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Question of the day

Tuesday, Mar 28, 2023 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Press release…

A task force appointed to study the decline of local journalism in Illinois and recommend ways to revive the industry meets for the first time Monday, March 27.

The task force is being led by State Senator Steve Stadelman, who passed legislation to establish the panel of frontline journalists and academics and who worked 25 years as an award-winning television reporter and news anchor before his election to the Illinois General Assembly in 2012.

“Newsrooms across the nation are shrinking, especially in smaller and more rural areas, and an alarming number have closed in the last decade,” Stadelman said. “When people don’t know what’s happening on their town councils and school boards, they can’t make educated decisions or hold public officials accountable.”

Stadelman’s legislation charges the 23-member task force with studying Illinois communities underserved by the news media, proposing public policy to strengthen local journalism and recommending ways to support private-sector or non-profit operating models. Members of the task force represent higher education including the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, news media including the Illinois Public Broadcasting Council and Illinois Press Association and government including the Illinois Municipal League.

“There needs to be a candid conversation about the future of local news and how its future will affect the lives of families across our state,” Stadelman said. “Although the outcome could be that state government has no role, I’m optimistic about Illinois coming up with creative solutions to keep journalism alive and keep our citizens informed regardless of their zip codes.”

* Members of the task force who participated yesterday…

1. Sam (Sammy) Fisher, Illinois Press Association
2. Tim Franklin, Northwestern Medill School of Journalism
3. Jesús Del Toro, Chicago Independent Media Alliance
4. Tim Myers, Illinois Broadcasters Association
5. Jenna Dooley, Illinois News Broadcasters Association
6. Jason Piscia, Public Affairs Reporting Program @ UofI S
7. Mark Jacob, Chicago News Guild
8. Dong Han, Appointee, Representative of the School of Journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale
9. Sen. Don DeWitte, Appointee, Senate Minority Leader
10. Rep. Dave Vella, Appointee, Speaker
11. Jordan Abudayyeh, Appointee, Governor
12. Sen. Steve Stadleman, Appointee, Senate Majority Leader
13. Christopher Willadsen, Chicago Chapter of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (CWA)
14. Josh McGee, National Alliance of Black Journalists
15. Julie Moore Wolfe, Illinois Municipal League
16. Adam Rhodes, Association of LGBTQ Journalists
17. Randy Eccles, Illinois Public Broadcasting Council

* The Question: Your ideas for reviving local journalism in Illinois? Make sure to explain. Thanks.

       

37 Comments
  1. - Who else - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 10:44 am:

    My thoughts are more about what’s to be avoided. Philanthropic funding in Illinois has gone to so-called watchdog groups like the BGA. There are some great local level things getting funded, but every cent that goes to orgs that have a political mission is misguided and adds to the decline of local news and quality investigative reporting generally.
    If we can get these funders to stop the cash flow to orgs with an agenda and get that money flowing to orgs who want to report the actual news that would be a great thing.


  2. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 10:45 am:

    My dream is that the donor class funds a foundation to act as a kind of “United Way” for local media. I don’t know a free enterprise fix - maybe some sort of nationwide megapass subscription where people could get access to a larger number of articles from out-of-market high circulation papers outside their state/metro area and part of the fees go into such a foundation.


  3. - lake county democrat - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 10:45 am:

    Sorry, anon was me.


  4. - Rabid - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 10:48 am:

    High school newspapers


  5. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 10:53 am:

    Free subscriptions to Capitol Fax for all state house reporters?


  6. - RNUG - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 11:11 am:

    Depends on how you want to define local journalism here in Sangamon County.

    If you mean blogs and groups on Facebook, I see various people stepping up and filling the holes in local journalism. The biggest class I see is crime reporting, including one person who has more or less daily arrest reports posted, just like the old SJR police beat but in full detail instead of selective items. The local police scanner groups are also halfway decent at coverage. And the Nextdoor app does a good job of sharing various city and neighborhood announcements.

    As for print, the Illinois Times does a fairly good job of reporting, even though they do have a bit of a slant. Too bad they are a weekly. The SJR is just good for the comics, obits, and puzzles.

    Whether us old folks like it or not, the future of journalism is mostly online feeds. Whatever initiatives that are attempted, they should focus on more journalism training for the semi-amateurs doing the reporting today to help them be more professional.


