Post-Convention 2020 PressLines

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BETTER TOGETHER Hundreds of colleagues from news organizations across the state and beyond gathered virtually for this year's IPA/IPF convention. This special edition recaps that experience!




Sessions, work make virtual convention a success A nother annual convention is over – one like no one would have imagined last year. We had 270 people register for last week’s virtual convention, which featured 15 sessions over the course of the week. I’ve been attending the annual Illinois Press Association and Illinois Press Foundation convention for nearly 30 years and I’ve never seen the quality of programming previously compared to what was offered last week. I’m hopeful by next May, when convention rolls around, that we are able to meet in-person. However, that looks a little uncertain at this point. The one thing that we missed by going virtual is recognizing the efforts of our IPA Distinguished Service Award winners – Jon Whitney, Jerry Taylor and Don Craven. Each of these individuals have contributed so much to llinois newspapers and the Association. So, I’m hopeful that we get to

honor these folks next year. I also missed socializing with members at convention, but hopefully we get to rekindle friendships next year over a few cocktails. Most press associations opted just to cancel their annual convention this year, although there were some that took the same path that we did by going virtual. SAM FISHER I’ve received positive President & CEO feedback about the programming and the execution of the convention. Putting this program together was not an easy feat and definitely one that we had no experience in hosting. There was a tremendous amount of

work invested by staff. You saw Jeff Rogers and Sandy Pistole and saw firsthand their contributions. What you didn’t see was the effort by the remainder of the staff. Tracy Spoonmore, Ron Kline and Cindy Bedolli were key in making this a success. Cindy was instrumental in keeping everyone on task, as she does so well. She quickly learned all the finer points of Zoom, coordinated all of the registration and invites and even set up practice sessions for all the panelists. I’m proud of the staff for putting such a great program together, as it’s important to let our members know that this just didn’t happen overnight. There was months of work involved in the planning process. So, if we are not able to see each other the old-fashioned way, know that we now have the experience to host an even better virtual conference next year.

WATCH ALL OF OUR IPA/IPF CONVENTION SESSIONS Click on the link to view: n Selling In Tough Times: How do they do it? n Taking the Nonprofit Leap n Re-igniting the post-covid-19 sales conversation with advertisers n Data Journalism

n Sports Coverage That Connects n Helping Business Owners find their "Unique Selling Proposition" n Associated Press Update/IAPME Awards n Agriculture 201 n Revenue Idea Exchange - That's My Idea!


900 Community Drive Springfield, IL 62703 Ph. 217-241-1300 Fax 217-241-1301


Scott Stone | Chair Daily Herald Media Group, Arlington Heights

Stefanie Anderson Paddock Publications Inc./Southern Illinois LOCAL Media Group

Don Bricker | Vice-Chair Shaw Media, Sterling

David Bauer Hearst Newspapers, Jacksonville

Sue Walker | Treasurer Herald Newspapers, Inc., Chicago Ron Wallace | Immediate Past Chair Quincy Herald-Whig

n Power Up Your Utilities Coverage n IPA Best of the Press Awards n Building a Watchdog Culture in Your Newsroom n Special Sections, Special Efforts n IPA Advertising Awards n Chicago Independent Media Alliance

Chris Fusco Chicago Sun-Times Darrell Garth Chicago Citizen Newspaper Group

Margaret Holt Chicago Tribune Media Group, Chicago Dorothy Leavell Crusader Group, Chicago Sandy Macfarland Law Bulletin Media, Chicago Jim Slonoff The Hinsdalean, Hinsdale Wendy Martin Mason County Democrat, Havana

IPA STAFF | PHONE 217-241-1300 Sam Fisher, President & CEO Ext. 222 –

Sandy Pistole, Director of Revenue Ext. 238 -

Ron Kline, Technology & Online Coordinator Ext. 239 -

Tracy Spoonmore, Chief Financial Officer Ext. 237 -

Cindy Bedolli, Member Relations Ext. 226 -

Jeff Rogers, Director of Foundation Ext. 286 –

ILLINOIS PRESSLINES is published bimonthly for $30 per year for Illinois Press Association members by the Illinois Press Association, 900 Community Drive, Springfield, IL 62703. Jeff Rogers, Editor © Copyright 2020. All rights reserved. Volume 26 Post-Convention 2020 Number 6 Date of Issue: 9/25/2020




Some helpful words from our sponsors during convention


really hope you enjoyed last week’s virtual convention as much as I did. It was great being able to spend an hour or so listening to people like Dan Haley, Tracy Baim, Chris Coates, Jeff D’Alessio and Jim Rossow talk about the great work they do in their newsrooms. But it was equally satisfying to participate in sessions with college professors like Joe Gisondi at Eastern Illinois University and Brant Houston at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. And to listen to the panel of Chicago Independent Media Alliance – Yazmin Dominguez, Shawn Campbell, Anna JEFF ROGERS DeShawn, Karen Hawkins and Julie Younquist – talk about Director of Foundation the exciting new collaboration between community news outlets in the city. Heck, even though I remain a newspaper editor at heart, I found the advertising presentations from experts like Ryan Dohrn and Mike Centorani interesting! The panel discussion between advertising execs Jay Dickerson, Kristine Ressler, Mike Bonnell, Kathy Metcalf, Monica Pedraza and Brandon Goodenough was equally entertaining. And I loved, loved, loved all of the great advertising revenue projects that were shared during the “Revenue Idea Exchange” hosted by our very own Sandy Pistole. So much good stuff to take in during the week! You can read about all of those sessions in this special post-convention edition of PressLines. And if you weren’t able to get to all – or even any – of these sessions last week, you can click on the links in this edition to watch them. Every session is well worth your time! In addition to all of these great sessions were presentations from two of our sponsor organizations – Ameren Illinois and Illinois Farm Bureau. We’ve gotten to know the folks at Ameren and IFB well over the past couple of years because of their convention sponsorship. But our relationship with Ameren Illinois has also benefited from its sponsorship of two editorial contest award categories. Hopefully, you saw Tucker Kennedy of Ameren Illinois present the winners in the Distinguished Coverage of Diversity and Community Service categories. And our relationship with IFB has been strengthened by its content collaborations with Capitol News Illinois. Jeff Brown and DeAnne Bloomberg, who gave the IFB’s virtual presentation during convention, have

ABOVE: Tucker Kennedy, director of communications at Ameren Illinois, gives his presentation during the "Power Up Your Utilities Coverage" session Sept. 17 during the Illinios Press Association/ Foundation virtual convention. CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO WATCH THE SESSION OR CLICK HERE. RIGHT: Jeff Brown and DeAnne Bloomberg of Illinois Farm Bureau give their presentation, "Agriculture 201" during the convention. CLICK ON EITHER PHOTO TO WATCH THE SESSION OR CLICK HERE. been instrumental in those efforts. Both Ameren and Illinois Farm Bureau create content that your newsroom could use. Tucker and Brian Bretsch talked about the news that Ameren Illinois creates – about electric and natural gas safety, system upgrades and technology, economic development, and of course storms and outages. Ameren also produces human interest stories. Bretsch talked about some of those, including content that included honeybees, and osprey and a goat. You’ll have to watch the session to find out how they all worked into Ameren Illinois news stories. In addition to news releases and stories, Ameren offers local media access to photos, B-roll for multimedia journalism, video and audio sound bites and fact sheets. You can see all of that content here. After the session, Tucker shared with me that Ameren Illinois doesn’t need to be notified when you use any of its content. And while attribution isn’t required, it’s appreciated. Jeff and DeAnne from Illinois Farm Bureau talked about its organization’s many content offerings, which includes stories, photos and graphics about farming, food, weather, markets, ag policy and more. The IFB also provides audio and video that may be accessed by your newsrooms. Jeff and DeAnne can also connect your reporters with sources that include farmers, ag economists, farm policy experts and stakeholders throughout the value chain. Also, as DeAnne said, IFB can help newsrooms with story ideas. She mentioned a shortage of canned pumpkins as a story that’s hot right now. IFB can put your reporters in touch with local

sources for your story. Jeff mentioned that you can go to to grab content created by the IFB. If you do so, please make sure to give attribution. Jeff also mentioned that collaboration on stories between the IFB and a local newspaper can be done as well. Which brings me, finally, to the sponsors of this year’s convention. Ameren Illinois and Illinois Farm Bureau were Gold Sponsors of this year’s programming. Daily Herald Media Group and Southern Illinois Local Media Group were Platinum Sponsors. Silver Sponsors were Law Bulletin Media, Associated Press and Epic Retirement Plan Services. And LRS Web Solutions and North Star Credit Union were the convention’s Bronze Sponsors. As I mentioned during each session, we are grateful for our sponsors for their continued and generous support of our convention. We would not be able to have conventions – whether in-person or virtually – without our sponsors. And we especially thank them this year for sticking with us we had to alter our convention plans a few times. In the coming months, we hope to continue to make available virtual learning sessions like the ones we provided during the convention. I welcome any and all suggestions on topics, talent and timing. Email me at







The Hinsdalean, The News-Gazette take top advertising honors SPRINGFIELD – The News-Gazette of Champaign emerged as the top daily newspaper for advertising awards at the Illinois Press Association’s annual convention Sept. 18. The Hinsdalean was crowned the top non-daily newspaper. The News-Gazette in Champaign received the James S. Copley Memorial Trophy for advertising achievement based on points accumulated in the IPA’s annual advertising and marketing contest, which was for work completed in 2019. The Copley Trophy was established and contributed by the Illinois division of Copley Newspapers in memory of James S. Copley, publisher of the San Diego Union and Tribune and owner of Copley Newspapers, Inc. The Hinsdalean received the Sam Zito Award of Excellence, which is

named in honor of the longtime sales representative from Crystal Lake. Forty-six newspapers submitted more than 500 contest entries. Division trophies were presented to the newspaper in each division that accumulated the highest number of points. Divisions include daily and weekly newspapers from smallest (G) to largest (J). [A-F divisions are non-advertising designations.] The Division G trophy was awarded to the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. The Division H trophy went to The Hinsdalean. The News-Gazette in Champaign claimed the Division I trophy. Division G includes newspapers with circulations of 1 – 4,000. Division H includes newspapers with circulations of 4,001 – 8,000. Division I includes newspapers with circulations of 8,001 or more.






