By JEFF ROGERS
Director, Illinois Press Foundation
As editor of Capitol News Illinois and director of the
Illinois Press Foundation, I have a daily connection to editors and publishers
at newspapers of all shapes and sizes in every part of the state. It has been a
difficult year, seeing all that you went through in 2020.
But while there was a steady flow of bad news in the
Illinois newspaper industry in 2020, I prefer to look at the past year in a few
First, the resilience and ingenuity of editors, reporters,
publishers, ad directors and ad reps was on display. The many ways that you all
adapted on both the editorial and business sides made me proud. But I wasn’t
Second, the importance of good, trusted journalism is even
more evident in this era of “fake news” and a pandemic. Newspapers are helping
their communities through these difficult times. This also is not a surprise.
Finally, the past few months have forced every industry and
workplace to find new ways of doing business. Some of those changes will be
permanent, because they actually strengthen the business model. I think we all
understand that significant changes in our industry have been needed for some
time. Among many other things, I prefer to look at 2020 as year of opportunity
– when crises began to shake newspapers into some difficult but necessary
changes that will ultimately make our industry stronger.
The landscape for Capitol News Illinois and statehouse
reporting is also changing.
The Illinois Press Foundation started the nonprofit news
service in great part to fill a void left by the exit of bureaus and reporters
from the state Capitol in Springfield. Our hope is that this effort helps spark
a return of reporters and bureaus from around the state to the statehouse.
While some see Capitol News Illinois as a threat to making obsolete other
reporters and news organizations covering state government, we don’t see it
that way. How we see it is that increased coverage creates an increased
interest in state government. That increased interest ultimately necessitates
more resources deployed to covering state government.
That theory has certainly been put to the test in the first
two years of Capitol News Illinois.
Longtime statehouse reporters Bernie Schoenburg and Doug
Finke retired in 2020, taking with them a vast reserve of institutional
knowledge. A bureau that had a full-time reporter also left the Capitol in the
past year, and there are three organizations that are no longer providing
internships for students in the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University
of Illinois Springfield.
None of these are bright spots, certainly.
But the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights has rejoined the
PAR program, and this spring has its first intern in a long time. The Chicago
Sun-Times rejoined the program in 2020 and has an intern for a second
consecutive year. Quincy Media launched a broadcast bureau at the Capitol in
2020, and also has an intern this spring.
These are all welcome developments.
And just this past weekend, we learned that Lee Enterprises
has hired a reporter to cover state government for its Illinois newspapers –
all of which have been strong partners of Capitol News Illinois.
So that landscape is constantly changing.
Would we love to see more newspaper companies like Lee
Enterprises return to devoting more resources to state government reporting?
Would more news organizations devoting resources to state
government reporting force changes in approach for Capitol News Illinois?
Perhaps, and probably likely.
But just as you do at your news organization, Capitol News
Illinois will face this ever-changing landscape with adaptability and continue
to grow and thrive.
Speaking of the
Public Affairs Reporting program at UIS, Capitol News Illinois is fortunate
this spring to have two interns working as full-time reporters! We have had one
intern each of the past two spring semesters. This year, we have both Grace
Barbic and Tim Kirsininkas working with us. They’ve already made strong
contributions and had a baptism by fire of sorts with the General Assembly
having a wildly fast-paced and newsworthy lame duck session during their second
week on the job.
We’re happy to have two young, rising stars on our team.
However, we have two PAR interns in great part because there are more students
than there are print organizations. There are 7 print journalists in this
year’s program and only 5 print news organizations. The hope is that the PAR
program continues to rebuild to a larger number of students. But there also is
a hope that more print journalism internships are made available to those
students in the future.
Another area where
change is going to be needed in 2021 for Capitol News Illinois is
fundraising. We have been fortunate to have had significant financial support
for the first few years from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and the
Illinois Press Foundation. And while our hope is that those financial
partnerships continue in the future, we cannot count on it.
We must establish a more robust and diverse funding base for
CNI to continue its work in the coming years. That was always the plan. One way
Capitol News Illinois could get on firmer footing financially is through
increased donations from the newspapers that publish the content daily and
weekly. If each newspaper, as it prepared its 2022 budget later this year,
considered Capitol News Illinois as a news service like others it pays and
donated a few thousand dollars, a huge difference would be made. Let’s say
every daily newspaper in Illinois made a $5,000 donation to CNI – and looked at
that as a budget expense for a service it uses so frequently. That alone would
essentially pay for a year of CNI operations. A $1,000 donation from each of
the nondaily newspapers in Illinois – also seen by the newspaper as a budget
expense for a news service it uses frequently – would fund another year-plus of
Expect further communications of this sort from us
throughout the year as we look to grow our funding base.
NewsMatch fundraising campaign is another way that we grow that base. Our
2020 campaign ended Dec. 31, and I am happy to report that we will be receiving
the maximum match from the national NewsMatch organization of $12,500. While we
fell short of our overall campaign goal, we did receive more than the $12,500
we needed to raise to earn the full match.
A special thank you to John Lampinen, senior vice president
of Paddock Publications and editor of the Daily Herald, and Chris Coates, Lee
Enterprises’ central Illinois editor, for the video testimonials they recorded
for our NewsMatch fundraising appeals! Thanks also to PAR Director Jason Piscia
for doing the same!
We can do better in our 2021 NewsMatch campaign, and we
will. That will require CNI to build more relationships with individuals and
organizations with an interest in state government coverage. That work is
underway. It will also require the further establishment of Capitol News
Illinois as a standalone news source in addition to one that provides contents
to daily newspapers. This is work that will have to become more of a focus in
But here, again, IPA member newspapers can help the cause.
How? By sharing with CNI the digital reach of its content on your own websites,
for instance. Promoting Capitol News Illinois and its need for funding in your
print and digital products would help, too. Occasional shout-outs to CNI on
your social media platforms would also be great. Much of this is happening now,
but more of it happening moving forward can help as we promote our partnership
with newspapers in fundraising campaigns.
You’ll all be hearing more about this in the coming months