featuring a prominent photo of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and his transgender cousin, Jennifer Pritzker.

“They pictured the two of them. They put their faces together,” Yamshon said. “They put them together to look like there was a sexual orientation issue, which was very, very strange to me. It was the picture that did it.”

Yamshon started talking to colleagues and friends about where these papers were coming from and who was printing them. As it turns out, North Cook News is one of several newspapers including West Cook News and Chicago City Wire published by a company called Local Government Information Services (LGIS). It is owned by Dan Proft, a conservative radio host and former Republican candidate for Illinois governor. 

Profit, who did not respond to requests for comment from the RoundTable, now lives in Florida. But he and his company have published and distributed these papers throughout Cook County in the run up to this November’s gubernatorial election pitting Democrat Pritzker against downstate farmer and Republican State Rep. Darren Bailey.

The papers have mainly criticized LGBTQ-related curriculum in schools, amount of state taxes and tried to scare people into believing the Illinois SAFE-T Act to eliminate cash bail will result in criminal havoc , among other things.

In one issue focused on crime, North Cook News published police mugshots of 36 individuals, almost all Black men, with the caption “Under the SAFE-T Act, these suspects would be released into Cook County.”

But the SAFE-T Act does not actually represent a “get out of jail free card,” as North Cook News suggested. The law removes cash bail under the idea that people who haven’t been convicted of a crime shouldn’t be held in jail before their trial just because they’re unable to pay the bond set by the court. Instead, judges can choose to keep dangerous people in custody, with no possibility of bail.

The papers also do not have any kind of masthead or disclaimer about their ownership, and many of the bylines are phrases like “LGIS News Service” and “DuPage Policy Journal Reports.”

Most newspapers strive for transparency of sourcing and ownership.

The inside flap of each edition includes a message from LGIS that the publisher “will provide contextual and consequential information to give you the whole story,” and LGIS also invites feedback from readers by phone or email. 

The early September issue tried to stir up fears about Pritzker and gender issues. Credit: Duncan Agnew

But no email address or phone number is listed in the paper, and the online contact form on the LGIS website goes to an error page whenever anyone tries to submit a comment. Yamshon tried sending multiple emails to LGIS asking for more information about who was publishing the papers and why they were being sent to her but she never received any response. 

“I believe Governor Pritzker will probably win the election,” she said. “But the bigger issue is the manipulation of people by getting these papers and not realizing the intent behind it.”

Until last week, Proft and LGIS were using Paddock Publications, which owns suburban Chicago newspaper The Daily Herald, to print and distribute papers like North Cook News. But on Thursday, Sept. 22, Paddock decided to cancel its print contracts with all LGIS-affiliated papers after the Pritzker campaign threatened to pull out of an upcoming gubernatorial debate partially sponsored and moderated by The Daily Herald.

That debate is now on as originally scheduled for Friday, Sept. 30, but the battle between Proft and Pritzker has now entered the political mainstage ahead of the election. On Sunday, Sept. 25, Proft tweeted that his papers will now be mass-produced by a “bigger operation” than Paddock, and that “the distro of newspapers will imcrease.” [sic]

In April, Proft also founded a political action committee called People Who Play By The Rules, which has received more than $28 million in contributions from Illinois billionaire and Republican donor Richard Uihlein, who founded the shipping supply company Uline with his wife. So far, the PAC has almost exclusively spent its money buying television and radio ads in the Chicago area.

“There is no such thing as a non-detainable offense. The law allows judges to keep violent offenders behind bars and convicted criminals cannot and will not be released,” Natalie Edelstein, communications director for the Pritzker campaign, told the RoundTable in a statement. “Bailey and Proft’s pathetic lies tell you everything you need to know about the campaign they’re running: no substance, no solutions and no vision for Illinois.”

Local news crisis

Recent studies from Northwestern University’s Medill Local News Initiative have shown that the United States has lost a quarter of all local news outlets since 2005, and there are now 208 entire counties without any local news source, according to Tim Franklin, a journalism professor and the John M. Mutz Chair in Local News at Northwestern. 