Advertising Sales Manager of the Year: Carole Fredeking, The Telegraph of Alton

Advertising Sales Rep of the Year: Kathy Metcalf, The Marion Republican

WATCH Co-workers and IPA Director of Revenue Sandy Pistole surprised Carole Fredeking of The Telegraph in Alton by presenting her with the Illinois Press Association's Advertising Sales Manager of the Year Award!

WATCH Co-workers and IPA Director of Revenue Sandy Pistole surprised Kathy Metcalf at the office of The Marion Republican in DuQuin by presenting her with the Illinois Press Association's Advertising Sales Representative of the Year Award!

See TALKING on Page 8




Six newspapers win editorial sweepstakes

WATCH & READ SPRINGFIELD – Illinois’ top newspapers were honored Sept. 17 at the Illinois Press Association’s virtual convention. More than 120 daily and nondaily newspapers competed in 40 editorial categories. The Nebraska Press Association judged the more than 2,000 editorial entries for work done in 2019. The Chicago Sun-Times won the Stuart R. Paddock Memorial Sweepstakes Trophy for large dailies. The Sweepstakes Trophies are awarded to newspapers earning the most points in six different circulation divisions. Points are awarded

for first place through honorable mention in most contest categories, including general excellence, photography, news writing, opinion writing, design, community service and editorial page. Runner-up for the Paddock Trophy was the Chicago Tribune Media Group. In third place was Daily Herald Group, Arlington Heights. In the medium-sized daily newspaper category, The News-Gazette in Champaign took top honors for the fifth consecutive year. It was awarded the Mabel S. Shaw Memorial Sweepstakes Trophy. The Northwest

CLICK HERE to watch the full awards presentation CLICK HERE to read the Best of the Press 2019 edition.

Herald in Crystal Lake claimed second place, and the Quincy Herald-Whig placed third. In the small daily newspaper category, The Southern Illinoisan in Carbondale claimed top honors. The newspaper was awarded the Patrick Coburn Award of Excellence. Coming in second for the Coburn Award was the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb, followed by The Telegraph in Alton. In the large, nondaily newspaper category, The MidWeek of DeKalb claimed the Will Loomis Memorial Trophy. Pioneer Press Media Group received second place. The Journal & Topics Media

Group received third place. The Harold and Eva White Memorial Trophy is awarded to a medium-sized nondaily newspaper. The winner this year was The Hinsdalean. Second place went to The Galena Gazette. And in third place was The Journal-News in Hillsboro. The Woodstock Independent claimed ownership of the David B. Kramer Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the best small, nondaily newspaper in Illinois. The Oakland Independent received second place. And the thirdplace award was won by the Bureau County Republican in Princeton.






Editor of the Year: Chris Coates, Central Illinois editor for Lee Enterprises

WATCH Chris Coates' family (above), co-workers and friends surprised him with videos of congratulations for being named the Illinois Press Association's Editor of the Year. The video was played during the editorial awards presentation Sept. 17 during the Illinois Press Association and Illinois Press Foundation virtual convention. Coates is the Central Illinois editor for Lee Enterprises and works at the Herald & Review office in Decatur..

Reporter of the Year: Katie Smith, Northwest Herald

WATCH Colleagues surprised Katie Smith in the Northwest Herald parking lot in Crystal Lake to present her with the Illinois Press Association Reporter of the Year Award. The IPA this year added Editor of the Year and Reporter of the Year awards to its annual contest. Videos of each winner were shown during the editorial awards presentation Sept. 17. (Photo credit: Matthew Apgar/Shaw Media)





It's complicated Ad executives share tips, success stories on selling during a pandemic By CHRISTOPHER HEIMERMAN For Illinois Press Association SPRINGFIELD – Minutes after the kickoff session of the Illinois Press Association’s annual convention Sept. 14, Denzel Washington’s YouTube page likely saw an uptick in traffic. During “Selling in Tough Times: How Do They Do It?”, six newspaper advertising employees, including moderator Jay Dickerson, advertising manager of The Galena Gazette, shared tricks of the trade that have not just kept their newsrooms open, but also added revenue streams. “I’m a big quote guy; I have quotes on my desk I read every day,” said Brandon Goodenough, marketing consultant at the The News-Gazette of Champaign. “I watch Denzel Washington’s morning motivation every day.” “I’m going to look that up when we finish here,” Dickerson said, followed by a chorus of, “Me too” from the panel, made up of reps from papers ranging in size from the Chicago Tribune to The Galena Gazette. Shortly after Gov. JB Pritzker issued the stay-at-home order March 20, ad executives reported advertising revenue losses ranging up to 90 percent, in the case of The Reader in Chicago. Dickerson said in mid-May that the Gazette had to make the tough decision to publish just one tourism guide, rather than two, meaning a loss of $100,000 in revenue. “I felt the world shift and the ground come out from under me,” Dickerson said. “We’re not alone as an industry, but as they say on the

(Clockwise from top left) Jay Dickerson, Kristine Ressler, Kathy Metcalf, Brandon Goodenough, Monica Pedraza and Mike Bonnell give a virtual presentation of "Selling in Tough Times: How Do They Do It?" during Monday morning's programming session of the Illinois Press Association/Foundation annual convention. CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO WATCH THE SESSION OR CLICK HERE. T-shirts, we are stronger together.” Newspapers throughout the state got creative. Most of them quickly built web pages featuring which businesses were still open and services they offer, and then shared that information in print. Advertising and editorial departments teamed up to crank out special sections, including Hearst Media’s section “Heroes Unmasked,” which spotlighted members of the community stepping up to help one another. The section, printed in June, was full of uplifting stories – and ads. “The community really grabbed

on to that; it was really awesome and gave everyone a real picture of the community coming together,” said Kristine Ressler, who less than a year ago started as local business advocate for Hearst’s daily publications in southwestern Illinois, The Edwardsville Intelligencer and The Telegraph of Alton. This month, a virtual event will be held to recognize the heroes, as well as the sponsors who got behind the section. “I like that idea of having an event to really tie everything together,” Dickerson said. “That really engages

the community.” Newspapers across the state have found clever ways to engage their readers in fun ways. The Hearst papers published a bingo card featuring businesses that donated gift cards for visitors who “won” by making purchases to fill their card. “It’s been fun, and it’s still generating a buzz in the community now,” Ressler said. Kathy Metcalf has worked in advertising for nearly half a century, since 1973, and helms advertising sales for the Marion Republican and its nine other publications. There was reason for panic as festivals were canceled nationwide, including the DuQuoin State Fair Festival, for which the Republican has published a book yearly. But she and her team rallied to produce Destination 618, a special section that combined tourism and things to do and see in greater Carbondale. “We ended up making [29 percent] more revenue on that than the fair that we missed,” she said. She said patience and thinking outside the box has been vital. “Our top 10 clients? They’re not my top 10 clients anymore,” she said. “We always have to be thinking about another day.” “I’m working on building relationships for life after the pandemic,” Goodenough said. All the panelists agreed that mentality is crucial. Dickerson and Ressler each shared anecdotes of visiting business owners in person the moment they were allowed to, and getting the side-eye because for pitching during a pandemic.

