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Yazmin Dominguez checks out a copy of the Chicago Reader newspaper at the publication's office in Chicago. Dominguez, 24, is project coordinator for the Chicago Independent Media Alliance, a coalition formed to help the independent local news organizations. (Photo supplied)
By CHRISTOPHER HEIMERMAN
For Illinois Press Association
CHICAGO – Yazmin Dominguez is digging up weeds.
The 24-year-old media partnerships coordinator at the Chicago Reader recently took on the role of projects coordinator for the Chicago Independent Media Alliance, which is facilitated by The Reader and recently raised more than $160,000 for 43 of its 62 members.
The influx of funds will help offset massive losses in advertising revenue amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but Dominguez is going after deeper-rooted issues with journalism and media.
“We as young journalists are passionate about dismantling all the wrongs in the media,” Dominguez said. “I’ll say that for all young journalists. We’re aware of the issues, and we’re going to fix them.”
Dominguez said that for as long as she can remember, she’s been aware of the struggles of journalists – particularly those in marginalized communities, which make up much of the alliance members’ readerships.
“As a young journalist, I think we grew up in an era, starting in 2001, when things started falling apart,” she said. “The media industry is no exception of that. I am a child of immigrants. Going into journalism with that background, you see the industry differently. You see the power of words and the power of publishing.”
As a teenager, Dominguez would leave Huntley High School every day to make it on time for newsroom meetings at The Mash, Chicago Tribune’s teen newspaper. While attending DePaul University, she was a reporting fellow for City Bureau and worked as an intern for Chicago Tonight, where she was hired part-time to work on an aldermanic project – which involved bringing aldermen into the WTTW studio and working on production and online.
It was around that time she heard The Mash had closed.
“Being in Chicago, which has a very lively and active media scene, watching these newsrooms shut down was what made me realize the system is broken,” she said. “[The Mash] was one of the first things to go from the Tribune. That hit me a little different, because that’s where I started as a young reporter.”
As Dominguez begins to unearth the weeds of the industry, she’s going for the roots. She said she’s angry, and that most young journalists are. But that anger can be turned into results.
“We need to fix the roots of the issues to have success down the line,” she said.
During a recent phone interview, she had an unprompted list of issues at the ready – beyond the oft-cited rise of armchair digital journalism and the crash of advertising revenue industrywide.
CIMA recently polled its members on various topics. Of the 48 outlets that responded, 56 percent are unable to offer insurance to their full-time staff. Of 49 respondents, about 86 percent can’t offer insurance to part-timers and freelancers.
That’s not acceptable for a line of work where journalists regularly put themselves in harm’s way in order to inform their readers on how to stay safe.
“That’s really not OK,” Dominguez said. “Them not being able to have insurance or be employed full-time. Some media companies can’t even afford a physical building.”
About one-third of 50 respondents said they don’t have a physical office.
Dominguez said with help on the local, state and federal levels, media outlets would be able to hire more full-time staff and rely less on part-timers and freelancers.
“There just needs to be more funding in the industry,” she said. “The City of Chicago needs to work more with local media.”
Every day, she looks at the CTA ads promoting events, the CTA itself, the U.S. Census, and she wonders, “What if?”
“Why not do an ad buy with a bunch of local media outlets?” she said. “Certain bodies of government haven’t utilized the sort of potential the media has. I think that speaks to the disconnect between the city and its local communities.”
She said there’s strength in numbers, particularly if you bring together dozens of like-minded outlets that are hungry for change and willing to get elected officials’ attention.
“That’s the mindset the alliance has, and it was created in that mindset,” she said.
Mistreatment of the Muslim community after 9/11 wasn’t reserved for run-of-the-mill American citizens. Dominguez said racism abounded in media coverage after the Twin Towers fell.
“Coverage of Katrina also painted the local community in a … not-so-good light,” she said. “Moments like that, young people notice and become disenfranchised. If you’re a young person in the media, you’re passionate for it. Moments like that affect your psyche as a young journalist.”
Dominguez decried editors’ practice of carefully selecting which pictures to publish – which ones capture the demographic they’re after and, in turn, generate the most clicks.
She said she’s optimistic that an influx of young journalists can stem the tide of tired, often misguided thinking.
“People who have been in legacy newsrooms are a bit old-school,” she said. “They’ve been in their position for decades. It can hurt the organization you’re trying to help, and more importantly the community you’re trying to serve. There’s a young crowd of journalists that are hungry and angry, and ready to change how reporting on their communities is done.”
The larger the media outlet, the harder it is to cover communities that are directly affected, Dominguez said.
“It’s the role of local media to fill the information gaps that larger media outlets can’t,” Dominguez said. “It’s glaringly obvious that communities of color are so affected compared to white, wealthy communities.”
Jesus Del Toro, director general of La Raza Newspaper, said the funds raised by CIMA point to an opportunity aching to be seized.
“Those who donated money, it’s an expression of the support of the community,” he said.
His readership still picks up the physical paper and relies on what’s inside of it.
“The Latinx community in Chicago still relies heavily on the print publication,” he said.
Dominguez is heartened to have a new member of the alliance that will also serve a marginalized community. The Cicero Independiente, fiscally supported by City Bureau, was created about a year ago by three young Latinx people, and it joined the alliance 2 months ago. Dominguez said Cicero has gotten a bad rap because of coverage that too often focuses on violence and crime, rather than the rich Hispanic heritage of the community.
Del Toro said local media collaboration has been attempted in Chicago, and has failed.
CIMA is different, he said.
