Seven Illinois stations start news collaboration

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The partnership will cover much of the state of Illinois outside of Chicago. Photo: Flickr/OZinOH

The partnership will cover much of the state of downstate Illinois. (Photo: OZinOH via Flickr/Creative Commons)

CPB announced Monday a $715,000 grant for a journalism collaboration among seven pubcasters in Illinois, led by Illinois Public Media in Urbana.

Under the working title of Illinois Newsroom, the collaboration will also include WTVP-TV in Peoria, WUIS in Springfield, WSIU in Carbondale, Tri-States Public Radio in Macomb, WVIK in Rock Island and WEIU-TV in Charleston. Together, the stations will cover much of downstate Illinois, according to Maurice Bresnahan, Illinois Public Media president and c.e.o.

“There’s a really nice spirit of collaboration in the state” among public media, Bresnahan said. “This is a really great next step for us.”

Getting CPB support was a priority for the stations involved because of the state of news in Illinois, Bresnahan said. “The size of the press corps in Springfield [the state capital] has dropped off dramatically. Regional newspapers have lost reporters,” he said. “It’s a real crisis.”

The collaboration will focus on covering education, public policy, and health and the environment.

Part of the funding will go toward hiring eight new editorial staffers, five of which will be beat reporters.

Illinois Public Media will also hire an executive editor, a digital editor and an education reporter for the collaboration. WUIS will hire a public policy reporter and education reporter, and WSIU and Tri-States Public Radio will each hire a health and environment reporter. WTVP-TV will hire a lead video producer. Reporters’ stories can be used by the partnering stations and may also appear on PBS NewsHour and NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, according to CPB.

CPB is supporting Regional Journalism Collaborations that include at least three CPB-funded radio or television stations, with at least eight full-time journalists among them. RJC grants cover two years, with the hope that they yield a “formal and ongoing journalism partnership” among the stations, CPB says.

The Illinois collaborators have been able to learn from the previous CPB-funded projects, said Scott Cameron, news director at Illinois Public Media. CPB set up a meeting with the Illinois collaborating stations and heads of other journalism hubs to share best practices.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” Cameron said.

A takeaway from that meeting was the importance of communication and making sure that “the collaboration as a whole has a clear identity and vision,” he said.

Illinois Public Media will also focus on making the collaboration financially sustainable beyond CPB’s support. It plans to hire a major gifts officer devoted to the project.

In addition to including public media stations, the collaboration will also partner with the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting in Champaign-Urbana and Brant Houston, Knight Chair in investigative and enterprise reporting at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Media, with a goal of “open[ing] up opportunities to students and faculty across the state,” CPB said.

“CPB is pleased to support this historic journalism partnership among Illinois public media stations,” said Bruce Theriault, CPB senior vice president of journalism and radio, in a press release. “Collaboration is a multiplier and a game-changer. By working together, these stations can ensure that important stories from across Illinois are told locally, regionally — and nationally.”

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