A staggering 70 million Americans now live in counties with either no or one local news outlet, Franklin said. 

“We’re beginning to see this epidemic of these fake newspapers moving in to fill the void from the loss of legitimate legacy, local news organizations,” he told the RoundTable this week. “It’s happening with partisans on both sides, although primarily, these tend to be conservative-leaning publications. And we’re also beginning to see it happening with companies that are creating what appear to be newspapers, but are, in fact, PR organs for a company.”

For example, The Guardian recently reported that the oil giant Chevron launched a newspaper and website called “Permian Proud” for residents of the oil-rich Permian Basin of west Texas. A public relations specialist in San Francisco writes all the content for the site and the headlines heap praise on Chevron for investments in environmentally friendly energy sources or local economic impact. 

Thanks to these kinds of projects that blur the lines between independent reporting and public relations, the country is facing what Franklin describes as a “news literacy problem.” With social media allowing anyone to advance their own narrative or agenda, people have to be hyper-aware of where they are getting their information, he said.

Illinois Press Association President and Chief Executive Officer Don Craven said “they’re not newspapers” when the RoundTable asked him how he would characterize Proft’s publications like North Cook News. Under Illinois law, a newspaper publishes continuously and regularly, and North Cook News, Chicago City Wire and Proft’s other outlets have not been printed at regular intervals until the last few weeks.

Craven also encouraged people to only trust newspapers that clearly label who owns them, publishes them and writes their articles. But people have a right to print and say what they want under the First Amendment, he said.

“I can tell you what I do with things when I don’t know where they come from,” Craven said. “It’s called a wastebasket.” 

Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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  1. The sight of these racist, rightwing rags in my mailbox infuriates me. I called the number provided in the paper to be taken off the mailing list. First you get a recording trying to get you to answer questions about the makeup of your household. When I wouldn’t answer the questions, I was connected to a recorded answering system for a medical alert device. These losers aren’t even honest about their phone number. I’d like to sue them for invading my privacy.

  2. My recollection from my more active younger days is that it is illegal for anyone other than the U.S.P.O. to place material inside a mail box.

    One of these rags was put INSIDE our mailbox without our permission. Does anyone know whether they were legally delivered by the U.S.P.O. or wrongfully stuffed in our mail boxes by these miscreants?

  3. I received a West Cook News paper. Agree on 1st amendment, but not when my name and address is on the paper. How can I get off the mailing list? I don’t agree that conservative opinions or false info should be shoved down your throat.

  4. North Cook News’s headquarters are in 1111 W Dundee Rd, Wheeling, Illinois, 60090, United States

  5. Personally, and as a Latina immigrant who LOVES this country, I would like to think that we are a one nation, undivided, etc etc But as far as I can see most of the news media is from the left and portrays the right as fascist and “terrorists” and the “enemy of democracy.” Which is wrong! I know enough Dems and Reps to know that this is not true! For any side! And it would seem that it is “Us versus them” promoted by the “MSM” with intent to provoke a kind of civil war, division, hatred between Americans, when it should be all of us pulling for the country that we are leaving to our children! What are we leaving for them???

    Remember what John Kennedy said: “Don’t ask what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country! ” I consider myself an INDEPENDENT because I don’t want to “belong” to any “club” that will require me to think one way or another. I like to question everything people say, from both sides. But both parties are acting as though there is nothing in common between us people! But going to the new publications, the last time I checked, and with the exception of half of Fox, the left, or the Democrats own all the TV news media, plus the NYT, Washington Post and many other main newspapers! And strangely, and if we claim to be fair, I don’t see any references in the article to people who do like the new publications!! Why? So why don’t you leave the publications alone for people who do enjoy them? Don’t people think that it is good to have discussion, presentation of two sides of every issue? Didn’t high schools used to have “Debate teams?????”
    Of course, lets see if this publication publishes my opinion…..