“For the first time in this collaboration of media, we were fortunate to have one specific person doing the coordination of this effort,” he said of Dominguez. “Each of us, all the media and members of this group, have a lot of different interests and content, and problems, and level of resources. One big obstacle through collaboration is coordination. She was a big part of this success. What she provided was the glue we need to have in order to move, and to grow.”
Charlie Meyerson, who’s worked in the Chicago market for more than 40 years, whether in radio, print, or his recently launched independent news site, Chicago Public Square, signed on with CIMA and was blown away by the 24-year-old who accepted nitpicking with a smile.
“People who have worked with me over the decades have learned that I’m the squeaky wheel – this needs to be fixed, or that needs to be reworded,” he said. “She took it all in stride.”
Dominguez said the feedback was invaluable.
“It’s definitely a good problem to have, that we’ve found out people aren’t shy about offering us feedback,” she said. “That external suggestion box has been very helpful.”
Meyerson said a lot of organizations will ask for feedback, then bristle at constructive criticism.
“I can’t remember once being told to tone it down,” he said. “They accepted feedback and acted on it. When they didn’t have the resources to do something, they were forthright.”
This all comes as little surprise for Tracy Baim, longtime Chicago media touchstone and owner of the nearly half-century-old Reader. She saw star power in Dominguez when she interviewed her about a year ago – when the ink had barely dried on the journalism degree Dominguez earned at DePaul.
“She really hit the ground running,” Baim said. “She has a fantastic personality, she’s hard-working and knows the need for journalism. It’s rare to have someone with all her qualities.
“She understands our job here is to save jobs of journalists.”
Yazmin Dominguez works from the Chicago Reader office. (Photo supplied)
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Sara Davis
Habitat for Humanity of McHenry County
(815) 759-9002 ext. 102
Habitat ReStores in Woodstock & McHenry
kick off Winter 2022 Donation Drive
McHENRY COUNTY — McHenry County residents can support the store that helps build homes by donating to the Habitat McHenry County ReStores Winter Donation Drive, happening now through Dec. 31!
With free and convenient pickup service, McHenry County residents can easily donate new and gently used household items, appliances, building materials, furniture, lighting fixtures, cabinets, and more!
The Habitat ReStores in Woodstock and McHenry carry gently used donations along with an excellent selection of new and like new furniture, tools, home décor, and more! Habitat ReStores are open to the general public for shopping and donation drop-offs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Every purchase at a Habitat ReStore generates funds to help build, rehabilitate or repair Habitat for Humanity homes in McHenry County. Individuals and families applying to the Home Ownership program must complete a brief application, earn between 30% and 80% of the area median income based on their family size, and perform sweat equity to be considered for a home.
“Every item donated to our ReStores helps to improve the lives of families in need of safe, affordable housing,” said Sara Davis, operations director for Habitat McHenry County, “This year alone, proceeds from our Habitat ReStores have helped us build and repair homes for more than 15 families in McHenry County.”
The Habitat ReStores rely heavily on the generosity of community donors, and all donations made through the 2022 Winter Donation Drive are tax deductible. For information about how to schedule a donation drop-off or pickup, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 815-331-8153 ext. 302.
Habitat for Humanity ReStores – Woodstock, IL and McHenry, IL
Open to the public, Habitat ReStores are thrift home improvement stores and donation centers that sell building materials, appliances, furniture, and home decor at deep discounts to the communities they serve. In fiscal year 2021 alone, Habitat ReStores nationwide raised more than $76 million to help support Habitat's affordable housing mission while also diverting reusable material from landfills. All proceeds generated between both HFHMC ReStores are used to help build or improve homes in McHenry County. To shop, donate or volunteer, visit us online at www.habitatmchenry.org.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Brandon Bergersen
Valley Orchard celebrates 45 years in the community with 'Fall 45 Fest' on October 8
CHERRY VALLEY – Valley Orchard in Cherry Valley, Illinois, is one of the oldest orchards in the community and has been a destination for cherry picking, apple picking, and apple cider donuts for 45 years in northern Illinois. Every spring, summer, and fall it has been a spot for outdoor entertainment, farm market shopping, and cider slushes. On October 8, the orchard is commemorating all the roles it has played for the community throughout its 45 years in business with a daylong anniversary celebration called “The Fall 45 Fest”.
The event will be celebrating with the community by offering a variety of fun activities from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, October 8. This will include attractions for guests of all ages including pumpkin carving and scarecrow building contests, children’s activities, an antique tractor show, yard games, multiple food trucks, and one free apple cider donut for every visitor. For the full schedule of events visit the Valley Orchard Facebook event.
"I love growing apples, I have for 45 years," said Valley Orchard owner and operator Raoul Bergersen.
Bergersen went on to say how grew up with a love for farming.
"I had a friend that one day said, 'Hey, are you interested in doing an apple orchard?' I said, 'Sure, why not' and had absolutely no idea how to do it," Bergersen said when asked how it all started. "In retrospect, that was really foolish knowing what I know now," Bergersen said with a laugh. "But it was really fun."
Bergersen purchased the land in the Village of Cherry Valley in 1977. In the first year, he planted 1,800 apple trees which now have more than 5,000 trees on the 35-acre property.
With an array of apples, including their own handcrafted Johnalicious, berries, pumpkins, corn, and an abundance of rhubarb; visitors can find everything they need.
"You become friends with your customers," Bergersen said, “and we want to celebrate 45 years with them. I'm going to keep this up for as long as I possibly can, and hopefully my sons will continue something that I started 45 years ago."
Join Valley Orchard for 45 years of fun on October 8 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
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