Sen. Steve Stadelman

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois and the nation are in the midst of a local journalism crisis, with news outlets closing or shrinking at an alarming rate. State Senator Steve Stadelman and the members of the Local Journalism Task Force spent the last year studying the decline of local journalism, and outlined its findings and policy recommendations at a news conference Wednesday.

“As local journalism declines so does the checks and balances on democracy. It’s an issue facing newsrooms across both the state and nation – due in large part to dwindling revenue that leads to a dwindling number of reporters,” said Stadelman (D-Rockford). “A disruption in finances is a disruption in talent. It was long past time for us to have serious conversations about the future of journalism and how that affects the future of our communities.”

Stadelman – a former TV news anchor – chaired the Local Journalism Task Force. Representatives from media, academia and government met nearly a dozen times throughout the previous calendar year to study the decline of local media, its impact on democracy, and potential policy changes that could increase revenue to newsrooms across the state.

Hearing from a number of experts from across both the state and nation, the task force saw a common theme: independent local news reporting is vital and the lack of it is dangerous to the health of our democracy.

According to the Medill research, the Chicago area is among the 20 U.S. metro areas with the highest loss of news sources per capita. Yet the decline in rural parts of the state is even worse.

“Although the news crisis is severe across Illinois, it’s especially acute in downstate rural areas. Almost all the counties that lack a single local news outlet or are on Medill’s ‘watch list’ are in southern Illinois,” the task force’s report reads. “While rural areas downstate are clearly being underserved, so are some communities of color in urban areas.”

With its findings, the task force outlined a number of policy recommendations, including subscription tax credits, grant programs, fellowships and more.

Stadelman plans to bring forth legislation this session to improve the financial situations of local newsrooms.