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Members of the Chicago Independent Media Alliance share a laugh during a recent Zoom event to promote the organization. CIMA recently raised more than $160,000 for its member news organizations with a fundraiser that had been planned for 2021 but was bumped way up the calendar because of the impacts the COVID-19 pandemic was having on their revenue.
By CHRISTOPHER HEIMERMAN
For Illinois Press Association
CHICAGO – The writing has long been on the wall for plucky, vital weekly newspapers: If new revenue streams aren’t created, the light that media outlets shine on their communities, many of them underserved, will be dimmed if not put out altogether.
Tracy Baim, a legendary journalist who co-founded her first publication in the city in 1985, is the publisher of the Chicago Reader, which has covered the city with a unique literary voice and a fine focus on the arts. Unearthing corruption is a hallmark of the Reader, as well.
“We’ve seen corruption increase, and scandals and politicians that have gone unchallenged,” Baim said. “Corruption loves when newspapers die.”
Seeing the plight of her publications – she also owns the Windy City Times – and her colleagues throughout the city, she hatched an idea last year to form an alliance that would unite outlets in the spirit of collaborating and, in turn, becoming more viable.
The kickstarting initiative for what would become the Chicago Independent Media Alliance, was a mass fundraiser that would happen in 2021.
Then the pandemic hit, and Baim buried the accelerator on a project that was rolling along at a comfortable pace. A website needed to be built, just one of several proverbial plates that needed to start spinning.
“I was really worried it wasn’t going to play out,” Baim said. “Lots of things could go wrong, so all I could think of was the worst-case scenarios. There was a lot of stress because of all the need that was there at a very scary time, and we had three weeks to get ready to launch.”
Not only did it play out; the public donated more than $100,000 – about $40,000 more than the goal. Additionally, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, the Joseph & Bessie Feinberg Foundation, the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation and two anonymous foundations matched funds to the tune of $60,000.
“It’s honestly way more than we could have expected,” said Yong Lee, marketing manager for the Korea Times which, like the Reader, has been in business since 1971.
He said the Times, which prints in Korean only and serves about 10,000 readers, received about $8,000 from the fundraiser.
Baim said the alliance plans to develop ways for the outlets to raise funds individually, but also as a collective. In the meantime, those looking to support local media may find a list of all 43 outlets at the campaign’s website, savechicagomedia.org.
Yazmin Dominguez (Credit: GlitterGuts)
Fast-riser helms rapid-fire rollout
Baim said the only concerns with the launch were technological. Most notably, the website needed to be built and launched. She otherwise was confident because she had a rising star in Yazmin Dominguez, who’d joined the Reader less than a year ago as an administrative assistant and risen to the role of media partnerships coordinator in six short months. She became the project coordinator of CIMA.
She contacted about 160 local organizations, the list was narrowed to 103, and eventually the alliance had 62 members, 43 of which participated in the fundraiser.
“She masterfully herded cats,” said Charlie Meyerson, who has worked in Chicago media since 1979 and launched the independent news site Chicago Public Square in January 2017. “I’ve been very impressed with the way Yazmin kept the wheels on the tracks.”
“Impressive is not enough,” Lee said. “There has to be another word to describe the awesomeness of how she pulled this off.”
Dominguez said many publications lost 90 percent of their advertising revenue “overnight” – including the Reader, where that loss was more than $250,000.
Ron Roenigk is publisher of Inside Publications, which features three papers on the North Side: Skyline, Inside Booster and News-Star. Much of its revenue vanished along with its summer activity guide.
“Until this year, we had a North Side summer activity guide, and now since there’s no activity, there’s no guide,” he said during one of three Facebook Live videos Dominguez moderated in the last week of the fundraiser, a last-ditch push that she said drove up donations significantly.
Baim said two-thirds of the fundraiser’s donors asked that their contributions be split among the 43 outlets.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” she said. “That really shows that people wanted to support a strong journalism ecosystem.”
Jesus Del Toro, director general of La Raza Newspaper, has worked in local media for 16 years, since moving to the U.S. from Mexico. He’s seen damning signs of the times. So while the funds raised can only help, he’s optimistic for what the alliance can mean for local media’s sustainability.
“The most important thing is that the fundraiser is the first step toward a much wider benefit, given the struggle of local media,” he said. “We needed a transformation of the local media model. We need to show advertisers the value of our product, and that they need to preserve it. The fundraiser helped, but of course what’s more valuable is what will happen in the long run, with collaboration and a unified front.”
A future built on trust
It’s a scary place these days. Revenue was dwindling before the pandemic, and the rise of armchair journalists has hamstrung the industry with fake news, Baim said.
In 2019, the Chicago Defender closed its legacy print paper and the weekly Latinx paper Hoy has been shut down by the Tribune.
“We knew before COVID that journalism wasn’t in the best shape in Chicago,” Dominguez said. “A lot of newsrooms are closing – a lot of papers we really admired. We knew we had to do something about it.”
Baim said she’s relieved that, thus far, no CIMA member has had to close its doors or cease production.