See SELLING on Page 10





Going nonprofit ‘one of many solutions,’ panelists say By CHRISTOPHER HEIMERMAN For Illinois Press Association SPRINGFIELD – Over the past four decades, Dan Haley’s experience with nonprofits was limited to covering them. So he had, and still has, many questions about how to shift to a nonprofit model - which the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park did last year, 39 years after he’d founded it in 1980. “You need a good lawyer, and you need a lot of accountants,” Haley said during “Taking the Nonprofit Leap,” Monday’s afternoon session at the Illinois Press Association and Illinois Press Foundation virtual convention. “It takes time and expertise – expertise that God knows I don’t have.” Haley was joined on the panel by longtime Chicago journalist Tracy Baim, publisher of the Chicago Reader and owner and co-founder of Windy City Times, a 35-year-old LGBTQ newspaper. True to form, she didn’t mince words when asked what sort of papers should pursue moving to the nonprofit model. “The smaller the paper – maybe weeklies and biweeklies – this might be the model that can save it,” she said. “For most dailies, for a chain, I think it would be almost impossible for a chain to do it all at one time.” A media outlet would need its ownership to get on board with the decision, and relinquish the right to have any influence over editorial content. Unless, of course, the owner happens to be

Dan Haley and Tracy Baim speak during the Sept. 14 panel discussion, "Taking the Nonprofit Leap" during the first day of the Illinois Press Association and Foundation's annual convention. CLICK ON EITHER PHOTO TO WATCH THE SESSION OR CLICK HERE. the editor and publisher, as is the case for Haley with his resulting nonprofit, Growing Community Media. He and his wife, Mary, were the majority stakeholders. He said among the other dozen owners, several were intimately involved with the four newspapers: the Wednesday Journal in Oak Park, Forest Park Review, and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark, and the Austin Weekly News on Chicago’s West Side. “So we were able to get everyone on board and make the transition pretty easily,” Haley said. Baim is eternally grateful for one thing in 2020: On Feb. 1, she submitted her application to the IRS to make The Reader a nonprofit, the product of a long-standing discussion to make the move – not to mention the 3 months it took her to complete the paperwork.

“I’m grateful we got that application in before the devastation hit with COVID,” Baim said. “I don’t think I’d have the mental strength to do it.” A long road stretches ahead of The Reader. Haley said it took about 18 months to fully convert the Wednesday Journal to the nonprofit model. In fact, he said it’s stil about only 95 percent of the way there. Something as simple as botched math on the IRS application delayed the approval process a couple of months last year, he said, adding that approval took about 6 months from the day the application was submitted. “The IRS is … I’d say they’re a little suspicious of nonprofit journalism,” Haley said. “They’re new to it. There isn’t even a box to check yet for nonprofit journalism.”

See NONPROFIT on Page 12

SELLING Continued from Page 9 Lo and behold, Ressler said one of those business owners has since begun advertising with her Hearst market. Mental toughness goes a long way, and it’s a developed trait, said Mike Bonnell, an advertising account executive at Shaw Media who sells into the Daily Gazette of Sterling and The Telegraph of Dixon. “A good day is going to be defined differently for everyone,” he said. “For me, it’s a day of being positive, getting out there and selling, and

getting stuff done.” Monica Pedraza, senior media account executive for Tribune Publishing and its many publications, said she gets a boost from going over digital metrics with clients and showing them their return on investment. “Anytime you can show a client that their advertising is reaching customers, that’s a good day,” Dickerson said in agreement. Bonnell said when faced with a potential customer who claims people don’t read the paper, he doesn’t

argue. He lets the numbers do the talking. “Yes, they are right in some aspects, but since I joined Shaw Media five years ago, our digital subscriptions have actually doubled,” he said. “Our readership is actually higher than before, and there’s more of a need for fact-based news than ever before.” Goodenough doesn’t have that perspective just yet. He joined the The News-Gazette in February, days before his office went remote, and

he has a unique perspective on news consumption as a 26-year-old. “When I’m selling, I tell potential advertisers that I read the newspaper before I started here,” he said. “That helps me relay to them that people are still reading the newspaper. That puts it in perspective for them.” “Newspapers are not going anywhere,” Pedraza said. “There’s the trust in our product, and the ethics that go with it. It’s trusted, and that’s why people keep coming back.”







NONPROFIT Continued from Page 10 The obvious benefits of going nonprofit? No more paying taxes, and becoming eligible for government grants. One downside is the time needed to write those grant applications, and the anxiety of awaiting responses. Among other caveats, nonprofits are not allowed to endorse political candidates. “That’s hard,” Haley said. “To my surprise, something I regularly hear from readers, is they say they’ll miss our endorsements – even if they gave us a lot of grief for them.” The foreboding writing didn’t hit newspapers’ walls when COVID struck. It had been there for quite some time, Haley said. He said the Great Recession of 2008 made the advertising base “wobbly,” and that already precarious revenue streams were “softening” further before the pandemic hit. Baim warned that going to a nonprofit model is not a silver bullet, and that other prudent decisions are vital to keeping even the mightiest small publications in business. “This is not the solution. This is one of many solutions,” she said. For instance, after 35 years of printing the Windy City Times, she recently made the tough call to go digital-only. She said she hasn’t had to lay off anyone in editorial. “We’re choosing people over paper,” she said. “I’m not profit-motivated. I’m survival-motivated.” Two years ago, the weekly was “minutes, days away from being shut down” by its owner, the Chicago SunTimes, Baim said, but two individuals stepped up and bought the shares for $1 apiece to save it. So when she informed her staff about the planned shift to the nonprofit model, there was much rejoicing. “Our staff was ecstatic,” Baim said. “They had suffered through so much bad ownership and neglect – some of it malicious and some of it more benign. They felt like they were at the mercy of being shut down at any time. It’s on our team, our board and our staff.”

Haley said his staff, too, has been clued in on every step of the process in becoming a nonprofit. “Our staff knew within a week or two of the conversations beginning that this was the path we were heading down,” he said. “They knew this was a path forward.” Baim helped him down it with her wealth of knowledge in the Chicagoland foundation world. “God bless Tracy,” he said. “She’s connected us to the Chicago foundation world. This woman is an absolute dynamo. … There is a very deep, rich and extraordinarily fragile ecosystem in journalism in Chicago. If we make it through, Tracy will be a big part of it.” Nonprofits are governed by a board and buoyed by donations. Growing Community Media already has 1,200 small donors, some of whom contribute monthly, some one time. Larger donors give between $5,000 and $10,000, while the Family Foundation “has committed to much more” over the next 3 years, Haley said. Transitioning doesn’t mean leaving existing partners behind. “This doesn’t mean we’re out of the entrepreneurial business,” Haley said. “It’s just a new model at this point.” Another constant is that those contributors can’t have influence over what’s reported. “If you have an overlap of family members who owned the paper, they could still want to influence coverage, including with politics, which could cause trouble with the IRS,” Baim said. She said one of Windy City Times’ owners manages about 20,000 units of subsidized housing in the city, which made for a tense situation when the paper published a 15,000word investigative piece that mentioned the business by name. “They never tried to influence it, because they were told not to,” Baim said. Baim said in such situations, The Reader indicates any perceived conflicts of interest. “Transparency is the only way to deal with it,” Baim said. “The only

way I know how to do it is to let people know if there’s a conflict, what it is.” Haley said at the top of Growing Community Media’s webpage is clear language stating that no contributors, nor the nonprofit’s board, may influence editorial content. He said that if during the fundraising process a potential donor starts to make him uncomfortable, it’s time to say, “Maybe we can revisit this next year.” “You have to be willing to walk away from a grant,” he said. Haley said becoming a nonprofit

also creates camaraderie with fellow nonprofits and encourages collaboration with other media outlets, such as the work spurred by the Chicago Independent Media Alliance and Local Media Association’s Solving for Chicago initiative. “It’s important, fun, and reassuring of our future,” Haley said. “You’ll get the chance to meet people you haven’t met before you went nonprofit. We’ve all been in our silos, and there is some amazing talent in the journalism world. It’s exciting to be able to tap into it.”





Sales expert offers tips, warnings for selling during a pandemic By CHRISTOPHER HEIMERMAN For Illinois Press Association SPRINGFIELD – Six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, sales representatives need to overhaul their pitch. That includes losing the Midwestern Nice greeting, according to the guru who led Tuesday morning’s session on reigniting the sales process during the virtual Illinois Press Association/Foundation Convention. “It’s trite to ask how someone is doing, how their family is doing,” said Ryan Dohrn, the founder of Brain Swell and creator of the 360 Ad Sales System. “If you’re going to do that, you’d better know that family really well. Otherwise, it just

leads to a conversation about doom and gloom and how bad things are.” “I admit, I’m guilty of it,” Sandy Pistole, revenue director for the IPA, said with her hand raised, laughing. Dohrn works with about 125 newspapers coastto-coast each year, and said he’s trained 20,000 sales reps in seven countries. He rattled off 10 tips for reps to consider while selling during, and hopefully after, the COVID-19 pandemic. “Maybe you’re starting every phone call wrong,” he said. “Every email wrong. Every sales conversation wrong. I like to start with good news. Help the advertiser; don’t sell them. Hey, Mrs. Advertiser, I’ve got some great news for you.” Dohrn leaned hard on a universal theme: Don’t

assume advertisers know what they’re doing. Planning a market strategy is a sales rep’s job, after all. “We know these advertisers aren’t visionaries,” Dohrn said. “If they were, they’d be advertising, and they’d be doing well because others aren’t advertising. It’s so easy to stand out from the crowd right now.” He urged audience members to get their potential advertisers to talk frankly about the marketing gap: the difference in money they’ve invested into their campaign compared to their competitors. “If you ask them how much they’ve spent on marketing, they’re not going to know,” Dohrn said. “They’ll say a lot. Thousands. Exactly. That’s why I’m concerned. You’ve spent a lot of money to get to

