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Some newsrooms sample a ‘little slice of normalcy’ with office reopening


Photographer David Proeber inspects a drone in the newsroom of The Pantagraph on July 2 in Bloomington. (Pantagraph photo)

For Illinois Press Association

BLOOMINGTON – In April, the newsroom staff Lee Enterprises’ papers in central Illinois got a literal slice of normalcy.

About half the staff at The Pantagraph was in the office covering the election. They were all masked, spread way out, with dividers alongside every cubicle.

“It was like a whole other world,” said Chris Coates, Central Illinois editor. “But we did socially distanced Election Night pizza. People wanted to be in the newsroom and be part of that energy. It felt like a little slice of normalcy.”

Coates splits time physically between the Decatur Herald & Review, The Pantagraph and the Journal Gazette/Times-Courier that serves Mattoon and Charleston. While he rarely sets foot in Woodford County, he also oversees the Journal.

He said in late spring, staff was welcomed back to all four offices, “and they’re all a little bit different.”

“It’s kind of an honor system, but we encourage people to spread out,” Coates said, adding that mask-wearing is “all over the place” for staff. “We just kind of trust everybody.”

Varied plans still forming, in flux

Reopening plans vary from newsroom to newsroom throughout the state, but all the editors interviewed for this story agreed that it behooves media outlet owners, publishers and
newsroom leaders to work with staff on a hybrid plan, not just in the reopening phase, but in the long term.

In Springfield, about an hour’s drive from Bloomington, Executive Editor Leisa Richardson said that while the State Journal-Register office is open, editors and reporters rarely set foot in it.

“I think the pandemic has allowed us to see how flexible we can be,” she said. “Technology surely has become a great friend. I think we learned how to use technology even more than we did when we were in the office.”

And if you think you can’t replace the magic of in-person Election Night pizza, Richardson begs to differ. She had personal pizzas sent to every staff member working that night.

She said the impromptu inspiration, brainstorming and planning that used to take place at the water cooler or in the breakroom still exists. It just looks different.

“We talk just like we would in the newsroom,” she said. “People connect by text, by phone, by (Microsoft) Teams. That has kind of replaced the water cooler. It also allowed us to be more efficient with our time. The camaraderie you have in the newsroom is different, but it’s still there.”

Two newsroom hires are yet to set foot in the office, although staff did have a get-together by dining outside at a local restaurant. 

Richardson expects Gannett to first come out with a comprehensive plan sometime in the fall, but there’s no urgency in her newsroom.

The Chicago Tribune’s editor-in-chief, Colin McMahon, said in an email that the newsroom is open on a voluntary basis, and that some reporters, editors and visual journalists come and go as they wish, and that COVID-19 protocols remain in place in all public areas and shared spaces.

The brutal reality for many papers is that they’ve been able to work in the office safely because there’s simply not as many employees at the paper these days. Less than an hour southeast of Bloomington, The News-Gazette in Champaign has pivoted after staff cuts and begun relying heavily on contributors for content.

“So other than the occasional writer, pretty much everyone has worked [in] the office this whole pandemic – while masked and keeping a safe distance from one another,” Editor Jeff D’Alessio said.

Some Chicago-area newsrooms are yet to reopen their doors. Steve Warmbir, interim editor-in-chief at the Chicago Sun-Times, said in an email that several factors delayed a decision on reopening the office until Sept. 7. In Arlington Heights, the Daily Herald’s doors will first reopen on that date, “barring any unexpected issues related to the pandemic, of course,” Heather Ritter, vice president of resources, said.

She said department heads are working on hybrid work expectations.

“We also have dictated to our managers that it is expected that while remote work has a lot of advantages – for both the employee and the business – that there is little substitute for in-person contact and collaboration,” Ritter said. 

Managers will be expected to have reviews in person when possible and make regular in- person contact with their staff, “even if it’s a meet-up at a doughnut shop,” Ritter said.

“So, in other words, we will be open but it won’t look the way it did before,” she said. “Each team will have different routines and expectations and this space will be available until our lease expires in a few years.”

If staff are reluctant to work in the office, management will discuss employees’ concerns.

“This is unchartered territory so we expect a slow rollout until we are feeling completely back to normal,” Ritter said. “We are encouraging reporters to work from their home offices or within their territories. So if someone simply no longer wants a desk at the office, that’s not an issue at all.”

She admits that she was initially dreading working from home, but has seen many benefits. Employees can sleep in a bit, get their kids off to school and be home when the handyman shows up or a package is delivered.

HR Generalist Sara Zawila saves hours by not needing to commute at least two hours round trip every day.
“She’s legitimately gotten two hours of her life back,” Ritter said. “From a business perspective, let’s say she has a doctor’s appointment at 4:30 in the afternoon. If she was in the office, she’d have to leave at 2 o’clock. You get more productivity from just that alone.”

Everyone interviewed for this story said their employees haven’t been required to prove they’re vaccinated. Every editor interviewed agreed that output hasn’t been an issue since Day 1 of the pandemic.

