Illinois Press Foundation Creates Statehouse News Bureau

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The Capitol News Illinois team: (from left) Peter Hancock, Jerry Nowicki, Rebecca Anzel and Jeff Rogers celebrating in mid-February when the news service surpassed 1 million in circulation among newspapers that published its state government coverage. (Photo by Cindy Bedolli)

While many states across the nation have seen a reduced commitment to coverage of the legislature and government activity, the Illinois Press Foundation has created a bureau to cover these topics: Capitol News Illinois.

The idea originally came out of the Foundation’s board back in 2016 when they realized their statehouse news bureau was decimating in numbers. Then, in late 2017, Sam Fisher, president and CEO of the Illinois Press Association began to work on turning the idea into a reality. In 2018, Fisher asked Jeff Rogers, director of the Foundation, to join the project. Together, they created a plan which included the financial commitment required and got it in front of the Foundation board.

By October 2018, Fisher and Rogers had the funding they needed to begin Capitol News Illinois, courtesy of the Foundation board and the McCormick Foundation. The next step was to recruit reporters.

Rogers recruited Rebecca Anzel, Peter Hancock and Jerry Nowicki, who all have previous experience covering or working in state government. Capitol News Illinois also includes Grant Morgan, an intern from the University of Illinois Springfield Public Affairs Reporting program, and Rogers as interim bureau chief.

Capitol News Illinois launched earlier this year in January and is currently sending out, on average, five stories a day to state newspapers, from the Chicago Sun-Times to the Roseville Independent. The content is free for all Association members (about 440).

The team also sends out a daily email every morning to members including coverage plans for the day—what they will be covering, how long the story will be, whether photos will be included and what time the piece should arrive.

The bureau also has a website, which is password protected for members only, with coverage plans updated throughout the day. When a story is edited and good to go, it gets sent out to all the members via email and uploaded to the website.

Rogers said that a majority of newspapers are gathering stories via the website; however, the team has direct daily communication with a number of editors, who will bring suggestions to the table or seek requests.

“One of the things that tells us how interested these papers are in our content is it might be seven o’clock and there’s another story we’re finishing up and getting ready to send, and I start getting emails from people who are working on copy desks asking if that story is still going to be sent because they’re waiting for it,” he said.

In its first month, the bureau published more than 2,000 stories with 210 weeklies and 46 dailies, of those stories 413 made the front page.

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One thought on “Illinois Press Foundation Creates Statehouse News Bureau

  • May 9, 2019 at 6:59 am
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    Problem is that the people responsible for this are print centric and have not transitioned well to online. As of my last contact, there really is no mechanism for online outlets to be an Illinois Press Association member as their membership fee structure is based on cost of advertising on PAPER PAGES! Maybe it’s possible now. Maybe they have changed how they calculate membership fees and how membership levels are structured.

    Many of the weekly paper publications are not doing a very good job of reporting in depth local news. At best they are putting on paper what most electronic device savvy consumers have already known for nearly a week. Regurgitating press releases and running images that most of the community has seen on a social media platform is not going to generate ad revenue from younger people as they take over local businesses. Most of them never pick up a print paper and always get news via the web.

    75 to 80 percent of online news is now viewed by someone using a phone. That number is real and it should be a wakeup call.

    I believe that the news bureau is a great addition and resource for those that can utilize it but that having a password protected web page for content distribution to weekly print publications is almost comical.

    Reply

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