See HELP on Page 14




HELP Continued from Page 13 this point, but you’re not spending money protecting your turf.” He said 25 percent of marketing is about retaining customers, rather than adding more business, and that while many advertisers pulled back on their marketing over the past 6 months, they should have been sticking to the status quo, if not investing even more in their messaging. “At times, you have to Spinal Tap it and turn up to 11,” Dohrn said. “That gap can only be made up with more marketing dollars. If you talk about the gap, it becomes real to them. It’s more cost-effective to lead the pack than fight from the back.” He repeatedly drove home that advertisers make assumptions about the local market - assumptions that are often baseless. “If we don’t compare and contrast them against their competitors, advertisers think their bad decisions are being shared by everybody in their town, and everybody in their state,” Dohrn said. “They assume no one else is advertising, either.” In addition to avoiding starting off a conversation on a depressing note, Dohrn said reps and advertisers alike need to be wary of the nosedive in

Ryan Dohrn, a media sales coach, speaks Sept. 15 during his Zoom presentation, "Re-Igniting The Post COVID-19 Sales Conversation With Advertisers." CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO WATCH THE SESSION OR CLICK HERE. consumer trust, and the spike in the stranger danger mentality. In the same breath, he said overall consumer need has gone up from 5 percent to 15 percent during the pandemic. So don’t assume business across the board has suffered from the pandemic, Dohrn said. He showed a list of dozens of businesses that have seen gains since the pandemic, including several industries like private tutoring, landscaping and grocery that have

doubled their business since mid-March. Alcohol sales have naturally bubbled up, and even house-cleaning services have seen a 50 percent uptick. In going after businesses that are suffering and thriving alike, Dohrn offered one simple tip, “and it’s a tip that we could talk about for an hour,” he said: the three-by-three email rule. That’s three words in the subject line and three sentences in the email. Dohrn said advertisers, like sales reps, have to completely overhaul how they engage with their customers. So it’s on the rep to go over the three vital elements of a business’ marketing campaign: let the customer know why they’re important to you; tell them what you want them to do; and tell them how to interact with you. For instance, Weber might thank you for buying its grill. Even say you’re a VIP. Then they’ll tell you that you need accessories to up your game. Finally, they’ll let you know that as an esteemed VIP, you get a discount. You can even share it with a friend. “Too many businesses are running the same ads as before this whole dilemma, with the same wording and the same offers as before,” Dohrn said. “Unfortunately, we just can’t sell the same way we used to.”





Numbers don’t lie Data wizards preach power of data-driven journalism By CHRISTOPHER HEIMERMAN For Illinois Press Association SPRINGFIELD – Reading COVID-19 case data is troubling. Seeing it mapped out is downright jarring. The good news for journalists is showing the story, not telling it, might be easier than they think, as Brant Houston showed during an afternoon session on data journalism Tuesday at the virtual Illinois Press Association/Foundation Convention. Houston, a professor and Knight chair of Investigative Reporting Journalism Department, College of Media University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, took a deep-enough dive into methods and software – most of it free – that help turn data into compelling stories. Using a tried-and-true Excel spreadsheet, Houston and his students came away with this stunner of a headline: “More than 20,000 university students may return from ZIP codes with higher positivity rates for COVID-19”. “We had students returning from areas that were over 20 percent, and that’s compared to 2 percent here,” Houston said. “Two-thirds of those returning were coming from places that were over 5 percent.” Houston gave a rundown of the data tools investigative journalists should have in their utility belts: PDF converters, Excel, database manager programs, data cleaners, and programs for mapping, analyzing social networks, and perhaps most impactfully, visualization. His fellow presenter, Pamela Dempsey, executive director of the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, extolled the virtues of

Brant Houston, a professor and Knight chair of Investigative Reporting Journalism Department, College of Media University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, speaks during the Sept. 15 session about data journalism at the Illinois Press Association and Illinois Press Association's virtual convention. CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO SEE THE SESSION, OR CLICK HERE. DataWrapper. “It’s really intuitive for mapping and graphics, and visualizing stories,” Dempsey said. The heat map was generated using that free software and uploaded to, a community online news and information project devoted to investigative and enterprise coverage of social, justice and economic issues in east central Illinois. By spending 5 minutes a day adding the daily cases reported by the health department, Houston’s crew has a data set he said the state doesn’t even have. Covering another topic de jour, Houston walked the session’s audience through the spreadsheet anyone can download from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Ex-

plosives’ website. He said the first thing he does when he gets a spreadsheet of data is turn it into a pivot table in Excel. In a poll leading up to the presentation, the majority of audience members said they’d used spreadsheets and felt comfortable with them. But less than one-fifth of them said they’d used a pivot table, with which they can create multiple subsets and combine them to find stories that weren’t so obvious. “With a pivot table, I took this very large national database and quickly shrunk it to Illinois,” Houston said. “The beauty is you can just play around with this buffet table of data sets here on the right side.” He pulled the city data set into the values field, sorted the data from

high to low, and learned that Sparta – a town southeast of St. Louis with a population of about 4,300 – has 23 gun dealerships. “We were wondering why Sparta had so many, so I asked a reporter who is into firearms and shooting, and he said it stems from a big gun competition in Sparta. It wasn’t until he shifted to ZIP codes that he learned the 62959 code, home of Marion, had 24 gun dealerships. “I love ZIP Codes,” he said. “It’s a way to get more granular. You don’t have to go very far in Marion or Sparta to get a gun.” It’s easy to get really good really quickly with pivot tables, Houston said. “It’s relatively easy once you’ve done it four or five times,” he said. He and Dempsey shared several free resources that will help journalists dig deeper into data, including, an online database manager that Dempsey said is slick because you can download data in various formats. “It’s great for when you share your data with a graphics person,” she said. “It’s a great way to put it in the cloud.” Houston said the Investigative Journalism Education Consortium, at, has much of the free data resources he covers in the textbook he authored, “Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide.” He added that Investigative Reporters & Editors at and the Global Investigative Journalism Network are great resources as well. “Using data is the way we go beyond anecdotal storytelling, find patterns and trends, find outliers, and present stories in compelling, credible ways,” he said.








Mythbuster: Prep sports vet sets record straight on best practices By CHRISTOPHER HEIMERMAN For Illinois Press Association SPRINGFIELD – Joe Gisondi was “here” at the virtual Illinois Press Association/Foundation convention to dispel myths about what no longer works in covering prep sports. Right off the top of his Tuesday afternoon session, he said reports of the death of the daily “gamer” are greatly exaggerated. “I’ve heard from experts that high school sports game stories are dead, but I can tell you from our website last year that they’re one of our biggest reads,” said Gisondi, a journalism professor at Eastern Illinois University and author of the “Field Guide To Writing Sports.” “Some of the big games? They go crazy, and the numbers show it.” About a year ago, Gisondi started up, a website dedicated to local sports coverage in East Central Illinois. Here are some misperceptions he singled out:

Football is king Gisondi said just this past weekend, a cross country meet drew more than 1,000 views. Not bad for a media outlet that has about 2,000 followers on Facebook. Not to mention a sport that many perceive as lesser than football. “We treat all the other sports like they’re football,” Gisondi said. “The fans of those sports really jump in and love the coverage.” He said no state competition is more epic than the wrestling champi-

all-state player tore an ACL and couldn’t play until the postseason. They had four or five freshman out there.” So when they hung with a powerhouse of an opponent and lost by single digits, Gisondi wrote a story he and the community were truly proud of. “My focus was on the coach being proud of these freshmen for playing the game of their life,” he said. “It was infectious. It was a hit.”

Joe Gisondi, a journalism professor at Eastern Illinois University, shatters some myths about coverage of high school sports – and some middle school sports, too – during his virtual presentation Sept. 15 at the Illinois Press Association/Foundation virtual convention. CLICK THE PHOTO TO SEE THE SESSION, OR CLICK HERE. onship, with its light production and walk-ins leading up to title bouts. “If you think people in wrestling don’t care, go to the state wrestling meet. It’s crazy-good,” Gisondi said. “We hit wrestling hard, because it typically doesn’t get the coverage. It’s so action-packed, and those parents are in it.”

It’s all preps all the time Gisondi said he’s not above covering middle school sports, and that no one should be. “If they think that’s beneath them, they should probably try to find a new career,” he said of sports reporters and editors. “I would pick and choose some of those opportunities, because there’s a big audience there. Parents and grandparents in the community absolutely love it.”

He said Lakeland Community College wasn’t getting coverage, either, despite some of its programs being ranked nationally. “We were out there covering them, out there taking video,” he said. “People loved it, just like with cross country.”

I’m not covering a bad team A team’s caliber does not dictate its fans’ passion. In fact, family members of kids in struggling programs are often starved for coverage and scrapbook material. “It doesn’t matter if a team is losing,” he said. “You cover them and tell great stories.” For example, a local girls hoops team was losing, often by 30 or 40 points, every time it took the floor. “One reason was because their

Teenagers aren’t comfortable doing video interviews After a frigid cross country meet last fall, Gisondi found two Mattoon runners who he’d noticed over the course of the season were good friends. So after the meet, he asked them to both hop on a video interview. “They were playing off each other,” he said. “Moms thought it was adorable, and friends thought it was great. And I was able to get quotes at the same time.” The video then gets embedded online, and the quotes can get pulled for the print story. “It’s serving two purposes,” Gisondi said. “These kids feel a lot more comfortable in that setting.”

