(The Center Square) – As small town newspapers go by the wayside in Illinois, a new task force is studying ways to incentivize a revival of local journalism, including through the use of tax credits.
The Local Journalism Task Force conducted a study on communities underserved by local journalism. It was formed by legislation that was signed into law in 2021.
“Robust local journalism is vitally important and I look forward to reviewing the recommendations from the task force as we seek to maintain and grow a strong press corps in Illinois,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement after signing the legislation into law.
Since 2005, the task force found that Illinois has lost 86% of journalist jobs at newspapers, and 232 local newspapers have folded. The report also cited a decline in advertising revenues for local news outlets as a majority of Illinoisans said they get their news online.
The task force cites studies that have shown that communities lacking robust local journalism have lower levels of voter participation, higher levels of corruption, and misinformation flourishes.
“The goal here is to get local reporters covering local meetings,” said State Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford, the chair of the task force. “Trying to avoid the politics, we just need people on the ground covering what’s going on in communities so people in those towns and communities know what’s going on.”
Five of Illinois’ 102 counties (Pulaski, Alexander, Perry, Hamilton, and Edwards) have no local source of news, and 33 rely on just a single source, according to The State of Local News 2023, a research project led by Northwestern’s Medill Local News Initiative.
The report said the lack of government oversight is “especially alarming in Illinois,” which has more units of government than any other state. Illinois’ 8,517 units of local government range from cities to drainage districts.
The task force supports using subscription, advertising and payroll tax credits, and state-funded journalism scholarships as possible ways to help revive the local news industry in Illinois, but state Sen. Donald DeWitte, R-St. Charles, warns of consequences when taxpayer dollars enters the mix.
“When state funding is involved, I fear there’s a real chance that those who receive these subsidies may feel indebted to the grantor,” said DeWitte.
The report will be submitted to the Illinois General Assembly for consideration.