Meyerson said media outlets, large ones in particular, have long used the term right-sizing – “which means layoffs, basically,” he said – but like it or not, it’s reality. What’s yet to be seen is what that right size is for the media landscape at large.
“Is it going to be the big companies shrinking, or the small companies growing?” Meyerson said. “This is an opportunity for small, digital organizations to grow. That’s what I love about this campaign. This was a chance for those small organizations to grow. And for the bigger organizations, like the Reader, their audiences can be convinced to get involved monetarily in ways they weren’t before.”
“The fundraiser gives hope for news outlets like ours,” Lee said. “It was completely built on trust. And we don’t even know each other, but we have the same mission.”
“The communities that are most affected, their papers tell a unique story, in an authentic way than the mainstream has never been able to do,” Baim said. “I’m an evangelist for local media of any kind. It could be the only paper in a rural area, or a paper that serves the black, Asain or LGBTQ community. The papers are part of their ecosystem.”
Baim said evidence of fast-built trust is encouraging, given that the alliance was spearheaded by the Reader specifically.
“It’s kind of an odd duck when an alliance is created by one of its members, to have one paper raising money for another paper,” she said. “But we all needed to survive. We need each other.”
The power of good
Baim said feel-good stories do more than make readers … well … feel good. She said showcasing the hard work businesses, nonprofit organizations and individuals are putting in to better their communities creates a contagious buzz of good will. And having local media eager to preach the gospel of good not only engenders trust, it strengthens all parties involved.
“We don’t just tell the stories when they’re bad. We tell the stories when they’re good,” Baim said. “When you tell a story about a business, a nonprofit, there are many residual benefits to that. You develop partnerships and allies.”
Dominguez is proud, but not satisfied with the alliance’s immediate success.
“This has been attempted many times in the past, alliances of this sort in Chicago media,” she said. “Now we have a lot of public attention. CIMA is such a baby project right now, and the fundraiser put us in the public eye. Two months ago, only the Chicago Reader and member outlets knew about the alliance.”
A key goal going forward is to create a pooled journalism fund featuring multiple funding streams, including public and private foundations, private donors, and government.
More than half of the alliance’s members are unable to offer insurance to their full-time employees, so a pooled insurance fund for Chicago-area journalists – full-timers and freelancers alike – is in the works.
“We have way bigger goals for 2021,” Dominguez said. “This is just the beginning.”
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Alison Maley
Government & Public Relations Director
Illinois Principals Association recognized by
Great Place to Work® on Certification Nation Day,
a national celebration of outstanding workplaces
SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Principals Association is proud to celebrate Certification Nation Day on May 17, along with the community of Great Place to Work-Certified™ companies across the country. Great Place to Work® has designated May 17, 2022, as Certification Nation Day to salute and recognize the companies working to create great places to work for all.
“The positive culture at IPA allows our team of richly talented individuals to support one another with a shared mission of developing, supporting, and advocating for innovative educational leaders,” shared Dr. Susan Homes, deputy executive director for professional learning. “To achieve this mission, we serve each other first so we can serve our members. I'm proud to be part of an association that is not only forward thinking but is recognized nationally for our innovative solutions and support for school leaders.”
Great Place to Work Certification™ is recognized worldwide by employees and employers alike and is the global benchmark for identifying outstanding employee experiences.
“Certified companies put employees first” says Michael C. Bush, chief executive officer at Great Place to Work. “Thriving employees increase revenue, profit and provide market-leading customer experiences. I hope that Certification Nation Day can inspire other executives to create and sustain employee-first cultures."
“Great Place to Work Certification™ isn’t something that comes easily” says Sarah Lewis-Kulin, vice president of global recognition at Great Place to Work. “It takes ongoing dedication to the employee experience.”
“My favorite thing about working for IPA is the team-oriented culture,” said Arlin Peebles, Ed Leaders Network director and IPA staff member. “Our staff motto is ‘Serving each other, serving educators, serving children’ and it is put in that order for a reason. Whenever we need something from another staff member it is immediately prioritized and taken care of. We have a huge amount of respect for each other, and it is always exciting when we get a chance to collaborate on a project to serve our members.”
“Everyone at IPA works together as a high-functioning team,” said Janice Schwarze, professional learning associate and former principal. “I feel valued as a professional, and I also feel like I am part of a big family who looks out for me personally.”
According to Great Place to Work research, job seekers are 4.5 times more likely to find a great boss at a Certified great workplace. Additionally, employees at Certified workplaces are 93% more likely to look forward to coming to work, and are twice as likely to be paid fairly, earn a fair share of the company’s profits and have a fair chance at promotion.
About Illinois Principals Association
The Illinois Principals Association is a professional association serving more than 6,000 building-level administrators in Illinois. IPA provides professional learning and advocacy opportunities, supporting principals and other school administrators to lead effective learning organizations.
