Chris Essig

Walkthroughs, tips and tricks from a data journalist in eastern Iowa

Posts Tagged ‘Herald & Review

Nothing to do with politics

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Ironically, the first story of mine to make it on the front page of any Lee Enterprise web site had nothing to do with politics. Instead, the story featured the unveiling of a new Abraham Lincoln penny. Imagine that. Here’s an excerpt:

SPRINGFIELD — Temperatures were in the teens Thursday morning but that didn’t stop a host of out-of-state residents from trekking to the state’s capitol to be among the first batch of people to purchase a newly-minted Abraham Lincoln penny.

Kentucky, Missouri and Indiana were among the states represented at the unveiling of the new coin, which came on the eve of Lincoln’s 201st birthday. The line to purchase the pennies formed as early as 5 a.m. and wrapped around the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum shortly before the ceremony kicked off at 9:30 a.m.

And the link.

There were plenty of angles to take on this story, but I thought it was fascinating how far people were willing to travel to purchase a few rolls of pennies. The new coins will be around for the next 49 years, after all. But coin collectors, like other enthusiasts, are very passionate about their trade and more than willing to go that extra mile (or 200, which every be the case) to support the hobby they love.

Of course, I had to screen capture the beautiful front pages from the Bloomington Pantagraph and the Decatur Herald & Review. Here are the screen caps:


Written by csessig

February 15, 2010 at 12:33 am

What a night

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Wow. Tonight’s primaries were unprecedented, unpredictable and pretty much everything in between. As it stands, Bill Brady is leading in the GOP governor primary, while Pat Quinn leads for the Democrats. A total of 99 percent of the precincts are in. But Republican Kirk Dillard and Democrat Dan Hynes are not far behind and both vow to fight, fight, fight. This could be settled in court and take months. The race for Democratic comptroller is also coming down to the wire. State Rep. David Miller is in the lead at the moment, but Raja Krishnamoorthi also vows to keep the battle going. The races for lieutenant governor are also–you guessed it–strikingly close. While it’s possible these races could be decided in the next few hours (it’s all ready 1:15 a.m. as it is), I highly doubt it.

Interestingly enough, the Republican party has a unity breakfast tomorrow. That should be interesting…

Anyways, I spent the night covering two other races: the 18th Congressional District and the 19th Congressional District. Things really picked up around 8:30 p.m. because our first deadline was an hour later. We got our stories up and then had to quickly update them for our 10:30 p.m. deadline. After that, we had to update the stories as the final results came in. Fortunately, my races were decided fairly early, at least compared to the governor races.

Between phone calls and frenzied typing, I helped tweet on behalf of Lee Enterprises (@Illinois_Stage). Between Mike and I, we put up a ton of tweets, got in some political conversations with locals and picked up 15 new followers! And many of our newspapers did a great job promoting the feed on their web page. The Pantagraph, for instance, put a nice, colorful teaser on the front page, under the main articles:

The Southern embeded the feed on their front page, just off to the right of the lead articles:

The Herald & Review also embeded our feed on their election page, but that has since been taken down.

We followed the race closely by basically clicking refresh on the result pages for hours on end. My eyes were in pain and honestly, it’s a miracle I’m staring at the computer right now. We finally left at 12:30 p.m., a few hours after our deadlines. Much uncertainty, however, still remains in some of the night’s most important races.

Well I’m running out of steam, so I’m going to end while I’m ahead. It was a fun night but also stressful. But I made it out alive and will live to see another day!

Be on the look out for more updates to come in the next few days…

Money continues to flow in as primary nears

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With less than 48 hours to go before Tuesday’s primary, candidates from across the political spectrum are putting big bucks into their campaigns in hopes for a last minute surge to victory. Jason Plummer, GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, is both pumping his own money into his campaign and relying on a lot of help from his family-owned business. Their combined investment is worth more than $1 million. Andy McKenna, Republican candidate for governor, received another loan last week from his significant other, raising their personal financial commitment to more than $2.5 million. Take a look:

– Image taken from the State Board of Election’s web site.

Even Justin Oberman, Democratic candidate for Treasurer, is getting in on the act by pitching in more than $250, 000 in the last week and a half. Here is the 411:

Democratic candidate Justin Oberman has loaned his campaign $258,000 in the past week and a half as he tries to beat Robin Kelly, a top aide in the treasurer’s office.

Oberman, president of a Chicago investment firm, has been using the money for a new television ad and a number of radio spots, which are airing across the state.

Oberman said he loaned his campaign more than $200,000 to make sure his message reaches a statewide audience, noting that campaigning is an “expensive undertaking.”

His opponent, Kelly, is relying more heavily on small donations. Her campaign noted that she has received donations from more than 1,100 contributors, which beats out Oberman. This shows they have power in numbers. It also ensures greater independence, they contend, if she is elected.

