If there’s one thing newspapers don’t like, it’s being in the news. But that’s where a newspaper serving Brookfield, along with about a dozen other southwest suburbs, found itself on Thursday, as the subject of an investigation by the Better Government Association.
An article published March 19 on the BGA website alleged that more than a dozen editorials published by the Desplaines Valley News were plagiarized from other news organizations, from the Washington Post to the Daily Beast.
“The Better Government Association found 14 recent Desplaines Valley News editorials that included similar or exact wording as previously published content in 11 other publications,” BGA reporters Robert Herguth and Patrick McCraney wrote.
The Desplaines Valley News was purchased in 2012 by a company called Southwest Community News Group, whose “managing director” is Mark Hornung.
The company’s president is Bridgeview mayor and state Sen. Steve Landek, whose 12th District includes Riverside north of the Burlington tracks and almost all of Brookfield south of 31st Street.
The BGA article points a finger at Hornung as the author of the questionable editorials, though it also notes that Hornung has not admitted writing the unsigned pieces.
It’s not the first time Hornung has faced such accusations. In 1995, he was bounced as editor of the Chicago Sun-Times editorial page after plagiarizing a Washington Post column. In 2004, he stepped down as publisher of the Daily Southtown in the wake of an investigation that revealed he’d overstated circulation figures while circulation director for the Sun-Times, a job he held from 1995 to 2001.
In addition to the Desplaines Valley News, Southwest Community News Group also publishes the Reporter and Regional News in the far southwest suburbs and the Southwest News Herald, which covers neighborhoods on the Southwest Side of Chicago and southwest suburbs.
In response to the BGA’s investigation, Landek issued a statement, which is published on the BGA website, acknowledging the issue.
“We should have cited some of our source material in our unsigned pieces,” Landek wrote. “Further, the Desplaines Valley News has tightened internal controls regarding unsigned content and it has removed archived content from our website following a request from a publisher that had been contacted by the BGA.”
Reached Thursday by the Landmark, Landek referred the newspaper to his statement to the BGA, adding that the charge of plagiarism was limited to the editorials and that there were no such concerns with the publication’s news articles.
“Our bread and butter is the news reporting,” Landek said.
The BGA report also referred to “potential ethical problems” with the Desplaines Valley News, since it collects money from legal advertisements from municipalities connected to Landek, like Bridgeview, where he is mayor, and others he represents as a state senator.
The BGA also states that Hornung is employed by the village of Bridgeview as a “consultant.”