Editor's Notebook: The Future of Journalism Rests on the Best of the Old and the New

Sep 1, 2007

Peggy Boyer Long
Credit WUIS/Illinois Issues

Who would have guessed it. Reporters for a monthly print magazine won a national award in online beat reporting. 

Illinois Issues' Statehouse Bureau Chief Bethany Carson (now Jaeger) and our Public Affairs Reporting intern Deanese Williams-Harris took the top prize in that category at this summer's conference of Capitolbeat, the national association of capitol reporters and editors. They won for the blog they produced several times each day as the spring legislative session ground its way into serious overtime. (We shut it down in August just long enough to give Bethany time to get married and take a honeymoon — but more on that later.) 

Second and third place awards in online beat reporting went to reporters at Stateline.org, a must-read national online news service covering the states. I can't resist noting that one of those reporters, Daniel C. Vock, also is a regular contributor to our magazine.

Illinois Issues took honors in print journalism, as well. Charles N. Wheeler III, our Ends and Means columnist, won his fourth first place award in magazine commentary. Bethany won second place in that category for her column State of the State. She also won a third place in magazine single report for her story on the Illinois Commerce Commission, "Small panel, major players," which appeared in this year's February edition. The first and second place awards went to reporters for The Texas Observer and CommonWealth Magazine in Boston.

Capitolbeat, formerly known as ACRE, is the only national association of capitol bureau reporters and editors. It was founded in 1999 and now has 250 members in statehouses throughout the country. 

The awards were announced last month in Philadelphia.

Illinois Issues has won several awards from the group over the years, including one for general excellence in state government reporting, but this year's trophies were especially satisfying. The combination of print and online honors comes as our staff — as is the case with most journalists these days — wrestles with the evolving relationship between print and online media.

We do believe this relationship, if approached strategically, can support what we have always done by benefiting Illinoisans who want and need to know more about their state government. As a result, we have been undergoing an evolution of our own, making changes we think will help deliver more information to more readers in more ways.    

We launched our Statehouse blog this year and continue to debate the best use of this new medium in the context of our stated mission to provide in-depth reporting and analysis of politics, policy and governance. It's not an automatic fit, as you can imagine.    Print and online users are reading for different reasons and in different ways. But we think our blog does a pretty fair job of bridging this divide by blending detailed reporting in shorter bites with descriptive color. 

If you haven't seen it, go to our Web site at http://illinoisissues.uis.edu and click on the orange bar at the top of the page. 

It's a work in progress. To this point, we've concluded that, at a minimum, a blog can enhance the value of the magazine to our readers by filling the information gaps between monthly editions. It has enabled us to keep up with breaking news and offer even more context than we can provide in the magazine. Through the blog we have a greater capacity to link to such background information as key documents and public statements — in time to be most useful to readers.

This much seems clear to our staff and to the members of our Advisory BoardIllinois Issues Online can and should become known as the first place to go for resources on state policy questions.       

On this we're clear, too: Our purpose dictates that any information we provide, whether it be online or in print, meets best practice standards for reporting and editing, including accuracy, fairness and transparency.

Our blog, in short, is not designed as a source of personal opinion or gossip.

Still, a blog is a more intimate and immediate medium, making it attractive and useful to some who might not otherwise read about state government and politics. A blog is by nature more conversational in tone and offers a real-time, you-are-there Statehouse experience, making it more fun to produce, as well. To that end, we're working toward audio and video capability that would enable us to let our readers see and hear policymakers for themselves.

But we're planning a bigger change over the next few months. 

This December, Illinois Issues will launch the magazine's first online-only edition. That issue, which will appear on our Web site each December, will be devoted to breaking news, especially political campaign news. This year, it will give us a jump on coverage of the state's first February primary. Next year, it will give us a chance to report the results of the November election more quickly. 

As our readers know, the December issue has been devoted to the arts over the past decade. Now, the arts will be folded into our combined July/August culture and environment issue.

 The move was designed in part to save on printing costs during the holidays when readership is low anyway. This decision hasn't been an easy one, but as a primarily print magazine, we're subject to the shifting economics of publishing — a reality faced by print journalists everywhere. We need to cut our costs and increase our prices, so we're boosting our single-copy price from $3.95 to $5.00.   

Our subscribers won't see a price increase, though. They'll receive 10 issues of the magazine each year, plus a free copy of our Roster of State Government Officials, for the same low price of $39.95. Then we hope they'll read us online each December for that 11th issue. 

 And that brings us to a key reason we're launching the online issue: to encourage our print-only readers to check us out online and to nudge our online-only readers toward the magazine. We believe it's precisely this kind of cross-fertilization between the "old" and the "new" media that will ensure the survival of serious journalism into the future.         

 

Double congrats

Meet Bethany Jaeger   
It wasn't easy to cover an extended legislative session this summer and get married. But our Statehouse Bureau Chief Bethany Carson is a master of organization. She married Eric Jaeger August 4 and headed off for a honeymoon in Germany. She's back this month with a new name. Best, best wishes to Bethany and Eric from Illinois Issues' staff and family. 

Diana Nelson promoted    
Art Director Diana L. C. Nelson was promoted to creative director of  Campus Services at the University of Illinois at Springfield. She's responsible for managing creative elements across the spectrum of media developed and produced by the university's offices of public relations, marketing, Web and print. Fortunately, she'll continue to oversee the design of Illinois Issues.

Peggy Boyer Long can be reached at Peggyboy@aol.com.

Illinois Issues, September 2007