  7. - CLJ - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 11:11 am:

    First I want to nitpick on Medill being included on the task force. When I worked in media relations, I found their students to be the least prepared and frankly lazy when they reached out to me for class assignments. After a while I stopped responding to them. As a former journalism student, I wanted to be helpful, but it became annoying. That was a decade ago so maybe the instruction and students has improved. Clearly, I haven’t dropped that grudge.

    To the topic, I am interested to see how the movement to not-for-profit publications pans out. The big challenge is attracting enough revenue to sustain the amount of coverage necessary to justify subscribing to a publication. Newspaper subscriptions are not cheap in comparison to alternatives. I don’t know how they overcome that without having to adopt the semi-annual public appeal for donations like PBS and NPR.

    For the record I personally subscribe to the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal. I was hopeful the Sun would have gone the non-profit route. There is a digital only non-profit “paper” called the Baltimore Banner that I have not yet joined. I much prefer newsprint.


  8. - Jocko - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 11:19 am:

    Subsidizing journalism courses at community colleges? State grants?

    It’s sad how little people want to contribute to the fourth estate.


  9. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 11:21 am:

    People, stick to the topic. This is not a gripe session about how lousy some outlets are. Getting tired of deleting comments.

    Stick. To. The. Topic.


  10. - RNUG - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 11:23 am:

    Should have added the SJR is barely local since it is mostly done out of Peoria.


  11. - TinyDancer(FKASue) - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 11:25 am:

    A publicly-funded PBS model might work.


  12. - thisjustinagain - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 11:26 am:

    The task force needs to admit that profitable (or maybe could be) printed newspapers were bought up by the big players, and the little players can’t make enough money in the Internet era.
    A local small paper (the Lansing Journal) does a monthly paper copy and seeks donations and advertising to cover costs trying to make a viable truly modern-day local paper. They are the modern replacements for the twice-or-three times a week local papers of decades ago like the Southtown Star and the Economist, etc.


  13. - Dan Johnson - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 11:27 am:

    Local libraries.

    They are in the knowledge distribution business.

    They have a lot of staff that aren’t always fully occupied during the day (especially as collections become more digital).

    They are already curators.

    Not a big leap to have library staff curate local events, local government meetings and other events that help to inform people.

    Not quite the same as an investigative journalist but as the community calendar with some soft features … libraries could do that.


  14. - Annonin' - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 11:31 am:

    This has taken a while to get up to steam…hopefully not too late. There needs to be a slug of cash created to fund reporters and editors. The growing gap is the evaporation of local news. Coverage of city halls, local schools non existent in many communities. If memory serves the Illinois Public Broadcasting got state funds to equip and operate satellite TV coverage. Perhaps that can be a template. Good luck


  15. - Ex Journo - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 11:35 am:

    The industry needs an overhaul of how they treat/pay their employees. I am one of many young local news reporters who left the industry too soon due to poor treatment and a pittance of a salary.


  16. - Give Us Barabbas - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 11:41 am:

    Maybe more collective operations like AlterNet. A pool to distribute individual submitted stories. But it’s all going to be online; there’s insufficient money in dead tree newspaper production.

    The vacuum of coverage also creates a space that minority reporters could step into, helping to drive coverage in new directions for underserved markets.


  17. - Lulu in Lake - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 11:41 am:

    ==Not a big leap to have library staff curate local events, local government meetings and other events that help to inform people==

    I have been a librarian for 15+ years, and librarianship is not journalism and collating local events is not librarianship *or* journalism. We have no expertise in this, and don’t need yet another unfunded mandate dumped on us.

    Public journalism similar to NPR or PBS would be an option worth exploring. I was happy to see WBEZ buy the Sun-Times and really hope that experiment succeeds.


  18. - Techie - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 11:42 am:

    I wish I could say I had a good idea to make it easier for new outlets to get funding, but I mostly don’t. Obviously the old model was funded by advertisements and people paying for subscriptions.

    I think part of the issue is that, relatively speaking, the average person today has less expendable income than they did 20-30 years ago. So they are less inclined to pay for something that is non-essential in an immediate sense of life preservation.

    Raising wages/incomes compared with inflation might help a bit, but still, I think consumer attitudes have changed and many expect news to be free online. Maybe there could be a stronger way for local businesses to contribute money towards local outlets it could help, but I don’t know what that would look like.