We’ll see in a few days which strategy works. For now, take a look at Oberman’s big media buy-in:

Kelly doesn’t have a television commercial but does have this radio ad. Fortunately, her staff put it on YouTube with corresponding pictures. Take a look:

Tuesday should be interesting on all fronts. A number of races are coming down to the wire, and the time between now and then is going to be very hectic. Don’t be surprised if you get an automated phone call from one of the candidates listed above or any other lawmaker for that matter. It may be best to let the phone ring…

Regardless, be sure get out the vote on Tuesday! In most of Illinois’ big elections, your vote will truly matter.

Written by csessig

February 1, 2010 at 12:01 am

This weekend’s election coverage

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A. Elections, elections, elections. With the state in fiscal peril, everybody is looking to the state’s leaders and hoping–and praying–for swift and meaningful action. And with the lawmakers out of town until the election season is finished, it’s no wonder why the primaries are dominating Statehouse coverage as of late. I had a chance to cover some of the lesser-know races last week and the stories appeared in various newspapers over the weekend. And I am happy to report that I received one phone call today regarding my treasurer and comptroller stories that ran in the Herald & Review, which means at least one person is reading them.

But first a story on the incredibly-crowded lieutenant governor’s race. Last Friday, we had some down time in the office so I started browsing the State Board of Election’s web site. And I noticed one candidate for lieutenant governor, Jason Plummer, received $500,000 worth of donations from the plumbing company owned by his family. I thought it was interesting that his family would invest so much money into a race for a position that has relatively few formal responsibilities. I then noticed that he loaned his campaign an additional $150,000 just weeks earlier, meaning him and his family were pumping (no pun intended) serious dough into the race. I also knew that other candidates had pledged to self-fund their campaigns with hundreds of thousands (and sometimes millions) of dollars, meaning Plummer wasn’t alone. I discussed the issue with my bureau chief and he gave me the “thumbs up” on the story. So, I called a few people today, and, wallah, I had my first completely-independent news story that I thought of on my own. Nothing earth-shattering, but I thought it was interesting, in a nerdy, political way. And the mandatory quote:

SPRINGFIELD — The candidates for Illinois lieutenant governor may be vying for a position with few formal responsibilities, but that hasn’t stopped a trio of them from putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race.

Democratic hopeful Scott Cohen has loaned his campaign more than a half million dollars so far this month. Republicans Don Tracy and Jason Plummer are tapping into their own wallets and into their family businesses for cash to bankroll their primary ambitions.

And the link. It will be interesting to see how people react to this story. Some are sympathetic to self-funded candidates and wish it didn’t cost nearly that much to run a viable campaign. But others think it’s ludicrous to spend that much money on a campaign and wish the money would go a better cause, like a charity. If you have an opinion, leave it in the comments.

B. Secondly, I had three election stories run this weekend in our fine Lee Enterprise publications on the comptroller and treasurer races. Each of the three stories dealt with a particular primary race, including the Democratic race for comptroller and treasurer, and the Republican race for comptroller. In the Republican race for treasurer, Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-Chenoa, is running uncontested in the primary, so there was no need for a story.

Basically the question posed to the candidates (eight in all) was: What is your opinion of short-term borrowing? In recent years, the state has made it an annual practice to borrow money, which is usually reimbursed in a year or so, to help pay its bills short-term. Recipients of the borrowed money include human service providers, medical providers and universities. The issue became volatile this year after Gov. Pat Quinn proposed borrowing $500 million to help pay Medicaid bills and other providers. Comptroller Dan Hynes refused to sign off on the plan. Hynes, of course, is running against Quinn in the Democratic gubernatorial race. Quinn cried foul, saying Hynes was playing politics and human service providers were suffering as a result. Hynes said the state simply has too many unpaid bills as it is. Recent estimates put Illinois’ backlog of bills at $5.1 billion. That’s billion with a “B.” Both the treasurer and comptroller have to sign off on all short-term borrowing plans (although the General Assembly did consider a proposal last week that would have allowed the state to borrow money without getting approval from Hynes. The measure, however, wasn’t debated on the Senate floor).

To no surprise, the Republicans largely agreed with Hynes and the Democrats largely didn’t…

Wow, that was a long-winded set up. Anyways, here are the stories:

  1. Democratic candidates for state treasurer agree with short-term borrowing
  2. Republican hopefuls back Hynes’ veto plan to borrow short-term
  3. Democratic hopefuls (for comptroller) agree state should borrow to pay backlog of bills

Look for more election related stories in the coming weeks. And remember, folks, get out the vote on Feb. 2!

Same speech, three different stories

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One interesting dilemma while working for a newspaper company as opposed to a newspaper is making your coverage meaningful for all of your publications. What that typically means for most stories is getting sources–lawmakers–from every region we cover: the Quad cities, Bloomington, Decatur, Mattoon/Charleston and southern Illinois. The same was true for Gov. Pat Quinn’s State of the State address yesterday. Basically we split our coverage into two parts: a story on the speech, which was compiled by my bureau chief Kurt Erickson, and a reaction piece from local lawmakers, which I worked on with Mike Riopell. Usually when we write a reaction story or a story or a piece of legislation, we put together one article filed with quotes from lawmakers in the five mentioned coverage areas. Well, the SoS address was a little different. Instead of one story, we decided to create separate stories for each coverage area.

