Why were newspapers excluded?

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By Sam R. Fisher

President & CEO Illinois Press Association

Gov. JB Pritzker hired a lot of expert talent to guide his new $5 million “It Only Works if You Wear It” campaign to encourage Illinoisans to wear a mask.

But the campaign apparently isn’t spending a dime on print advertising in newspapers.

Instead, it’s using various forms of broadcast, billboards and social media to spread the word.

The governor hired an ad agency to place the advertising, a world class photographer, talent, an agency to provide creative direction, and another agency that specializes in understanding and simplifying. Then, there’s a firm that provides that data insights. And let’s not forget the COVID-19 modeling team, whatever that is!

But here’s one thing all of these media experts missed that the governor and his team do know, and it’s been in front of them every day — the newspapers of Illinois.

They missed the newspapers that covered his daily news conferences to update Illinoisans about COVID-19.

More importantly, they missed the local newspapers statewide that kept every community informed about the pandemic. Newspapers provided a fact-based lifeline of much needed information, which we all know is critical in times of crisis.

We’ve finally been told by the governor’s office that the goal is to reach a younger demographic and that’s why print advertising in newspapers wasn’t part of the mix. Ironically, a study conducted by Civis that was used to guide the campaign showed that with the exception of adults 65 and over there is little difference in mask wearing. According to the study “Mask wearing rates generally increase with age but remain high for all age groups.”

Analytics and metrics are great, but how do you measure what’s staring you in the face every single day?  Maybe the analysts involved in this campaign should find a way to measure the impact that newspapers have had in communicating critical information to the governor’s communities across the state. That would be a very substantial metric!

We understand the value of broadcast to the governor’s campaign. Just like newspapers, broadcast media have been there every step of the way to get the message out about COVID-19 and the state’s response. But there were no reporters from Facebook or any other social media platform at any of the governor’s news conferences. If we missed them, we apologize. In fact, it seems the only fact-based reporting on social media is from credible news outlets like newspapers and broadcast outlets, and it didn’t cost the state anything! So, Mark Zuckerberg profits while Illinois newspapers continue to struggle with economic hardships exacerbated by the pandemic.

Newspapers have carried the message, but when it’s time to get the benefit of a paid campaign they weren’t included.

Of the more than 400 newspapers in Illinois, 307 have accounted for the nearly 3,000 times COVID-19 coverage from Capitol News Illinois – an initiative supported by Illinois newspapers – has been published. The CNI team has reported on every one of the governor’s news conferences.

This is just the latest of a series of snubs of newspapers from state government. They include the secretary of state’s recent campaign to reopen facilities, and the Department of Aging’s effort to report elder abuse.

The newspapers in Illinois deserve much better treatment from the governor and his staff, who have relied on print journalists to deliver the much-needed and timely fact-based information during these trying times.

Sam Fisher is from Princeton, Illinois.  He is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism.  Before joining the IPA in 2017, Fisher worked for Shaw Media for 34 years.  He was publisher of the Bureau County Republican (Princeton), Sauk Valley Media, Putnam County Record and Tonica News.  Fisher had been a corporate sales trainer before he was promoted to publisher at the Bureau County Republican in 1993.

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