  19. - Kiyoshi - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 11:43 am:

    The core problem with the decline of local journalism is money. Ad revenue went to big internet players and it’s never coming back. Small businesses and big businesses alike get more ROI from all the micro targeting they can do on modern ad platforms from most social media networks and Google.

    Assuming any funding for journalism will come from limited ad sales, subscriptions and foundations/philanthropy, the best way to make the limited pool of money go further will be using A.I. tools to produce content. The long-term winners will be those who can figure out how to automate as much as possible and use human time to guide the workflow or fact check the results - or do the rare and hard for of deeply time consuming investigations (a lot of which could be assisted by A.I. as well).

    I’ve seen ChatGPT do amazing things. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that you could have A.I. watch or listen to live dreams of city council or committee meetings and write a news article about what happened and provide context alongside other public documents provided about the topic and even reach out and email sources for more information. It could even create infographics as needed.

    The future of journalism is A.I. reliant because it allows the user to leverage time for nearly no cost. If there’s fewer journalists and less money to go around, I don’t think there’s another solution.


  20. - Al - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 11:43 am:

    Limit media ownership in Illinois to Illinois citizens. The out of State owners are not reading Illinois news.


  21. - Friendly Bob Adams - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 11:52 am:

    Sorry but this appears to be a lost cause. In years past newspapers made loads of easy money from local advertising that is never coming back.

    A few places might go to a non-profit model, but I doubt that will take hold in too many places.


  22. - Earnest - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 11:54 am:

    A challenging and difficult question. It’s hard not to go national and talk about a US economy that incentivizes large corporations gobbling up smaller ones and wringing every cent they can out of them, leaving them nonexistent, smaller or weaker. We follow the trend as a state by implementing managed care and outsourcing IT, sending our money to out of state, for profit corporations instead of residents who pay state and local taxes.

    I like Pritzker best when he’s taking an incubator approach, building up infrastructure and higher education to make the ground fertile for industry and innovation. I’d do the same with journalism, maybe fund a university to create an overall domain and web interface for basic local news, scholarships and funding to higher education and possible high schools for studying journalism and paid internships to populate the domain with news and information, the hope not being that a skeletal state-sponsored news is the future of local journalism, but opening the possibility for the participants themselves to innovate and find business models that will work. Maybe some DCEO grant opportunities at that point.


  23. - one man band - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 11:58 am:

    I think that something modeled after the Grow Your Own Teacher program might work. College grads don’t want to stay in a small market. We need to train locals who want to stay and help inform their community.


  24. - Louis G Atsaves - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 12:16 pm:

    The best they can do is to establish more local Patch internet news sources and try to expand them out. They need bodies to get out and report on news and enough cash to pay for them, which seems like a very tall order. Offer free subscriptions and try to push advertising to survive. An alternative would be a minor subscription fee and hope enough sign up to make it somewhat viable.

    Right now my area is serviced by a couple of podcasts that are hosted by duos who remind me of the Wayne’s World movies, an occasional Timpone/Proft publication and the local Lake Forester that now can be read in 30 seconds as compared to 20 years ago. The Lake Forester is owned by the Chicago Tribune.

    I know other little internet chains exist that more or less use the Patch model, but I voted early and didn’t know any of the candidates for school board, and knew only one for Lake County College Board on the contested election front, with the exception of local mayor race that has everyone’s focus to the exclusion of all other candidates. So much for trying to be active in politics over the years. I can just imagine how a normal voter felt.


  25. - Stormsw7706 - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 12:43 pm:

    State grants to startups employing 5 or more reporters with increased funding for communities in News deserts. Increased funding if they establish a physical presence. I miss my morning paper. The feel of it in my hands while I drink my coffee was a source of great joy.


  26. - Stormsw7706 - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 12:47 pm:

    This group seems like a promising start


  27. - Tweed Thornton - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 1:10 pm:

    Click on my name for an extended conversation on this very topic courtesy of Rebuild Local News CEO and Founder, Steve Waldman joining the Publicity Club of Chicago podcast.

    Visit https://www.rebuildlocalnews.org/policy-menu/ for even more information. Waldman and Rebuild Local News have a host ideas that include:

    -Tax credits for small businesses to advertise with local news organizations
    -Tax credits for retaining or hiring local reporters
    -Tax credits for consumers to subscribe or donate to a local newsroom
    -Target more government advertising toward local newsrooms
    -Fellowships or other support for reporters placed in local newsrooms
    -Direct grants from an independent 501c3 group toward journalism projects
    -Incentives for community institutions to “replant” newspapers
    -American Rescue Plan-funded advertising programs

    These and other ideas are needed IMO. This is not a “one solution” problem but more like a war that needs multiple tactics deployed at the same time in order to win.