I have to write short for print That might be true, but what you can’t fit on B1 will certainly fit online. “Write as long as you want for online,” Gisondi said. “Nowadays, the second-day lead is in the same reporting cycle, that same night.”

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‘Think like their customers’: Ad sales trainer shares new method By CHRISTOPHER HEIMERMAN For Illinois Press Association SPRINGFIELD – Want to land more advertisers? Tell them, gently, how they can better sell to their customers. That’s the “special sauce” that will help make the “right sales,” according to the director of sales training for Gannett Media.

Mike Centorani gave the rundown of a game-changing, role-playing sales method during the Sept. 16 morning session at the Illinois Press Association/Foundation virtual convention. He showed the audience examples of lists of questions – most of them closed-ended – to ask clients in a vertical sales strategy.

You ask whether they offer a specific popular or timely service – say, contactless landscaping during a pandemic. Then you play off the answers the employee who picks up the phone gives, as you go down the list of questions gathering more information about the company’s services. Tell them what they’re doing is great, and that you’d like to put together

some marketing strategies to bring in more business – for free. “I’m willing to do it for free because I know the owner has to fall deeply, madly in love with the ideas when I come back,” Centorani said. “They’re not my ideas. They’re his.” Centorani recommended picking a

See METHOD on Page 20

SPORTS Continued from Page 17 Go ahead and change the lede. Given it a new spin. “Then the reader realizes both of these products have value,” Gisondi said. He also said to go ahead and write multiple stories. And post those photo galleries, too. It will all get viewed.

Kids don’t use Facebook They do if stories about their teams are promoted on there. And those stories are pushed on Facebook because that’s where the parents and grandparents are. About a month after launching, had about 1,000 followers on Facebook, and that number has since doubled. One year later, the site’s Twitter account is still sitting under 200 followers. The treasure trove for the athletes themselves is Instagram where, due in part to Gisondi asking the neighbor boy, a local goalkeeper, for help, the site racked up 350 followers in 2 days. “It happened so fast, and it’s still growing,” Gisondi said.

You shouldn’t follow athletes on social media Maybe not if you’ve never written about them, let alone spoken to them, Gisondi said. But if you’re familiar, don’t just follow them. Tag the bejesus out of them. “I do,” Gisondi said. “Every time you tag them, you’re going to be able to get a larger audience.” He said he’s eager to follow athletes who’ve gone on to college and ask them to take video of a walk around campus that Gisondi can use to keep the local crowd plugged in to their local athlete’s college story.

I can write my gamer off my tweets Gisondi said there’s no tougher event to cover than covering a prep football game. And whereas maybe an NBA or college reporter could write off their tweets, they’re provided the safety net of a full box score. He said tweets can be helpful as notes, but the tried-and-true best practice of covering prep football is keeping an accurate box score and running log of the action.

Readers don’t want to hear from the visiting coach When he arrives at a game, Gisondi alerts both coaches that he’s there and asks that they not leave without chatting with him afterward. “I’ll also let the home coach know I’m going to talk to the visiting coach first,” Gisondi said. “I don’t want them getting on the bus and leaving.” He talks to the coaches and players from outside the coverage area to get insights on how the local kids did, through the lens of the opposition.

We don’t need help from the readers The old-school mentality that the local paper knows more than the readers, and that it shouldn’t use submitted photos doesn’t hold water anymore, Gisondi said. “We were a lot more dismissive of our audience, because we knew newspapers,” he said. “We can’t do that now. I’m building relationships with athletes, coaches, parents. What that does is makes people care about you, and your product.” During the session, Sandy Kucharski, Woodstock Independent associate editor, asked whether Gisondi accepts photos sent by the community.

In fact, he asks for them. He just finished a story on the best boys cross country athletes over the past decade, part of a series for all the local sports. He asked coaches for pictures of athletes who competed years before launched last fall. And they delivered. He’s even chummed it up with the father of a local boys’ soccer coach, who takes photos from the sidelines. He delivered, too. But even if they’re cellphone photos – all of Gisondi’s photos are taken on a phone, actually – they’re fair game online, where resolution isn’t a factor. In that spirit, Gisondi urged audience members that photo galleries are traffic gold mines. “People are going to look at them,” he said. “Your audience is very selfish. The same goes for me as a parent. They want to see their kids’ names in the story and to see their picture in a photo gallery.”

I’m not giving away my content for free Gisondi said that’s a stance taken frequently by editors of weekly newspapers who don’t want to post stories online before they appear in print. It’s a stance, Gisondi said, that’s easily debunked. “Write the story now and get it up there,” he said. “You’re not giving away content. You’re building a connection.” Holding out on your audience doesn’t make sense. “Even if they can’t get it at that moment, at least get it to them later that day,” Gisondi said. “You’re giving them content they can’t get anywhere else.”





Garties inducted into AP’s Lincoln League By CHRISTOPHER HEIMERMAN For Illinois Press Association

George Garties, former Associated Press Chicago bureau chief, accepts his induction into Lincoln League of Journalists by the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors on Wednesday during its virtual annual awards presentation. Garties now works for the AP in Austin, Texas. CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO WATCH THE IAPME AWARDS PRESENTATION., OR CLICK HERE.

SPRINGFIELD – Weeks before he put down roots in Illinois as the Associated Press’ bureau chief in Chicago, George Garties was already setting the record straight with a correction. Editors were upset about what ended up being an ill communication that the AP would no longer be covering IHSA events. In reality, it was just reining in its photo coverage. So Garties was eager to break bread with his new peers over a buffet lunch at the Par-A-Dice riverboat casino in Peoria. “They beat me up that day in Peoria because they cared about covering their communities,” he said in a recorded speech played during Wednesday’s lunch-hour session at the Illinois Press Association’s virtual convention. “They still do. They care

about facts, they care about telling stories that matter, and they hold officials’ feet to the fire with what needs to be done.” On Wednesday, Garties was reluctantly accepting his induction into the prestigious Lincoln League of Journalists. He was awarded during the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors annual awards event, which was held virtually as part of the Illinois Press Association/Foundation annual convention – also being held virtually this week. “This is a somewhat undefined recognition, but it is no small thing; it is not awarded lightly,” John Lampinen, senior vice president and editor of Daily Herald Media Group, said while introducing Garties. “It’s earned. It’s earned by professionals whose life of work has advanced the cause of newspaper journalism in Illinois.”

See GARTIES on Page 20



METHOD Continued from Page 18 specific industry and simply Googling “What questions should I ask a (enter business here)?” Then you build a list of small- to medium-sized businesses and scour their websites and social media marketing and cross off your questions that are addressed, while circling the ones that aren’t. He said you’d be surprised how often those services, which customers want, are not referenced in a company’s marketing campaign. “Who do they forget to think like?” Centorani said. “They forget to think like their customers.” At the top of the conversation, once you’ve introduced yourself, say you want to help them add clients. Then it’s time to dive into closed-ended questions customers would ask. “I bet you a beer they’ll answer them,” he said. “What we’ve found is they’ll answer the question 95 percent of the time. That’s pretty cool, but you’ve got to be able to do something with that answer.” If you’re agile enough to keep the conversation rolling, odds are that after a while that owner, unaccustomed to the sales approach, will ask what exactly is going on. That’s when you humbly, politely, go in for the kill. “Let me ask this last thing: When I was doing research, I was impressed,” Centorani demonstrated. “You can see the quality of your work and the great reviews. But in the last 7 minutes, I just found out you can do A, B, C, D, E. These don’t seem like good reasons to choose you. They seem like incredible reasons.”

The last response is they’re not marketing people. After all, that’s your job. “Whatever response you get, use the word ‘help’ as quick as you can,” Centorani said. “You can be their marketing person for the rest of their lives.” He said to get rid of boring answers that many reps have developed the habit of asking. For instance, “Why do your customers choose you?” “Those are the boring, general things [businesses] already tell the world,” Centorani said. “And reps who ask that question are never going to make a sale.” You’ll hear they offer great customer service, are locally owned and operated, and trusted. Mike Centorani, director of sales training for Gannett Media, speaks “You might as well come back later and say it like during his "Helping Business Owners Find Their 'Unique Selling Propothis: ‘Remember when I asked you all those boring sition'" session Wednesday morning during the Illinois Press Association/Foundation virtual convention. CLICK THE PHOTO TO WATCH THE questions? And those boring answers you gave me? Here are my boring ideas. What do you think?’” SESSION, OR CLICK HERE. Centorani said. Here’s the part where being delicate is vital: If a business owner gives bad answers, or doesn’t “Why up until now have you decided not to put have much to offer, don’t waste your time, Centothis out there and share it with the public?” Centorani said, as matching desirable companies with rani said. marketing solutions is the name of the game. Breathe. Gulp. Whatever helps you brace for a He said small- to medium-sized businesses will response. be called by as many as 83 sales reps from media “You’re likely to get one of three answers,” Cento- companies. So there’s not time to waste – especialrani said. ly during a pandemic. One is they’ve never thought about it. Another is “That guard is through the roof right now,” Cenno one’s ever asked them the questions you did. torani said, “and if the words you’re saying in that “That’s kind of cool,” Centorani said. “It puts you first minute aren’t right, this thing can go sideways in a hurry.” in an elite group.”

