Chris Essig

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

Posts Tagged ‘Pantagraph

Sheila Simon is Quinn’s running mate

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Simon wins:

SPRINGFIELD — Carbondale attorney Sheila Simon will run for lieutenant governor alongside Gov. Pat Quinn, bringing a well-known Illinois political name to the Democrats’ ticket.

The selection comes more than a month after Democratic voters picked Scott Lee Cohen to be Quinn’s running mate. But after Cohen quit the race because of allegations of violence and drug use in his past, Democratic lead-ers were left with the chore of picking a replacement.


Somewhat unexpected. Or at least it was a week ago.

Just for the record, I called it in one of my classes Monday night. Victory is mine!

I was there on Saturday and shot a video. Nothing spectacular but something nonetheless:

I really, really wish I would have gotten more B-roll shots. Oh well.

Written by csessig

March 28, 2010 at 12:14 pm

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…

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 first week

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I just finished my first week interning in the Statehouse with Lee Enterprises. It was nerve-racking, exciting and pretty much every emotion in between. But I survived. Honestly, it was a fairly slow week given the lingering holiday season. But next week promises to be more action-packed as the legislature will be convening for the spring session. They only be here for three days, though, and then they’re off to the campaign trail. This year’s primary is absurdity early: Feb. 2.

Regardless, I got three bylines this week, which is not bad for my first week. Here is a quick recap:

1. My first byline was…Drum roll please….a political endorsement! State Sen. and Lt. Gov. candidate Matt Murphy picked up a big endorsement from Sen. Majority Leader Christine Radogno. Here is the info:

SPRINGFIELD — Republican Matt Murphy was endorsed Wednesday in his bid for lieutenant governor from the state’s first female leader in the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, is endorsing Murphy, a state senator from Palatine, in his run for the No. 2 job in Illinois.

Radogno said Murphy is the only statewide candidate she is endorsing in the February primaries.

Here is the link. Check it out!

2. The Obama’s proposed plan to buy the Thomson prison in northwestern Illinois and turn it into a federal prison that would house terrorist detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has caused quite the stir statewide. Democrats, including Sen. Dick Durbin, are mostly for the plan, while Republicans, including Rep. Mark Kirk, are mostly against it. They contend the plan would turn the small town into “Gitmo North.” Another big criticism from state legislators is the lack of say they have in the sale. Some are upset Quinn can sell the state asset without approval from the General Assembly.

As a result, two representatives have proposed a bill that would require the General Assembly to approve all sales of state-owned property valued at $1 million or more. Whether it actually goes anywhere is anybody’s guess. But here is the primarily info:

SPRINGFIELD — Lawmakers would have to approve all sales of expensive state property, including the Thomson prison in northwestern Illinois, under legislation pending in the House.The proposal would require the state to receive approval from the General Assembly before selling unused, state-owned property valued at $1 million or more.

Property must also be unused for six years or three years plus three foreseeable years.

The Thomson prison, which is worth more than $100 million, would fall under these categories.

And the link.

I was surprised to see this get so much play on the Pantagraph’s web site. But it is a very hot issue that is only going to get more volatile as the campaign season heats up.

3. And last, but not least, a preview of Quinn’s State of the State address on Wednesday. This piece was co-written by myself and the Lee bureau chief, Kurt Erickson. And a fancy quote:

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn will shine a spotlight on himself Wednesday when he makes a pre-election address to a joint session of the Illinois General Assembly.

Not only will the speech kick off the spring legislative session, but it also will serve as the unofficial start of the sprint toward the finish line of the primary election season.

The address is (surprise!) a statement on the state of Illinois. Every governor delivers one once a year. It should be noted that the speech will be separate from Quinn’s budget address in March. But the budget has to be the focal point of the speech because the state is in possibly the worst fiscal condition it has ever been in. I wonder, how will Quinn be realistic without being horribly pessimistic? I doubt he can be…And to make matters more interesting, the primary election is only three weeks away. I know, I know. It’s absurb to have the election in dead of winter. But, regardless, it is coming. And some are wondering how that will affect the tone of the speech…

Oh, and the link.

Well that was my first week. Not incredibly enthralling but fun nonetheless. Stay tuned for more posts from the daily grind!

Image posted by Flickr user myoldpostcards. It is used under a Creative Commons license.

Written by csessig

January 10, 2010 at 8:10 pm

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…