A new newspaper in Hideout featuring limited transparency spurs pro-annexation ‘propaganda’ accusation
Hideout Herald disclaimer indicates ‘Richardson Flat Partners’ are behind the publication
There have been some interesting items mixed in among the advertisements and bills in mailboxes near Hideout recently, including a newspaper called the Hideout Herald that caught nearby resident JT Olio’s eye.
“It just started showing up in the mail,” Olio said. “… My immediate reaction to the very first one was, ‘Brockbank!’”
Olio was referencing developer Nate Brockbank, who along with the Hideout Town Council is at the center of a controversial attempt to annex part of Richardson Flat to build 600 homes and a commercial center on what is now open land.
Olio sees the Hideout Herald as part of Brockbank’s sales pitch to Hideout residents ahead of a June referendum in which voters will decide whether the annexation and development will go forward.
A representative for Brockbank did not confirm whether the developer is involved with the paper, but said the publication would not pick sides in the debate about the annexation. A consultant who said she was involved with the Hideout Herald strongly indicated the developer is behind it, but both refused to confirm who is financing the publication, writing its articles or publishing it.
The Herald also has its own website and Facebook page.
Olio sees the Herald as pro-annexation — “drippingly so” — and cites articles that appear to paint Brockbank and the proposed annexation in a positive light.
“It’s something that purports to be a paper,” he said. “It’s clearly propaganda.”
A March cover article, for instance, indicates the annexation would be a solution to traffic issues by building nearby shopping centers. The article is mixed in with others that might appear in a community newspaper, like a story about an ROTC scholarship program and a ski season update.
“Oh my gosh, it’s just so blatant,” Olio said. “… The thing that stood out to me is how careful they’ve been not to include any identifiable contact info.”
The paper rarely features bylines, and then only first names and last initials, unless the stories are submitted by Hideout residents. It asks for news tips and submissions to be sent to Editor@hideoutherald.com.
Bylines and declarations of ownership are seen as fundamental aspects of transparency and accountability for media organizations. They inform readers about potential bias and give avenues to remedy inaccuracies.
Brockbank, through representative Chris Thomas, would not clarify what his relationship is with the publication, though he denied the paper was advocating for either side of the proposal.
“The Hideout Herald is not a newspaper, but rather a community newsletter which features feel-good stories about dogs, back to school, skiing, recipes and other topics of interest to Hideout. Additionally, there are regular contributions by Hideout residents and the Wasatch Public Library,” Brockbank said in a prepared statement sent by Thomas. “While there are some community news stories, they have never included nor will they ever include any type of advocacy. This would be contrary to the objective of the newsletter, which is to build a greater sense of community.”
Renae Cowley, who said she is “involved” with the Herald but did not confirm specifics about her role, pushed back on the notion that the paper lacks transparency.
“Every edition of the paper has a clear print disclosure stating that it is paid for by the Richardson Flat partners,” she wrote. “Stories are fact checked and reporting is conducted according to a high level of journalistic integrity. The Herald has never received any feedback from residents to the contrary. The Herald staff has extensive experience in news writing and is honored to work with a community paper that focuses on local interest content.”
Cowley identified herself as “a consultant of the Richardson Flat Partners, hired to engage in community building efforts and long-term public relations with Hideout residents.”
She declined to identify the Richardson Flat partners by name.
“Hideout residents (know) who the Richardson Flat partners are,” Cowley wrote in an email to The Park Record. “Yes, they are very philanthropic. Their contributions to the Hideout community, between donating the public works building, to the proposed donations of a community center, new town hall, and land for a church, school, and fire department, total nearly $10 million.”
Brockbank funded the public works building, according to Hideout Mayor Phil Rubin, and the latter improvements that Cowley cited are enticements Brockbank offered to be located in the Richardson Flat development.
No LLC exists in Utah with names associated with the paper, nor does there appear to be a nonprofit with those names, though the IRS indicated it has not processed many filings during the pandemic.
The Hideout Herald’s listed mailing address belongs to the model home for the Deer Waters development. A representative of the firm that owns that property, Holmes Homes, said it is not involved with the paper.
The Brockbank representative said the team had engaged in other outreach efforts, including soliciting input on what should be included in the community center that would be built in the new development. A mailer advertising the survey, which comes with a free T-shirt, features the same mailing address as the Herald.
Hideout officials during the approval process last summer publicly encouraged Brockbank to reach out to residents to sell the proposal.
Olio said when he heard that, he thought it was starting the clock on a public relations campaign to win the “hearts and minds” of Hideout residents before the referendum.
Town officials who support the annexation say the development would provide the commercial services necessary for a fast-growing residential area, including a grocery store and gas station. Those talking points are repeated almost verbatim in the March Hideout Herald cover article entitled “Traffic!”
“One solution to this traffic congestion is to develop local shopping opportunities in Hideout that will cut down on commutes to purchase necessities. The proposed development in Richardson Flat, for example, would provide local shopping options for Hideout residents including groceries and dining, without the traffic and lengthy commute into neighboring cities,” the article states.
That article, like many others, does not include its author’s name, merely indicating it was written by Hideout Herald staff.
Another article praises the developer for donating the public works facility, quoting Mayor Phil Rubin thanking the developer and a last paragraph that says the facility “was built with generous assistance from developer Nate Brockbank.”
Ultimately, several pending lawsuits regarding the annexation may decide its fate even if it is approved by voters June 22. If Hideout residents reject it at the polls, however, the ordinance annexing the land will be overturned.
Hideout officials would not be able to annex the land again in the same method because the short-lived law allowing it without Summit County’s consent has since been repealed.
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