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.