GARTIES Continued from Page 19 Lampinen said the last inductee who contributed as much as Garties has was the late, great Chicago Bureau Chief Jim Wilson, who was honored 20 years ago. “Since Mr. Wilson, we haven’t had an AP rep who’s worked so hard and so selflessly on behalf of newspapers in the state and other states,” Lampinen said. Anticipating such adulation, Garties had a pre-recorded rebuttal. “I’m surprised and honored to be inducted into AP’s Lincoln League,” he said. “When I think of the people chosen for the Lincoln League in my 13 years with the organization, even the people we just talked about inducting, seems to me they all contributed far more to Illinois journalism

than I have.” Garties now lives with his wife, Cathy, in Austin, Texas, where he serves as the AP’s groups director. He got his start in September 1979 as a reporter for the Honolulu Advertiser, after graduating from the University of Hawaii. He embarked on a 35-year career with the AP when he landed a job as a reporter with the Los Angeles bureau in October 1985. He became editor of the national desk in New York in 1989. Garties spent 2 years there, then 4 as the news editor in Arizona, more than 7 as the assistant bureau chief back in L.A., and then 4 as bureau chief in Colorado and Utah. “Then, 12 years ago, we were blessed to have him take the job as bureau

chief in Chicago,” Lampinen said. He lauded Garties for his work on Freedom of Information and other issues. He called him a “valuable twoway coach and sounding board” and a “critical friend to those of us who’ve worked with him, and for Illinois journalism in general,” Lampinen said Garties spurred collaboration among the AP’s members and recognized newsrooms for great work, all while keeping the AP’s members in the loop on rapid-fire changes. “He’s been a trusted advisor and coach to editors around the state, at a time of historic disruption in the news industry, brought by the digital revolution,” Lampinen said. “Always with an open ear, always with an

encouraging word, and always with suggestions on how the AP will assist, and always with truth and integrity, the hallmarks of our profession.” Garties expressed gratitude for the AP’s members and editors throughout the state who’ve contributed to the AP’s reporting. He commended the board for twice martialing the state’s newspapers to stop competing and collaborate on statewide reporting projects. He also took the opportunity to take a playful jab at the IPA’s president and CEO. “It’s a testament to the resilience of Illinois journalism that the IPA is holding this convention,” Garties said. “Maybe it’s a testament to Sam Fisher’s stubbornness.”





That’s My Idea – and now it’s all yours Newspapers’ advertising innovations recognized, shared in think tank session By CHRISTOPHER HEIMERMAN For Illinois Press Association SPRINGFIELD – A special section featuring senior residents giving advice to graduating seniors who were denied traditional graduation ceremonies this spring made readers and advertisers alike smile, laugh, and cry. It also made money, and in-roads with a tough-to-reach but invaluable part of the community during the pandemic. “Retirement communities were stressed out and not wanting to talk to sales [or editorial] staff of any kind,” said Kim Manoogian, Hearst’s digital strategist for The Telegraph in Alton and the Edwardsville Intelligencer. “Their goal was they wanted to keep the residents safe, while also finding activities for their senior citizens. They were kind of locked in their rooms and not able to see their family and friends.” Advertising representatives from Hearst Media submitted several entries showcased during the Illinois Press Association’s Thursday morning session, “That’s My Idea!” The standout and one of the contest’s four $50 winners was “Senior to Senior: Words of Wisdom Through the Ages”, the 16-page section that was published in June. “I have to say this is probably my favorite. It touched my heart,” said Sandy Pistole, IPA’s revenue director who hosted the session. Pistole asked Manoogian to send her a copy. “I love seeing the joy in the faces of these seniors,” Pistole said. As Manoogian explained, the section tapped into at least two markets – the senior living community and

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE SESSION. the one associated with high school seniors and their families. But anyone with a pulse who read it felt its impact. “Readers reached out and said they cried when they saw the notes,” Manoogian said. “It not only brought revenue in, but it touched the hearts of our readers.” That could be said for most of the ideas shared Thursday morning. Hearst also published another special section that won $50, “Heroes Unmasked”, which showcased members of the community who’ve stepped up to help each other during the pandemic. “People put their personal agendas aside to help others in need,” Local Business Advocate Kristine Ressler said. She had said during Monday

morning’s session on selling ads in tough times that a virtual event will be held this month to recognize those featured in the section, as well as advertisers. Manoogian said the key to executing such a huge project was getting all the newspapers’ departments on the same page. “The great part about this is we got to join with our editorial team, and with so many parts, we actually created a rules and responsibilities spreadsheet,” she said. “We all knew our part and when things were going to happen.” The Hearst group also produced its “2020 College Resources Guide,” which received an honorable mention Thursday morning, as well as a bingo card for print – as did a few other publications – for which sponsors

bought ads and donated gift cards as prizes. Every June, the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park puts out a four-page special graduation section. This year, with cooperation from Oak Park and River Forest High School, staff created a 48-page wrap that won $50 Thursday and generated nearly $25,000 in ad revenue. In addition to the ads themselves, the paper sold parents space for messages to graduates that included a picture and 10 words. Those alone brought in $5,000. The school paid $4,000, plus the cost to send a copy to each graduate’s house, whether or not they subscribed to the paper. The section brought in businesses that hadn’t advertised with the paper before, according to Growing Community Media’s senior media strategist, Lourdes Nicholls. “It gave them great visibility, and they were completely on board,” she said. “This was our most successful issue for a long time, and everyone just had such a feel-good feeling about it. It exceeded our expectations.” She’s brought the wrap to other school districts in the company’s coverage area, with skeptical eyes on spring of 2021. “It’s already feeling like we might need this,” she said. In addition to an advertising matching grant program for local businesses – a popular idea multiple newspapers and groups have used statewide – Shaw Media created digital school calendars, an idea that won $50.

See IDEA on Page 22




‘If we don’t do investigative work, who will?’ IPA’s Editor of the Year gives masters class in watchdog reporting By CHRISTOPHER HEIMERMAN For Illinois Press Association SPRINGFIELD – Watchdog reporting isn’t defined as a monthslong, multi-part series generated from stacks of documents that expose government corruption. It’s a mentality, according to the Illinois Press Association’s Editor of the Year, Chris Coates. “Projects are important, but there’s a big difference between projects and investigative reporting,” the Central Illinois editor for Lee Enterprises said during a Thursday afternoon session on watchdog reporting at the Illinois Press Association and Illinois Press Foundation virtual convention. “Investigative is a mindset you come to work with every day, and the best watchdog journalism starts with the most glorious words in the English language: I wonder.” Coates shared tricks of the trade, but perhaps more importantly, he shared dozens of examples of how he and his co-workers over the years have turned “I wonder” into “I understand”. In Sioux City, Iowa, they told their readers that just one guy inspects the state’s 7,500 public school buses. And they went out with that inspector as he performed the 68 checks on a bus. “It’s critical that you find real people who are involved,” Coates said. “That’s mission one. You have to shift the focus from what happened to who was impacted.” He said reporting done with a watchdog mentality engages readers, gets them to click “share”, and leaves them hungry for more. So where do those stories come from? Watching for trends, following up on tips – “the public is probably our greatest resource,” Coates said – and simply working the beat effectively. They’re developed leading up to, and during, pitch meetings. Coates said during pitch meetings, staff go around the table sharing the headline, not the overview of a potential story. “Otherwise it can turn into a term paper, rather than what the point is,” Coates said, laughing. “We’ll do this with all our daily stories, too. These are all little stories we could eventually build off.”

Chris Coates (left), Central Illinois editor for Lee Enterprises, is presented with the Illinois Press Association Editor of the Year Award from General Manager Barry Winterland, The scene was part of a video put together for the Sept. 17 editorial contest awards presentation program during the IPA/IPF virtual convention. Later in the day, Coates conducted a virtual session on watchdog journalism. CLICK THE PHOTO TO WATCH THE SESSION, OR CLICK HERE. Coates had recommendations for both editors and reporters. For editors, don’t dump an idea on a reporter, he said. Instead, discuss it and get on the same page. For reporters, don’t pitch half-baked ideas. “Do reporting first,” Coates said. All parties involved need to understand the vision of the story, its roadblocks, and the target date to pull the trigger and publish. What can sink a project before it leaves shore is reluctance to sacrifice and allocate resources to do the work right. Coates said pre-COVID, if he put a reporter on a project, he’d sometimes get them physically out of the newsroom. “You’re not going to ask them to take on this project and then keep throwing daily stuff at them,”

he said. “You might have to pull someone off their beat entirely. I realize we don’t all have the luxury of having multiple reporters to work on a story, but if you’re going to do this sort of journalism, you have to realize you’re going to sacrifice.” Then you have to get out of the way and trust staff will do the work. That said, schedule out meetings for progress reports and mentoring, Coates said. The proof is in the pudding, right? Coates, named one of Editor & Publisher’s “25 under 35” in 2013, has helped serve a lot of quality pudding to readers.

See WATCHDOG on Page 23




IDEA Continued from Page 21 You might need both hands to count the ways the initiative improved on the print calendars the company published for the past 3 years. “It’s really a win-win,” said Jeannette Smith, advertising director of the Bureau County Republican in Princeton, the NewsTribune in LaSalle, and the Ottawa Times. “The printed calendar was really difficult with our staff, with things changing all the time. This year, we would never be able to get the information. Schools didn’t know what their start dates would be. It was changing all the time.”