About Great Place to Work Certification™
Great Place to Work® Certification™ is the most definitive “employer-of-choice” recognition that companies aspire to achieve. It is the only recognition based entirely on what employees report about their workplace experience – specifically, how consistently they experience a high-trust workplace. Great Place to Work Certification is recognized worldwide by employees and employers alike and is the global benchmark for identifying and recognizing outstanding employee experience. Every year, more than 10,000 companies across 60 countries apply to get Great Place to Work-Certified.
About Great Place to Work®
Great Place to Work® is the global authority on workplace culture. Since 1992, they have surveyed more than 100 million employees worldwide and used those deep insights to define what makes a great workplace: trust. Their employee survey platform empowers leaders with the feedback, real-time reporting and insights they need to make data-driven people decisions. Everything they do is driven by the mission to build a better world by helping every organization become a great place to work For All™.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Emily Warnecke
Merger creates Illinois' largest school
energy management group
The Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA), the Illinois Association of School Business Officials (IASBO) and the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) have announced a merger to create the Illinois Energy Consortium powered by Future Green — Illinois’ largest energy management group. The initiative will help member school districts reduce their energy spending, protect them from market volatility and invest in renewable energy.
“Price volatility, supply disruptions and the transition to lower carbon generation are just a few of the long-term trends facing the energy markets that we are responding to,” said Dr. Michael Jacoby, executive director/CEO of IASBO. “This initiative will provide school districts with much-needed stability and cost certainty through aggregating their respective energy loads to secure lower prices than they could on their own.”
The new entity is a merger of the Illinois Energy Consortium (IEC) and Future Green Energy Consortium (FGEC). The IEC, created in 1997, is Illinois’ largest electric and natural gas pool. More than 30 percent of all Illinois public school districts and colleges are members. The FGEC was created in 2016 as a way to provide members with renewable electric power solutions at no out-of-pocket cost.
“Illinois member schools have saved tens of millions of dollars in the past by joining forces under the umbrellas of the IEC and FGEC,” said Dr. Brent Clark, executive director of IASA. “By merging the two, districts will be able to invest more dollars into the classroom while also exploring green-energy solutions such as onsite solar generation and electrification of bus fleets.”
After the passage of the Illinois Climate and Equitable Jobs Act in 2021, Illinois school districts are in a unique position to install solar panels on site and reduce their carbon footprint. In addition to saving money, onsite solar provides protection from extreme weather events and can potentially generate revenue for the district in the event it is able to sell excess renewable energy back into the grid.
“In February 2021, there were school districts in Illinois forced to close due to a sudden massive spike in the price of natural gas,” said Dr. Tom Bertrand, executive director of IASB. “That volatility creates stress on the school district, parents and students. Providing more stability with energy costs can allow districts to avoid major disruptions to learning.”
Illinois Energy Consortium powered by Future Green will be actively managed by Econergy LLC, based in Chicago. Econergy has helped more than 2,500 schools and businesses across the country unlock access to renewable energy savings by building energy coalitions.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Alicia Martin
The Associated Builders and Contractors
of Illinois endorse Richard Irvin for Governor
SPRINGFIELD – Crime, corruption, taxes, and burdensome regulation have decimated businesses and communities over the past four years. But unfortunately, there is no indication that this will change unless there is a different direction in leadership. After thoughtful deliberation of all candidates, the Associated Builders and Contractors of Illinois is proud to endorse Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin and State Representative Avery Bourne for Governor and Lieutenant Governor.
Mayor Irvin is not a stranger to challenges. Born to a single mother and raised in the projects in Aurora, Mayor Irvin became the first member of his family to graduate college. Mayor Irvin is a decorated combat veteran, former prosecutor, and the first African American Mayor of Aurora. There is no question about his dedication to service and helping others.
Representative Avery Bourne has served in the General Assembly since 2015 and has a proven track record of supporting ABC Illinois issues. Since taking her oath, she has been a strong advocate for fixing education funding disparities, ethics reform, and economic development across the State. In addition, her deep roots in central and southern Illinois will provide a much-needed voice for rural communities.
“While we admire and respect the other Republican candidates for Governor it is the opinion of our Board of Directors that Mayor Irvin and Representative Bourne best represent our state and will help all of Illinois and our members prosper. “As Mayor, Richard Irvin has demonstrated his ability to work in a bipartisan manner to find solutions for his community and small businesses. Providing an environment for businesses to grow and safety for our families are both important for our members”, says Alicia Martin, President of ABC Illinois.
Mayor Irvin responded to the endorsement “I am honored to have the endorsement of the Associated Builders & Contractors, Illinois Chapter. Growing up in public housing surrounded by gangs and crime, I understand the importance of providing opportunities to individuals with barriers to employment by helping them enter the construction industry and getting them on the right trajectory. ABC's faith in my candidacy due to my proven record on economic
development as Mayor of Aurora confirms their belief that I am the best candidate to turn Illinois around economically and lift up our communities that have been struggling under J.B. Pritzker's administration”.
About ABC: The Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of Illinois is the affiliate of the national ABC trade association. ABC of Illinois advocates for the merit shop philosophy within the construction industry and represents a diverse group of businesses across Illinois.
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