    1. Dear Margarita, Thank you for your opinion but I think there are some things here I do not agree with. The points you make at the end of your note are exactly why we think it important to call this publication out. There are not both sides to issues in this publication. They are pretending to be a newspaper. If someone is doing political advertising, let them do political advertising. But let them call it that. Let them be transparent. You seem to say that the media are all partisan — either one side or the other and I really disagree. I know we here at the RoundTable work very hard to make sure we deal with all sides to an issue, we give context and we give people a forum to disagree, as you have. As I’ve said before, we follow the SPJ Code of Ethics, and so, that makes our work much harder. You know where all the quotes come from. We use attribution for all the information we pass on to readers. We use those standards across the board. They do not. And that is dishonest. If someone were walking around pretending to be you, but doing things that were dishonest, my guess is you would call them out. That’s what we have done. The key here is that publications should have transparency and this one does now.

      1. Thanks for your opinion. However as you yourself admit, there should be two sides to issues in publications. I don’t find two sides in publications such as the NYT, Washington Post and especially not in cable news that are today completely on the left side of issues. And in particular, I didn’t find two sides of the issue in your own article on this publication, only negative quotes! And this isn’t the only case. I find this appalling and very dangerous. As a former South American I have seen what distortion, cancelling, and suppression do to democracies. I had a chance to experience the new and dangerous suppression of freedom of speech by social media when a popular social media website cancelled me for being may be too passionate as I argued for restoring Foster School to the 5th ward. To say “it is important to call this publication out…” for not printing its source (which is dangerous in today’s climate of a culture of intolerance) is to say that you are sponsoring suppression!

        At the time when all we had in Evanston were channels 2, 5, and 7 for news with broadcasters such as Koppel, Brinkley, Cronkite, Jennings… news was delivered in a more fair and honest manner. Not so anymore, and I am not going to accept anyone’s contrary opinion without a fervent argument on my part. The article itself admits that it is completely legal to print a publication and circulate it just as each one of us has the freedom to throw it in the wastebasket if we choose (and it is telling that you ended the article on that point, as a subtle form of encouraging that act). As for the “Safe-T Act” maybe people should watch “Forensic Files,” based on real life cases, where they would learn about repeat offender criminals with a high rate of recidivism who are not jailed, until they finally commit a major crime where someone loses their life as a result of today’s leniency towards crime.
        So there you have it, a civilized and courteous exchange of opinions. This is what I mean! We should have more of these.

        1. Margarita, I urge you to read the SPJ Code of Ethics, which I referenced before. That’s what we follow. And it has answers to all the questions you are posing. As for both sides, in journalism you strive for it to give people a sense of the many sides of an issue. We tried to call the owner of the publication several times to speak about his newspapers. But he never returned the calls.

          You also recognize when giving both sides can be a false equivalency. Because these publications claim — by virtue of their appearance — to be news organizations and they are not. They are political advertisements, with clear bias, there were no scholars of news who would defend them. One of the key tenants of best practices in news is that I can tell the audience what I know and where it came from — then let you be the judge of the weight it should be given. But I also need to make sure I give you context. Giving both sides do not always represent fairness if both sides represent a false equivalency. If I have two groups protesting with opposite points of view and I quote the leaders of both — some would say that is balanced. But if I fail to provide context that 2,000 people were on one side and two were on the other it leaves you with a false sense of how this issue is publicly playing out. In my response to your original post, the things I talked about were all part of best practices for news. That is what we strive for. But not all newsrooms use best practices. If your note was to tell me there are news outlets that don’t — I will tell you that I know and that is the problem. You don’t have to agree with my contrary opinion — which is not as contrary as you make it to be. But you do have to accept that I have it. Clearly, I accept your opinion and am airing it on this site. I could easily delete it but we believe our readers and the community have a right to air their opinions on this site. We respect you for coming here and we respect you for putting your thoughts out to the community. Thank you.

      2. One more thing, check this! “UC Berkeley bans pro-Israel speakers from campus, Jewish students banned from groups.”

          1. Just Google it. You can pick anyone you want. There’s one from Newsweek I know off hand. I don’t understand why your asking though just Google her statement there’s a ton of articles if you’re really interested