    Hats off to this task force, Rebuild Local news, and other efforts for joining the fight instead of throwing hands up in the air and saying “Oh well, it’s over”. If we all have the latter attitude, this certainly will be the final act for many.


  28. - Suburbanon - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 1:24 pm:

    One knowledgeable person missing from that group is Jim Nowlan. He worked tirelessly for many years to save a small town newspaper and thus could provide real world advice. He was passionate about his mission for local journalism.


  29. - levivotedforjudy - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 1:29 pm:

    To prevent ideologic interference it would need to be funded by a huge not-for-profit that could connect donor directed funds for this. Then provide a sort of template to use, but it must be monitored to make sure they don’t do “alternative facts”, plagiarize or use too much AI (not sure how to stop that last one though). The reporters could be local students, seniors, regular folks that are paid per article or per click. It would need to be on-line. A model could be the defunct Examiner.com but reenvisioned as a not-for-profit.


  30. - Groucho - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 1:42 pm:

    I would think that trying to increase demand for local journalism would be a valuable. I would start with the younger people by encouraging or even mandating civic courses for grade school and high school students with curriculums that place an emphasis on the importance of being educated on local issues. The curriculum should encourage students to read news from a variety of outlets and to gather opinions from all sides of an issue.


  31. - Streator Curmudgeon - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 2:02 pm:

    The newspaper business model doesn’t seem to work any more. The Internet has changed that.

    What’s needed is web sites with RELIABLE local news, but the key problem is how reporters and editors would be paid. Subscription fees probably wouldn’t do it. Advertising? Maybe.

    All newspapers have web sites. Many charge a subscription fee, especially the major papers. Print journalism, due to cost of paper, supplies, postage, and carrier pay, is becoming extinct.

    Ralph Nader has started a newspaper in his home town that he hopes will become a business model for newspaper startups. Time will tell if it’s viable.

    The problem is not how to get skilled reporters and editors; the problem is establishing profitable outlets for them.

    Gen Xers and Gen Zees are always looking at their phones. Would they read local news? They might, if the integrity of the product was there.


  32. - thechampaignlife - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 3:41 pm:

    I would like to see a public funding option. Something like the top 5 media outlets in a county appear on the ballot and the percentage that voters pick each of them determines the share of some pot of tax dollars that each of them gets.


  33. - Stormsw7706 - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 3:52 pm:

    Good ideas Teed Thornton. Ex-newsman I Assume


  34. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 3:55 pm:

    - Tweed -

    Great stuff, you’re doing great things, your podcast is top shelf and worth the time with great guests.


  35. - Jason Piscia, PAR @ UIS - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 4:43 pm:

    Thanks, everyone, for your feedback and support here. I liked Tweed’s comment about needing to deploy multiple tactics to win this war. I was less thrilled with the “lost cause” comment, but I completely understand the frustration. All of us on the task force agree that throwing in the towel on quality local journalism just isn’t an option. When local news is better, democracy is better (and so is the employment demand for my PAR graduates). I will definitely share the sentiments and ideas here with the non-CapFax readers on the task force. Our meetings are open to the public and subject to the Open Meetings Act, so I hope to see some you at a future meeting (date and time TBD).


  36. - MyTwoCents - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 5:34 pm:

    I think different things would work in different areas of the state. I’m supportive of local newspapers, but examples like the SJ-R provide no incentive to subscribe because the cost-benefit analysis just isn’t there. So to succeed there has to be the quality product that is sorely lacking in a lot of places. But it does seem like there are local papers that are succeeding. The Ford County Chronicle was started by a couple local reporters, eventually drove the old paper out of business, started with online only and now eventually is able to publish a weekly paper. I’d try to find success stories and find out what works and what doesn’t work.


  37. - Journal-News. Hillsboro - Tuesday, Mar 28, 23 @ 6:09 pm:

    I’d like to a tax credit for businesses to advertise in local newspapers. It would help newspapers but importance to local economic activity can’t be understated. Local business in many areas hasn’t come back all the way from Covid. This in the rural area would be a big boost to the local economies and the local newspaper.


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