Fortunately, The Southern covered the speech on their own, so we didn’t need to worry about talking to those six lawmakers in their area. But getting a hold of the other lawmakers after the speech was mandatory, meaning Mike and I had to talk to roughly 15 lawmakers before they got the hell out of the Capitol. And the result of that was three separate stories (the Quad City Times did not pick up our story). All the stories were set up the same, they just featured different lawmakers. Here’s a quick wrap:

Decatur Herald & Review

State Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, said he assumed the speech would take political tones with Quinn facing a primary election in three weeks.

“The city of Decatur…has 15 percent unemployment,” he said. “What did he talk about putting those people back to work? What did he talk about bring manufacturing back to Illinois? I didn’t hear a lot.”

Budget details will come when Quinn gives lawmakers his proposal in the coming months, said state Rep. Bob Flider, D-Mount Zion.

Bloomington Pantagraph

“I think he’s a nice guy, but certainly the speech didn’t tell us anything,” said state Rep. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga. “It had no meat in it at all.”

State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, agreed.

“It was a long speech short on specifics,” Brady said.

Matton Journal Gazette & Times-Courier

State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said he thought Quinn’s remarks should have focused more on the problems facing Illinois.

“I felt like we were walking through Candy Land,” Rose said. “We’ve got real problems to address.”

Similar criticism came from other Republicans.

“I was disappointed the governor didn’t spend more time on the issues that really trouble the state,” said state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon. “The speech isn’t about what’s good about the state of Illinois. It’s just the state of Illinois. And there is a lot wrong in Illinois.

Amazingly, almost every lawmaker we talked to basically said the same thing: the speech, despite being 75 minutes long, lacked specifics. But in all fairness, Quinn’s budget address is coming up next month, which will likely include more specific details on how the state is going to get out of this fiscal nightmare. It will be interesting to see how Quinn–whether he’s the Democratic nominee or not–addresses the state then.

If you feel so inclined, the entire budget address is available by clicking here.

Also, a full transcript of the speech is available here.

The last year…

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Well, well, well. Now that I’m inching ever so close to the real world, I figure I better keep this blog updated. Yeah, I told myself this when I started the blog, but I really hope I keep the blog update to date this time. Anyways, here’s a quick update of what I’ve been up to:

1. I’m currently enrolled at the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois. I don’t mean to brag, but the program is wonderful. Here’s a quick summary: PAR is a one-year master’s program that focuses the 20-some-odd grad students on covering–you guessed it–public affairs. The focal point of the program is the spring semester, where the students intern with an Illinois news bureau at the Statehouse, covering the daily madness inside the state capitol. We receive 15 credit hours for the internship and by the time we are ready to graduate in May, we will have a robust 40 hours under our belts. The first semester, by contrast, was spent in the classroom, basically prepping us for the internship. Before the semester came to a close, my classmates and I interviewed with a variety of news outlets that have a bureau inside the Capitol newsroom, including the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, The Daily Herald, Gatehouse Media, St. Louis Dispatch and Lee Enterprises. We were assigned a bureau via a compatibility test, which I can only assume is same test utilized by

2. After the compatibility test ran its course, I was assigned with Lee Enterprises. I’m was–and still am–excited about my assignment. For those unfamiliar with Lee, it’s a national newspaper publishing company with newspapers coast to coast. But because I’ll be reporting on Illinois politics, we focus on five, fine, Downstate newspapers: Quad-City Times in northwestern Illinois, the Pantagraph in Bloomington, the Herald & Review in Decatur, the Journal-Gazette Times Courier in Mattoon and the Southern Illinoisian in Carbondale. We cover a lot of area and a lot of lawmakers. The blog will keep you up-to-date with all the fine work we are putting together in Springfield.

3. Over the summer, I interned with a Lee Enterprise publication: the JG-TC in Mattoon. I was a general assignment reporter, which meant I covered everything from the state’s astronomical budget deficit to the trade secrets of a 13-year-old wether raiser. I also produced a few videos and a full scale Adobe Flash multimedia package, which can be viewed on my web site: Thankfully the multimedia skills I developed during my time working at the Daily Eastern News were put to good use over the summer. And my reporting skills vastly improved because of the internship. I gave much credit to the JG-TC for not only helping me land my current internship but getting in the PAR program as well.

5. I graduated from EIU in May. I’m more than happy about being at UIS, but I will always miss my original alma mater. What a wonderful four years. I still visit often because a number of my friends still have a few semesters to go. But the days of residence in Charleston are over…I guess we all have to grow up sometime.

5. The Lee internship started up this week, so I’m just getting settled in. Be sure to stay tuned for updates from the internship! It should be a wild ride…