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The Constant Media Gardener: Fast-rising coordinator ripping out roots of journalism issues

CIMADominguezPhoto2

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.

 

Little insurance

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.

 

Lack of funding

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.

 

Racial coverage

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.”

 

Strokes too broad

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.

 

One problem solved

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.”

CIMADominguezPhoto1

Yazmin Dominguez works from the Chicago Reader office. (Photo supplied)

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Press Releases

 

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 11, 2024

Contact Information:
K. Eric Larson
(847) 997-2109
elarson@eyso.org
 

Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestras to premiere new compositions at Terra metallicum on Saturday, April 13
 

ELGIN, Illinois. (April 11, 2024) – Wanees Zarour, a renowned performer, educator, and expert in Middle Eastern music, will join the award-winning Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestras (EYSO) as guest artist for a genre-bending evening of musical collaboration and performance at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 13, in the Auditorium at South Elgin High School at 760 E Main St, South Elgin.

EYSO’s flagship Youth Symphony and its Brass Choir will perform with Zarour, who has been working with EYSO student musicians in rehearsals this past month, and through a masterclass at the high school earlier in the day. They will premiere two new compositions at this concert.

Zarour is an award winning Palestinian-American composer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist steeped in maqam and jazz music. His compositional and arranging styles transcend borders and draw from traditions spanning the entire globe. 

For millennia, the complex and rich relationships between the natural world and humankind have captivated scholars, scientists, philosophers, and artists. Fruitful and fraught, timeless, and fragile, these relationships inspire a tremendous spectrum of artistic expressions that imitate, investigate, and emulate the interconnected worlds of nature and humanity. In EYSO's 48th season, explore how sound reflects the natural and built worlds around us — and how the two are united through music.

To see a more complete list of performances or for tickets, go to www.eyso.org/concert. In addition to traditional in-person seating, tickets are available to experience the concerts via live streaming.

About EYSO
The mission of EYSO is to create a community of young musicians, enriching their lives and the lives of their families, schools, communities and beyond, through the study and performance of excellent music.

EYSO serves students from 70 Chicagoland communities and has a national reputation for providing students with an engaging musical experience and a comprehensive learning environment of curiosity, imagination, critical thinking, and collaboration. Students explore a thematic curriculum each season — one that helps students develop artistically and technically, and prepares them for a future of complex ideas, creative risk-taking, and leadership as global citizens. This approach has led hundreds of alumni to successful careers as professional musicians, educators, and strong leaders in every field. The theme of EYSO’s 48th season is GAIA through which students explore how sound reflects the natural and built worlds around us—and how the two are united through music. 

EYSO is accepting applications to audition for the 2024-25 season at www.eyso.org

To learn more about EYSO, visit www.eyso.org or call (847) 841-7700.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 5, 2024

Contact Information:
Monique Whitney
(505) 480-4150
email: monique@truthrx.org greynolds@ipha.org
 

Illinois pharmacists rally at State Capitol to end prescription drug middlemen patient steering, support increased state oversight

Community pharmacists call attention to increasing prescription drug costs, decreased access to care and emerging pharmacy deserts correlated to pharmacy benefit manager practices.

 

SPRINGFIELD, IL (March 5, 2024) – Illinois pharmacists will gather at the State Capitol today to rally in support of HB 4548 and SB 2790, proposed legislation which would eliminate controversial practices by prescription drug middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs. The rally is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. and will be held near the Lincoln statue, located at the east end of the State Capitol and will include brief remarks by bill sponsors and constituents negatively impacted by PBM prescription drug pricing practices.

If enacted, HB 4548, sponsored by Rep. Jones, would protect patients’ right to receive prescription medication from the pharmacy of their choice, banning the lucrative PBM practice of “steering” patients to PBM-owned or affiliated pharmacies or mandatory mail order. Sen. Koehler’s SB 2790 would empower the state’s Department of Healthcare and Family Services with greater oversight of PBM contracts; monitoring of payments made to PBMs and pharmacies; and ensuring PBM rebates negotiated on behalf of HFS are fully paid to HFS.

“We applaud Representative Jones, Senator Koehler and the many members of our state legislature who are championing these critical measures that would protect the state’s patients and pharmacy providers,” said Illinois Pharmacists Association President Rupesh Manek, RPh, pharmacist and Rochelle-based pharmacy owner. “The proposed legislation is evidence of a responsible governing body aware of the pitfalls that come with overpaying pharmacy benefit managers for services that should be provided in the interest of fiscal responsibility, not overcompensating shareholders.”

Last May, Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino released the results of a Performance Audit of Pharmacy Benefit Managers, finding the state’s Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) department did not have complete copies of the contracts between managed care organizations and PBMs necessary to conduct monitoring of contract provisions, or between PBMs and pharmacies to be able verify accuracy or rate of reimbursement to pharmacies. The result of passage of SR 792 in 2022, the Performance Audit of the Medicaid Managed Care (MMC) PBMs identified over $200 million over 2 years in spread pricing overbilling to the MMC prescription program.