She said the calendars have generated 75 percent more ad revenue than last year. The calendars are featured on both the districts’ and the papers’ websites. Smith Sandy Pistole said each calendar is a one-way feed, so schools control the content. She added that more districts have joined the initiative than those who’ve participated in the past. When Pistole introduced the session, she said stealing ideas was encouraged. In fact, that was the

point. The session wrapped up with a presentation on live video from Matt Larson, president and CEO of New York-based Our Hometown. He urged papers to pick a live-streaming platform, Facebook Live, YouTube Live, or Periscope, and produce a regular feature. “The opportunity in live video is huge right now,” he said. “Host sites are in a race with live video to see who can host your live video.” He shared an example from Wilson County News, which does a weekly roundtable talk each Thursday morning, discussing what’s been in the paper. The production is minimal,

and a key component is bringing a local sponsor to the table – literally – for an interview. “They’re giving more of a personality to these businesses,” Larson said, “and anyone who comments can win a prize, which is given away in the next video.” Not only does it create reader participation, but it also plays to social media’s algorithms. “If you don’t have many comments or likes, Facebook isn’t going to push your post up and keep it in your followers’ feed for longer,” he said. “That is a great idea,” Pistole said.

WATCHDOG Continued from Page 22 With Lee, he oversees the newsgathering staff in Bloomington, Decatur, Mattoon and Eureka. He’s been a business reporter in Los Angeles, managing editor of Illinois publications for the Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis, and editor of the Sioux City Journal in northwestern Iowa. He also was watchdog investigations editor for The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, part of the USA Today Network. On Thursday afternoon, he shared a veritable dessert buffet of topics he’s covered, and some he’s eager to get to. • Gun permit data: It’s easy to find trends in whether there are more or fewer guns, and where, Coates said. • Highest-paid municipal employees: This one is a quick turnaround, and what reader doesn’t enjoy hate-reading how much money their public officials make? • Health department restaurant inspection scores: “This is not Woodward and Bernstein [covering Watergate],” Coates said. “It’s cockroach data. But it’s a public service – especially now that we’re all eating out more.” • Business that got COVID-related government aid: Merge that data with reports of violations of the local health department’s social distancing regulations, and you’ve got something. • FCC’s data on political ad buys: Reporters used to have to “run the beat” to get reports from local broadcast companies. Now it’s all available online, Coates said.

• Video gambling: “In Decatur, it seems like there’s a gambling parlor on every corner,” Coates said. • List out-of-state owners of buildings being torn down: Coates said Decatur has a lot of dilapidated properties – and people who are reasonably upset when they learn the owners live in, say, Florida. “Again, it might be hard, but you’ve got to find local people who are willing to talk about it.” • Small farm safety: Small farms aren’t subject to OSHA oversight. • Crime rate stories: “No matter what, there’s a story in there – whether it’s up or down,” Coates said. What’s crucial once you have the data is finding out from officials what’s driving trends, and what they’re doing about it. • Body cameras: Find out whether your local police department has them, and if not, whether it’s investing in them. If it has them, how are officers using them? What’s their policy? Compare that information to nearby communities, and national trends. Coates is particularly proud of a story he oversaw in Delaware. Local police denied they were using Stingray to covertly collect cellphone data. The newspaper obtained the department’s purchasing receipts and found out they did, in fact, have the software. Officials then admitted they had it, but that they weren’t reading the texts. “At least we got them to admit it. That was a good story,” Coates said. Some of the best watchdog stories aren’t origi-

nal. Coates said when he sees a great investigative story done by another paper, he’s not above calling people at that news organization to find out how they got it. “I do it all the time,” he said. He said one trapping in investigative work is leaning too heavily on FOIA requests. “Don’t let FOIA be an excuse,” Coates said. “It’s not the answer to everything. FOIA’s a great tool, but it’s not a magic bullet. Figuring out when to narrow a request or when to send a blanket one is situational. “You have to know what you’re after,” he said. “Blanket FOIA requests are good, but it’s a lot of work to find something very small when you make a blanket request rather than a very specific one.” Plenty of FOIA training is available if, again, papers are willing to invest money and reporters’ time into programs done by Investigative Reporters and Editors, Associated Press Media Editors, or other entities. And if a reporter is fortunate enough to attend a training session, they come back ready to teach others what they’ve learned. “You’ve got to have a brown bag session and spread the wealth,” Coates said. He said journalists need to recognize their role in the community. “If we don’t do investigative work, who will?” he said. “That’s a very real threat in our environment.”




Reader-submitted content buoys The News-Gazette Guest copy, photos help build special sections and projects By CHRISTOPHER HEIMERMAN For Illinois Press Association

just a lot of assembling and packaging, and getting creative.”

SPRINGFIELD – The News-Gazette was hardly alone when twothirds of its newsroom positions were cut last year by its new ownership group, Community Media Group. “Our story is no different from virtually every newspaper in the country,” Editor Jeff D’Alessio said during a presentation on special sections and projects in the Friday morning session “at” the Illinois Press Association and Foundation virtual convention. What gave D’Alessio a leg up, as ownership demanded his staff produce two special sections a month, was Jeff D'Alessio that he’d already been recruiting from a pool of 300,000 potential contributors – better known as the population of The News-Gazette’s readership area. The first mandatory special section was a 40-page Best of the Decade tab that featured 5 inches of content written by the staff: an “About the Section” D’Alessio column down the left rail of Page 2. After that, the section, which made $22,000, featured 133 lists of 2,500 names – all contributed or archive content – from citizens of the year and prep sports Hall of Fame inductees to an Honor Roll of signs in the area dedicated to fallen officers and state sports champions. “The section pretty much took two people’s time: myself and a designer for two days,” D’Alessio said. “It was

Engaging readers, while putting them to work The crowd-sourcing mentality is second nature in the newsroom. Jim Rossow, vice president of news, highlighted the High School Confidential feature the paper started running in its broadsheet daily editions 5 years ago. Each local high school names a senior “who has a clue,” in Rossow’s Jim Rossow words, to submit an item, along with a photo, on what’s going on at the school. “We can’t cover high schools like we used to, from a nonsports angle,” Rossow said. “They’re giving us content we don’t have to chase, but years from now they’ll remember the news in a positive way, and maybe it means getting a subscription.” He said the paper has gone so far as to turn over its social media accounts to those students and ask them for a tour of the school. “In the 5 years we’ve been doing this, we haven’t been burned yet,” Rossow said. Many of the schools make a big deal of honoring their News-Gazette correspondent at end-of-the-year events, Rossow said. “This is easy to do, and schools are all for it,” he said. The paper also runs a Town Hall broadsheet every Tuesday and every other Thursday, in which it features

See SPECIAL on Page 25

One week after George Floyd’s death, The News-Gazette launched its Being Black in America series. The Sunday, June 7, edition spotlighted Clarissa Nickerson Fourman, an outspoken Black city councilwoman, in the front-page centerpiece with the pull-quote headline: “I read once that anything is possible when you sound Caucasian on the phone.” The series was among the projects and special sections discussed by News-Gazette editors Jeff D'Alessio and Jim Rossow during their presentation Sept. 18 at the Illinois Press Assoication/Foundation virtual convention. CLICK THE PHOTO TO WATCH THE SESSION, OR CLICK HERE.




SPECIAL Continued from Page 24 local voices – from officials and University of Illinois administrators to residents - on a specific topic. D’Alessio highlighted a recent page that featured two mayors, the U of I chancellor and a public health official weighing in on students from far and wide descending on the community, many of them moving from parts of the state and country with higher COVID-19 positivity rates. “A lot of our community was concerned, and it turned out deservedly so,” D’Alessio said. The paper spread a similar Town Hall feature on police reform over two pages.

‘Being Black in America’ One week after George Floyd’s death, The News-Gazette launched its Being Black in America series. The Sunday, June 7, edition spotlighted Clarissa Nickerson Fourman, an outspoken Black city councilwoman, in the front-page centerpiece with the pull-quote headline: “I read once that anything is possible when you sound Caucasian on the phone.” Eight more full pages of public-submitted content ran inside, and the paper has published 36 such features since the launch, in its Sunday and Tuesday editions, predominantly on covers. “I’ve been doing this 29 years,” D’Alession said, “and this probably generated more in the way of positive feedback than anything I’ve been involved with. It’s something we’ve long wanted to do, but we’ve never quite been able to figure out how to do it in a way that feels like it made an impact. … We’ve been diversity-challenged, to put it mildly.” The voices cover the spectrum, he said, from government officials, pastors and professors to activists and police chiefs. He said U of I Chancellor Robert Jones’ 50-inch story of … well, let’s allow Jones’ words, published in the July 5 edition, to paint the troubling pictures of growing up in Jim Crow rural Georgia. “Driving by smoldering ashes of three Black churches burned to the ground,” his first-hand account reads. “The grandfather I’d never met because he was shot dead in his front yard of his sharecropper’s shack by a racist landowner, on the day of his eldest daughter’s wedding. And there is something about the sound of a pump shotgun being cocked that I’ll never forget – especially when I turned and found it leveled over the hood of a pickup truck and aimed at me, only because of the color of my skin.” “These are just horrible stories that were raw, real and impactful that tell us what it’s like to be Black – to enlighten the community and really educate people,” D’Alessio said.

