The population of Statehouse reporters is getting a boost, compliments of the Illinois Press Foundation.
That group has hired three full-time reporters for its new Capitol News Illinois, a service designed to provide state government coverage — including localized coverage — to the 440 Illinois Press Association member newspapers. The foundation is “kind of the charitable arm of the association,” and focuses on grants, scholarships and training to advance journalism, said JEFF ROGERS, foundation director and interim bureau chief of the new news service.
Most of the papers are weeklies, but about 70 are dailies, Rogers said. The Illinois Press Association works for newspaper industry-related issues, Rogers said, and has pushed for things including freedom of information laws and against newsprint tariffs.
“With so many bureaus closing and papers reducing the numbers of reporters they have in their newsrooms, there just is not nearly as much state government coverage now as there was in the past,” Rogers said of the need for the news service.
He said the intent will be to provide news that is unbiased, fair and “free of any agenda.” A note to editors and publishers said coverage emphasis will be on legislative sessions, committee hearings, state agencies and the Supreme Court. While some stories have been produced, the official launch of the service is next week.
The reporters who have been hired are REBECCA ANZEL, PETER HANCOCK and JERRY NOWICKI. Also reporting for the service is GRANT MORGAN, an intern who is a graduate student in the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois Springfield.
Anzel is a Public Affairs Reporting grad who worked at the Statehouse for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. She is a graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism on Long Island, New York.
Hancock has covered Kansas state government for much of the past two decades, and for the past four years, was statehouse reporter for the Lawrence Journal-World.
Nowicki is former editor of the weekly LeRoy Farmer City Press, which won an Illinois Press Association award for the best small non-daily newspaper in the state during Nowicki’s tenure there, but ended publication for economic reasons in 2017. He has a journalism degree from Illinois State University and is working online toward a communication master’s from Purdue. For the past two years, he was a legislative aide to state Sen. STEVE LANDEK, who is also mayor of Bridgeview.
Rogers said Nowicki will not cover anything related to Landek.
“I had to feel comfortable in talking with him that he would come to this job with no agenda and no particular party leaning,” Rogers said of Nowicki, “and I felt comfortable with that.” Others at the foundation agreed, Rogers added.
Rogers also noted that he’ll be running the service as interim bureau chief, so he will have the responsibility to make sure coverage “isn’t tainted or agenda-driven.”
As newspapers have cut back on the reporters assigned to Springfield over the years, some of the gap in coverage has been picked up by the Illinois News Network — formed as an arm of the right-leaning Illinois Policy Institute, but now a business unit of Franklin Center, a nonprofit that operates Watchdog.org nationally. The Franklin Center and Watchdog.org are located at the same Chicago address as the Illinois Policy Institute.
CHRIS KRUG, publisher and general manager of INN and president of Franklin Center, said INN editorial decisions are independent.
Rogers said he thinks people at INN “do a good job” but “it’s just that there is an agenda” that determines what they cover.
Krug responded that neither INN, The New York Times nor the new press foundation service can cover everything.
“INN covers the issues our editors and reporters believe are most important to taxpayers,” Krug said. “That’s no secret. That’s our lane, and where we place our resources and focus. It’s our distinct differentiation and it resonates with readers.”
The new bureau is being funded at the beginning through grants from the press foundation and the Robert T. McCormick Foundation, Rogers said. He said additional funding and support will be sought, and he hopes the service becomes self-sufficient. He did not disclose the grant amounts.
The State Journal-Register continues to have a Statehouse bureau, but is also a member of the Illinois Press Association, so stories from Capitol News Service would be available to the publication. The newspaper will evaluate whether to use its coverage, said executive editor Angie Muhs. The SJ-R does not use INN stories on its news pages.
JOE GIBBS, a lawyer and businessman who represented Springfield in the Illinois House for four years in the early 1970s and has said he was among the “young Turks” who helped invigorate the Sangamon County GOP, died on Jan. 18 at his Florida home. He was 87.
Gibbs was elected to House terms in 1970 and 1972. He had been the city of Springfield’s corporation counsel, and had also been an assistant state’s attorney, a lawyer in private practice, and served in the Army. In a 2006 interview, he recalled that he was among a group that built up the GOP. Gibbs said he got out of the 1974 House race due to Watergate hurting GOP chances but also for economic reasons, as he was making $22,000 a year and had four children.
In 1971, Gibbs, as a legislator, spoke out strongly against the Vietnam War.
“I literally cry every time I read about some Springfield boy being killed in a silly, ridiculous war,” he was quoted as saying at the time.
His obituary said he was proud to have sponsored a bill to compassionately deal with addiction and mental illness.
He also sponsored the right-turn-on-red law in Illinois. He was visiting Colorado, he recalled in a 2006 interview, and talked at a hotel with a former governor of that state who had honked at Gibbs’ vehicle when it was stopped at a traffic light.
Among his business ventures, Gibbs founded LincolnLand Properties Inc. in 1967. It still operates apartments in downtown Springfield, including, since 1992, the 94-unit Lincoln Square complex.
Gibbs’ father, RON GIBBS, had been Sangamon County recorder of deeds and a pro football official.
Contact Bernard Schoenburg: firstname.lastname@example.org, 788-1540, twitter.com/bschoenburg.