EDITORIAL: Kudos for decades of service

The Dispatch Editorial Board
Screenshot of the Lehigh Times, one of 45 local news websites run in Pennsylvania by Metric Media, which has been found to fail basic journalistic standards for trustworthiness and credibility, according to a new report.

Thumbs up to Debra Popp, Newberry Township's longtime tax collector — who's retiring after what appears to be a coordinated political maneuver by members of the township's board of supervisors — for her years of faithful public service.

Supervisors quadrupled her office rent in the township's administrative building from $200 a month to $800. Then they attempted to exile her office to the sewer plant.  

The latter was a matter of "space," supervisor initially said. But when pressed, some supervisors admitted it was because they believed Popp was feeding information to a Facebook page that's widely critical of township officials.

The plan to boot Popp from the administrative building ultimately failed in February because state law prohibited her ouster in the middle of her term.

After the past year, Popp has decided not to seek reelection. It's an unfortunate, needlessly political ending to a 26-year career. 

Thumbs down to actual "fake news" cropping up in Pennsylvania and nationwide. 

News deserts are spreading thanks to the widespread monopolization of online advertising by firms such as Google and Facebook.

More than 1,800 newspapers alone have closed since 2004, according researchers at University of North Carolina. And the COVID-19 pandemic caused layoffs, furloughs and closures of newsrooms throughout the country, the Poynter Institute reported. 

Small communities have been particularly hard hit, those served for a century or more by a local weekly. 

There's a widening information gap in the United States, especially in rural regions. And legitimate news outlets aren't the ones filling it.

In Pennsylvania, purely partisan sites, created to mirror legitimate online news sources, have cropped up statewide, Spotlight PA reported. And they fail to pass any reasonable level of journalist muster, experts say.

They're in fact funded by partisan organizations and serve as mouthpieces for right-wing and left-wing organizations alike.

Take, for example, The Keystone, which went live this past year and is little but a left-wing campaign, part of a big money progressive echo chamber. And then there's the Lehigh Times, which has a website that closely mimics the website of the local newspaper, lehighvalleylive.com.

The latter is an attempt to fool the reader, especially on social media, and warp the narrative in the favor of Republicans.

These are attacks on the system of self-governance itself. Ours is a society that only exists with some semblance of shared facts.

But far too often, an institution dedicated to seeking those facts falters and it's replaced with a propaganda mill.