“We have not missed a beat,” Richardson said. “We’ve taken safety measures, and we certainly wanted to make sure that when we were completely shut down that we didn’t jeopardize anyone, but we found ways to make sure we still got the story. I’m so proud of our staff. No one ever seemed to be daunted by the task at hand. They knew what our job was, and they did it.

They did what they’re here to do: to report on what’s going on, tell the truth and shine a light on places people wouldn’t normally get information on on their own.”

Reflecting while returning

Coates said newsrooms should take time to recognize what’s been accomplished since March of 2020.

“I think we do need to take stock of all the incredible work we did,” he said. “The puzzle now is to bring us back to where we were before. Now what do we cover? What does this look like? The audience is cooling on COVID, too. They don’t want to read about it anymore.”

He also admitted that he’s worked more hours each week than he did before March 2020, which reflects a disconcerting trend in the industry.

“That work-life balance went totally out of whack,” Coates said.

As head of HR, Ritter said she can only sympathize with reporters who’ve not only braved COVID-19 in first-hand reporting, but who’ve also followed every story angle, including national stories of families in despair and makeshift morgues.

“That’s hard enough for a person like me who doesn’t work in the newsroom,” she said, adding that she and other leadership members urged staff to step away from the news cycle when off the clock. “When you shut off the computer and turn on the news as average Joe citizen, we need you to step away. It’s kind of too much.”

In that vein, she also urged that managers be aware of journalists’ willingness to work themselves to the bone. 

“Newsroom people are so passionate about their craft, and they have a work ethic to beat the band,” she said. “They’re the most passionate group of all of us. If anything, we have a hard time getting them to stop.”

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Press Releases

Associated Builders and Contractors of Illinois highlights diversity strategies during Construction Inclusion Week

Oct. 13, 2021
Media Contact: Alicia Martin, president of ABC Illinois


SPRINGFIELD — ABC Illinois today announced how its members are creating the right  conditions to embrace an inclusive and diverse workforce during Construction Inclusion Week, Oct. 18-22.   

In 2017, ABC Illinois established the Community Builders Program, which gives people from diverse backgrounds who face employment barriers the chance to learn a trade and begin a career in construction. The program upskills directly in the communities where participants live, taking a holistic approach to teaching a skill, providing career mentoring, and helping with job placement. By bringing free craft education to over 200 individuals who have faced barriers to employment, ABC Illinois is expanding the talent pipeline and rehabilitating disadvantaged communities, families, and career-seekers.  
“The diversity of ABC Illinois helps drive business growth and profitability, and the Community Builders Program is based on our belief that inclusivity, diversity and equity will change the way we fill construction jobs here in our state,” said Alicia Martin, President of ABC Illinois. “We are breaking down the barriers that hold some people back based on factors that have nothing to do with their abilities and desires. The merit shop philosophy aligns with the principles of inclusion, diversity and equity, ensuring every individual has a chance to succeed.”  
“Construction Inclusion Week is an invitation to every member of the 7.4 million-strong construction work forces to unite to advance inclusion, diversity and equity,” said ABC Director of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Tia Perry. “Achieving an inclusive, equitable and culturally competent workforce that is welcoming to all people is the essence of the merit shop philosophy. ABC Illinois is creating the conditions that appeal to an inclusive workforce.”  
ABC’s diversity outreach is led by the association’s Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Committee on which both Martin and Perry serve. The committee was established in 1999 as a key component of ABC’s value proposition to develop people, win work and deliver work safely, ethically, and profitably for the betterment of the communities in which they work. Visit diversity.abc.org to learn about ABC’s IDE strategy.
About Construction Inclusion Week: Construction Inclusion Week harnesses the collective power of the construction industry to build awareness regarding the need to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the industry. For more information, visit constructioninclusionweek.com.

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Illinois Principals Association encourages principal appreciation in October

Sept. 30, 2021
Media Contact: Alison Maley, Government and Public Relations Director


SPRINGFIELD — Lifetouch and the Illinois Principals Association (IPA) encourage all communities in Illinois to celebrate Principal Appreciation Week October 24-30, 2021, and Principal Appreciation Day on Friday, October 29, 2021. This state-endorsed recognition was first approved by the Governor of Illinois in 1990 and is celebrated annually. The IPA also joins the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), and the American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA) to recognize October as National Principals Month.

Principal Appreciation Day provides learning communities an opportunity to publicly recognize the work, commitment and importance of principals, assistant principals, and deans throughout the state. Lifetouch and the IPA invite all teachers, students, parents, and community members to perform some act of appreciation on Friday, October 29th to acknowledge the leadership of building administrators in Illinois’ public and private schools.

“In these challenging times, school leaders are faced with extraordinary decisions that affect the lives of those under their care,” said Dr. Marcus Belin, IPA President and Principal of Huntley High School, Huntley, IL. “The purpose and value school leaders bring to the field of education is immeasurable. What I value most is their relentless determination to move education forward and to serve their communities in a meaningful way. Let us take a moment to recognize the hard work that principals give, day in and day out.”

