By Shereen Siewert, Wausau Pilot and Review Editor and Publisher

Happy Monday, readers.

It’s been a bit of a crazy week for us at Wausau Pilot and Review, in part due to the deaths of two people dear to us. It made us all think about the precious and temporary nature of life.

First, longtime Everest Metro Police Captain Jim Vercimak lost his nearly two-year battle with kidney cancer on Monday. He was diagnosed in April 2018 and was given six months to live, fighting fiercely until the end. Jim was an outstanding police officer known for his quiet sense of fairness and calm demeanor. Even though his death was anticipated, it didn’t lessen the blow for his family, friends and colleagues.

Days later, less than 15 minutes before I was set to interview two Republican candidates for Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District in a Wisconsin Public Radio debate, my son called to tell me that his aunt, my former sister-in-law, had just died. He had raced to the Miinneapolis hospital that morning but was 15 minutes too late. Ann Lewandowski, a 59-year-old Wausau native and Newman graduate, was diagnosed with leukemia just 22 days before her death. The diagnosis — and her death — completely decimated her entire family. Ann was one of the kindest and most caring people I have ever known. It was an enormous blow to everyone who knew her, and my heart aches for her husband and children.

We had a lot to report on this week, from a multitude of crashes that happened during Sunday’s snowstorm to the first public debate between Wausau mayoral candidates Katie Rosenberg and Robert Mielke. The debate was a terrific opportunity to hear from both candidates about their ideas for Wausau, from economic development strategy to debt to homelessness and more. Be sure to check out our coverage here, with a story that includes the full video for your review. Thanks to Wausau Area Access Media for providing the video for this important event.

We also reported on the city’s intention to host a series of roundtable candidate discussions, where candidates will be joined by city staff members to explain or defend Wausau’s current economic development strategy. The meetings, proposed by the mayor and Economic Development Director Chris Schock, drew sharp and immediate criticism from some candidates who say the meetings could be a violation of state ethics rules. We’ve reached out to a couple of attorneys specializing in such matters, and plan to report on our findings early this week. Stay tuned.

One thing we’re keeping a close eye on that didn’t make headlines is the discovery of a clandestine political operation publishing, among other things, positive stories about moderate Democrats who face difficult reelections in November.

Up North News is one of six sites in battleground states that appear to be investing in local journalism, something that would normally seem like a welcome development. But the newsroom’s main backer is Acronym, a liberal dark-money group that has invested heavily in Democratic digital advertising and campaign technology — including Shadow Inc., the tech company behind the app that was supposed to report the results of last week’s Iowa caucuses.

Acronym aims to reshape the digital media landscape, it seems, by taking advantage of your trust in local journalism. It’s important to note that their stories are generally fact-based, and cannot be categorized as “fake news.” But because it obscures its funders and its agenda, the organization’s “news” operation leads to a grim result: Readers are deceived.

To be fair, democrats are not the only party to try this tactic: A conservative network founded by tea party activists has sites called TheMichiganStar.com and TennesseeStar.com.

States Newsroom, a network with sites in 15 states, was launched with the backing of the Hopewell Fund, another liberal dark-money group.

According to a news release, the organization behind Up North News seeks to “combat rising misinformation online.” But I cannot help but think that the solution to political misinformation is not simply what amounts to just a different form of political misinformation.

A more honest explanation is that Acronym is exploiting the widespread loss of local journalism to create and disseminate something we really don’t need: hyperlocal partisan propaganda.

Have a great week.

 

 

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