Anne Cassity, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) said “NCPA commends the Office of the Auditor General for its diligence in revealing gross overpayment to PBMs in Illinois’ Managed Medicaid program. Sadly, Illinois is joining numerous other states in recognizing how PBMs harm both the patients and payers – both public and commercial – they purport to serve. We urge Illinois to join the ranks of states who have established comprehensive PBM regulation with strong enforcement provisions to ensure patient access to pharmacy services at their neighborhood community pharmacy.”

PBMs manage patients’ prescription drug benefit, acting as the liaison between the patient, the pharmacy, and the patient’s employer or health plan sponsor. Since 2019, numerous studies have uncovered evidence of PBMs practices that result in endpayers paying significantly more for patients’ prescription medication than the patient’s pharmacy was reimbursed (a practice called “spread pricing”); and patients “steered” away from their pharmacy of choice to PBM-owned/affiliated pharmacies. Additional studies have shown the drug manufacturer rebates PBMs negotiate increase a drug’s list price year over year, causing patients to pay more out of pocket because of rebate-inflated costs. For more information on the rally or how PBM practices are affecting Illinois patients and taxpayers, contact Illinois Pharmacists Association at IPhA.org. Learn more about NCPA, the country’s largest organization of independent pharmacy owners, at NCPA.org. To understand how PBM practices affect patient care and affordability of medication for consumers and end payers, visit PUTT’s website at TruthRx.org.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 4, 2024

Contact Information:
William Nissen, publisher of the elderparole.org website
(312) 882-6338
email: wmjnissen@gmail.com
website: https://www.elderparole.org/
 

Advocates to deliver letters of support for elder parole bill, HB 2045, to governor, lieutenant governor, and legislative leaders in Springfield on March 6, 2024
 

CHICAGO (March 4, 2024) - Advocates for the passage of HB 2045, which would establish an elder parole process in Illinois, plan to hand deliver more than 900 signed letters of support for the bill to the Springfield offices of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and legislative leaders on March 6, 2024.

The elder parole bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Justin Slaughter (D-27th), would provide a parole process for approximately 1,000 people in Illinois prisons who are aged 55 years or older and have served at least 25 years.

The letters come from people across the State of Illinois and beyond, including people incarcerated in Illinois prisons. Most of the letters make the following points in support of enactment of the bill:

• The Illinois prison population has been steadily aging.

• Older inmates are often sick and infirm.

• Illinois is not providing the medical care that is needed by these aging inmates.

• A court-appointed monitor has identified elder abuse in Illinois prisons where preventable deaths have occurred due to the state’s failure to provide proper medical care.

• The medical care that is being provided is very costly to the state and the cost will only worsen as more inmates age.

• The Joe Coleman Medical Release Act is not solving the problem because too few people are sick enough to qualify and many of those who qualify are being denied release.

• Many older inmates have maintained close ties to their friends and families, who will support them in transitioning to life outside prison.

Under the bill, no one would be entitled to release, but rather eligible people would be given the opportunity to present their individual circumstances to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board and request release.

The bill requires the board to decide whether to grant parole based on several considerations, including rehabilitation, character references, participation in educational and work programs, and criminal and disciplinary history. The bill also provides that victims’ families would be notified and given the opportunity to participate in the parole hearing.

In 1978, Illinois abolished discretionary parole for those sentenced on or after Feb. 1, 1978. Since then, the growth in the prison population has far outpaced the increase in the state’s general population, and the percentage of the prison population 55 years or older has also increased significantly.

Dr. John Raba, the former medical director of Cermak Health Services, which provides health care at the Cook County Jail, is the court-appointed monitor in a class action where state officials have entered into a consent decree requiring that adequate medical care be provided in Illinois prisons. Dr. Raba has reported that the state is not meeting the needs of older prisoners and does not have the resources to provide such care.

According to Dr. Raba’s reports, the inadequate health care is resulting in elder abuse and avoidable deaths. Dr. Raba has recommended that a pathway to early release of prisoners be established. This bill would establish a reasonable pathway.

Rep. Slaughter has explained the need for this bill as follows: “This bill would establish a much needed mechanism for considering on an individual basis whether there is no longer any public interest to be served by continuing to imprison an individual who has aged and served significant time, because the individual has become rehabilitated, is not a threat to public safety, and neither the public nor the individual would benefit from that individual’s continued imprisonment. The
people covered by the bill are the least likely to re-offend and the most expensive to care for, given medical expenses and end-of-life care.”

Here are links to the text of most of the letters to be delivered and to a fact sheet for the bill:

Text of letter supporting enactment of HB 2045: https://bit.ly/3sd6aE9

Fact sheet for HB 2045: https://bit.ly/3P5jvph

 
 
 
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