The News-Gazette filled a special section honoring essential workers with user-submitted content. It also took its popular “40 Under 40” concept and created a “70 Over 70” special section that spotlights contributions to the community by those in their Golden Years – through the lens of readers once again. One other special section had zero written copy, period. The News-Gazette offered every local business a free quarter-page ad, and easily filled up the 72-page section “This Is Us.” “It was mostly quarter-pages, but some businesses did buy bigger ads,” D’Alessio said. “It was a creative way to open up some doors to relationships that hadn’t existed otherwise. It was one of the more creative things that have happened since the change.”

A broader scope Not all the paper’s special sections are tab format. There’s no way you could have shoehorned the 100 or so reader-contributed stories on Lou Henson that were featured in an 18-page special section that dropped about 5 minutes after his

funeral ceremony began. “This is how old-school Lou Henson was,” Rossow said, laughing. “He died on a Saturday morning, and the news of his death broke on Wednesday. This is the most popular guy in our community by far.” The family wanted to keep his passing quiet so there was no mass gathering at the cemetery during the pandemic. Rossow said 80 percent of the copy was first-person stories told by fans. “Everybody in the state of Illinois has a story about Lou Henson,” he said, “and if you’re an advertiser in our community and you don’t support Lou Henson, you’re dead in the mud.” The paper won’t pick up any content that has run anywhere else. “That’s an immediate disqualifier,” D’Alessio said. “Everything we do, we try to aim as high as we can with the ‘get’, while making it content readers can’t get anything else.”




CIMA fundraiser success shows ‘There’s enough room for everybody’ Alliance members preach power of collaboration, public loyalty to independent media By CHRISTOPHER HEIMERMAN For Illinois Press Association SPRINGFIELD – Members of the Chicago Independent Media Alliance said their readers and listeners didn’t know other members participating in the spring fundraiser existed. Just the same, they donated to those perfect strangers. The fundraiser brought in more than $160,000 in total for the 43 CIMA partners that participated – $100,000 from donors, and $60,000 in matching funds from several foundations. Given the option to donate to a specific media outlet, two-thirds of those donors instead gave between $100 and $1,000 and asked that it be spread evenly for the 43 partners. “There’s enough room for everybody, and the fundraiser shows that,” Anna DeShawn, founder of the queer radio station E3, said during the final session of the Illinois Press Association and Foundation virtual convention Friday afternoon. “I’ve got no competitors. It’s my own personal ethos. I just see opportunities to collaborate and grow each other’s reaches.” Shawn Campbell, founder of CHIRP Radio, a music, arts and culture radio station in Chicago, said she’s certain listeners who donated during the station’s regular pledge drive in March gave again during CIMA’s campaign in May. “We know our audience is supportive of independent media in general,” she said. “We know there are people who gave to us in March and also gave in May.” She said over the first two and a half weeks of CIMA’s monthlong drive, when the station promoted it on the air, on social media and in e-blasts, it promoted the alliance as a whole, rather than CHIRP specifically. Julie Younquist, CEO of Streetwise, a magazine sold by people who are homeless, said she took the same tack. After all, Streetwise had just held a fundraiser to ensure it could keep paying its vendors during the shelter-in-place order. “We also chose not to feature Streetwise, because

Clockwise from top left, Yazmin Dominguez, Chicago Independent Media Alliance coordinator; Anna DeShawn, founder of the queer radio station E3; Karen Hawkins, co-editor-in-chief of The Reader in Chicago and founder of the feminist publication Rebellious Magazine in the city; Julie Yonquist, CEO of Streetwise magazine; and Shawn Campbell, founder of CHIRP Radio speak during a virtual panel discussion Sept. 18 among members of CIMA. The talk was the final session of the Illinois Press Association and Foundation weeklong virtual convention. CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE SESSION. this was part of a collective,” she said. “There are people who are attracted to that. They’re seeking that out and said they didn’t know there was an E3 or CHIRP. There’s a legitimacy and validation that comes with being part of that collective.” The concept of CIMA, a project of The Reader in Chicago, was hatched last summer, and a fundraising drive was planned before the pandemic hit.

When it did, it was on 24-year-old Yazmin Dominguez, who’d only recently been named CIMA’s project coordinator, to activate the alliance’s 62 members – the alliance is now 67 strong. “You need a Yazmin and a Tracy,” DeShawn said, referring to Tracy Baim, a legacy Chicago jour-

See CIMA on Page 27




CIMA Continued from Page 26 nalist and The Reader’s publisher. “The way in which people lead really makes a difference.” Baim co-founded Windy City Times, a 35-year-old LGBTQ newspaper. DeShawn said her reach and long-standing relationships in the city are invaluable. “Having a connection to foundations is key when it comes to this, as well as having a dedicated team or staffer,” Dominguez agreed. It’s no mystery that independent newspapers, radio stations, blogs and podcasts don’t have robust staffs and budgets – in a pandemic in particular. So DeShawn said a key to the drive’s success was CIMA producing and providing video, graphics and other marketing materials the outlets could simply download and deploy. “There was an investment in the marketing effort. It’s easy to forget how important that is,” DeShawn said. “It has to look like somebody cared. The marketing was thoughtful and spoke to people.” “It was a unified message with great materials,” Campbell added. “It didn’t look like it was smashed together by a bunch of amateurs. Success begets success, and sometimes just looking successful will lead to success.” “It really felt like it was rushed and smashed together,” Dominguez said, laughing. Karen Hawkins, The Reader’s coeditor-in-chief and founder of the feminist publication Rebellious Magazine, said it’s more important now than ever for independent journalists to swallow unnecessary pride and ask for donations and help. “It can be difficult to ask your friends and family and strangers for money,” she said. “But what I’ve learned is that you have to be willing to ask. We all have to vote with our wallets. If you want the media you love to survive, you have to support it.” Beyond the fundraising component, Dominguez said the alliance was created with the mission of sustaining and expanding coverage of communi-

ties underserved by the media. “We recognize that a lot of harm has been done by big media on communities, particularly communities of color,” she said. While CIMA limits its members to

those that are truly independent and not corporate entities, the only “fee” members pay is the time spent filling out a survey with expansive questions on topics such as circulation, languages in which they publish, and their target

audience. Dominguez said CIMA used that information to get a feel for Chicago’s “media ecosystem” and passed the data along to foundations. “We’re helping them help us with this data,” she said.

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CONVENTION FEEDBACK We asked participants this week for their thoughts on last week's convention. Here is just some of the feedback we received. I feel the speakers and presentations were outstanding. They were well-prepared, easy to understand, and extremely interesting. The virtual meetings went off without a computer glitch, at least at my office. There is one thing I would change but I'm not sure it is possible. Regarding editorial, all presentations were geared toward large newsrooms. Our corporation has 25 newspapers, but they are all weeklies located throughout Illinois and Missouri with usually one editor and one reporter for each. We don't have graphic designers, videographers, etc. Our editors not only cover the news/sports, take photos, maintain the social media accounts, but also design & layout the paper each week. Time is limited. As I said, I'm not sure there is a presentation that could be geared to our situation. I truly wish there was. nnn You did an excellent job converting the convention to a virtual event. My challenge was being able to stay on some of the calls or calling in with other issues that arose at the office. Normally at the convention others handle things when out of town. nnn This format for convention went surprising well. The sessions I participated in were well run, relevant, and timely. I garnered a lot of info and best of all I had staff that probably would not have attended in person, so they were able to gain knowledge and insights too. nnn Congrats to entire IPA staff on a job really well done. nnn The Data Journalism session was excellent. It was appropriate not only to those just getting into using data but also those who might have a bit of experience and are game to take things another step. nnn For the sessions I could join in on, I

very much enjoyed them. This was a good time to listen to the perspective of other sales professionals after a long season of drastically changing sales and advertising hurdles. I particularly enjoyed Ryan Dohrn's session. He was lively, authentic, and provided great information- touching on nearly every 'objection' I've encountered as of late. I'm married to a sales trainer and came home to tell HIM all of the advice and tips I had been learning. nnn The CIMA presentation did an excellent job of lining up panelists. In general, three to five panelists felt like the sweet spot. Interestingly, though, I was riveted for the presentations by Chris Coates and Joe Gisondi, who didn't feature a section panelist. They simply did such a great job of laying out how they've been successful and sharing pointers. nnn It was great, especially in a pandemic! nnn All good sessions. Particularly fond of the first three sessions that were active, timely conversations due to the current climate. I really liked the Agriculture 201 panel. This is such an important conversation that more conversations need to come out of. Thank you for giving it some spotlight in this conference week. nnn It would be great to make this the norm in the future because it provided the opportunity for more journalists to attend -- sort of opened it up to the whole newsroom. nnn If we get back to live conferences, this virtual section needs to be included so staff back home can participate. nnn You all did an amazing and wonderful job!! This was so helpful. Thank you for organizing and pulling this together. We all really needed this.

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