The 2021-2022 school year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Illinois Principals Association. Initial conversations to create a statewide principals association began in 1966 and members formally ratified the organization in the Fall of 1971. The IPA was formed when the Illinois Elementary School Principals Association (IESPA), the Illinois Junior High School Principals Association (IJHSPA), and the Illinois Secondary School Principals Association (ISSPA) joined into one organization. The IPA has long been recognized by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and other state and national agencies and organizations as one of the premier principals’ groups in the nation due to its large, diverse membership, legislative and policy initiatives, service to members and especially for the quality and range of its professional learning programs.

“School leadership matters, especially right now,” said Dr. Jason Leahy, IPA Executive Director. “As a former principal and having visited dozens of schools throughout Illinois, the quality of a school’s learning environment and the ability of a school to do what is best for its students comes as a direct result of the leadership provided by the school’s principal and leadership team. Courageous leadership is essential to equitably educate students and work to provide the resources and support they need to reach their potential. It is important that we recognize and encourage our schools’ leaders every day. The pandemic has heightened the need for us to intentionally share appreciation for those who do so much for our State’s young people.”

Lifetouch is proud to be the official school photographer for the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Lifetouch is honored to support local members of the Illinois Principals Association in recognition of “Principal’s Appreciation Day.” Lifetouch is excited to have joined forces with Shutterfly to bring together two industry leaders who share a common purpose – to share life’s joy through capturing and preserving memories with the click of a camera. While we continue to deliver the quality photography and service you expect from Lifetouch, we are creating a new, innovative experience that will allow you to do more with your photos than ever before. As a part of our mission to help you share your memories, Lifetouch and Shutterfly are truly better together! Learn more at: https://schools.lifetouch.com/shutterfly/

The Illinois Principals Association is a leadership organization which serves over 6,000 educational leaders throughout the state of Illinois and whose mission is to develop, support, and advocate for innovative educational leaders. For more information about the IPA, please visit www.ilprincipals.org

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Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau
hires new tourism manager

Aug. 16, 2021
Media Contact: Scott Dahl
217-789-2360, ext. 5531


SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau announces the hiring of a new Tourism Manager to lead the Springfield Visitors Center and tourism efforts for the City of Springfield.  

Sarah Waggoner will assume the position, held by Jeff Berg who has been with the SCVB for nearly two decades, beginning on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. Sarah brings an extensive résumé of tourism experience, most recently as tourism coordinator for the City of Litchfield. Most notably, she developed and oversaw the Litchfield Pickers Market, including coordination of the market, social media and marketing efforts. Additionally, her responsibilities included budget management, website functions and developing overall marketing strategies for the City of Litchfield tourism effort.
As tourism manager for Visit Springfield, Sarah will be tasked with managing the Visitors Center, serving as liaison to state and federal historical sites and institutions as well as all programming and scheduling for the History Comes Alive summer program, in its 13th year in 2022.  

About Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau
The Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau (SCVB) is the official destination marketing organization for the City of Springfield, Illinois. As a department of the City of Springfield, the SCVB markets the capital city as a unique convention, meeting and leisure destination in support of our City, our community and our hospitality partners.scott.dahl@springfield.il.us

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For more information, or to schedule an interview with Scott Dahl, please call 217-789-2360, ext. 5531; 217-341-9802 or e-mail scott.dahl@springfield.il.us



Warbirds over Greenville, Illinois

Aug. 16, 2021
Craig Baumberger, member, Greenville Pilots Association

Airstravaganza 2021 will be held at the Greenville Illinois Airport on Oct. 9-10. The main attraction will be a visit by the Mitchell B-25 bomber and the Grumman TBM (torpedo bomber) of the Missouri wing of the Commemorative Air Force based at St Charles, Missouri. These aircraft will be on static display on Saturday, Oct. 9, and will be available for rides on Sunday, Oct. 10. This is a rare opportunity for the general public to purchase a trip aboard the B-25, the bomber that flew from the USS Hornet in 1942 to deliver the first retaliatory blow against the Japanese in World War II. Rides will also be available in the TBM, the largest single-engine military aircraft in World War II and the same type flown by President George H.W. Bush in the Pacific. This is a great opportunity to get a look up close at an important part of our military history.

Rides in the B-25 will cost $395. Five people at a time will ride, with the opportunity to move around the aircraft while in flight and check out the cockpit, bombardiers station, and the cramped quarters in the fuselage. TBM rides will cost $895. There will be a limited number of rides available, so they should be booked in advance. In addition to the warbirds, Waco biplane rides will be available if booked in advance. Cessna and helicopter rides will be available on Saturday, Oct. 9

For info and to reserve a flight, contact Kevin Blaney at 618-520-5362 or kfblaney@gmail.com. Mention "warbirds."

The event is supported by the Greenville Airport Authority and conducted by the Greenville Pilots Association/EAA Chapter 1382. For info or to volunteer, call Craig Baumberger at 618-322-3532 or the Greenville Airport at 618-664-0926. Also, check it out on Facebook or contact gaa@gmail.com. Greenville Airport is located approximately 5 miles south of Greenville on Illinois Route 127 at 1574 Sky Lane, Greenville.

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