State journalism task force is good for local journalism

By: Christopher Ryan Crisanti

In July of this year I wrote about why local journalism matters not only for our communal well-being, but for our democracy as well. As more small, local newspapers have been purchased, there is the concern that the out-of-community corporation ownership has the potential erode local news. Moreover, some communities are already underserved by local journalism.

Well, the Illinois General Assembly has taken the initiative to help address this concern by adopting Senate Bill 134.

Signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker this August, the legislation establishes a local journalism task force in order to study what communities in Illinois are underserved by local journalism; review adequacy of press coverage in local committees; improve local news access and sustainability; and more.

The Task Force will consist of 13 members, with each the Speaker, House Minority Leader, Senate President, Senate Minority Leader, and the Governor all appointing one member to serve. The remaining eight members will be represented from the state’s various news organizations and associations, such as the Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, the Illinois Press Association, Illinois Legislative Correspondents Association, and more. No member will receive monetary compensation.

Appointments must be made no later than 30 days after the act was adopted, which was August 23, so expect announcements to be made in the coming weeks. Jordan Abudayyeh, Gov. Pritzker’s press secretary, was the first appointee made.

Once assembled, the Task Force will meet a minimum of five times to review, study, and analyze literature and data, then deliberate how to best address underserved communities. The Task Force will work in collaboration with the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for support and has a deadline to submit findings and recommendations to the Governor in one year. After two years, the Task Force will be dismantled.

The legislation is the step in the right direction to help sustain and advance local journalism at a time where the industry is heading in the wrong direction. In addition to The Tribune cleaning house this July, other media companies have recently made decisions to downsize or restructure.

The Chicago Reader is now being published bi-weekly instead of weekly. Garnett, which owns about 23 newspapers in Illinois, laid-off hundreds of employees across the country early last year and also presented buyouts to about 500 people in late 2020. The Daily Herald cut salaries by 15 percent due to COVID. 22nd Century Media, which published 14 community newspapers around the North Shore and Southwest Suburbs, went out of business. The list goes on.

Fewer resources for local newspapers mean fewer stories to cover (not to mention the quality). And with fewer stories there is less information for you to make on decisions pertaining to your neighborhood.

Public safety, the quality of schools, and the amount you pay in property taxes are all local issues that effect us everyday and the local media plays a big role on reporting on these issues for the benefit of us. If local journalism continues to erode, we will unfortunately no longer be recipients of that benefit.

While we will have to wait for the Task Force to due its diligence, readers in the meantime can also help support local journalism by subscribing to your local newspaper and talking with your neighbor. While these actions may seem small, they, if compounded, can help build stronger communities.

This column was also published in the DesPlaines Valley News

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