The Peoria Journal Star recently published a book, “101 Things That Play In Peoria”, to engage their readers beyond the newspaper. News Media Alliance asked executive editor Dennis Anderson about the book and what it is like working at the Peoria, Illinois newspaper.
1. What drew you to working in news media?
This is my 30th year working in newspapers. I’m lucky in that I’ve always been able to do what I love: tell stories. What got me involved in newspapers was sports. When we were teens, my brother and I got a subscription to the Chicago Sun-Times so we could follow coverage of the Cubs and White Sox. Newspapers have been in my blood since.
2. What is the most exciting thing going on at the Journal Star?
Peoria is a great news town. And we have a dynamic newsroom full of veterans and young journalists who aren’t afraid to try something new. We’ve been successful with our premium Extra magazine, a monthly publication featuring some of our best work ranging from stories about things made in Peoria to the city’s legacy as an alcohol distillery to updates one year after a tornado destroyed 1,200 homes in nearby Washington, Ill. We are also working closely with south Peoria to improve our coverage of the struggling community.
3. What has surprised you the most while working at the Journal Star?
I’m amazed by how many national and world stories have a Peoria connection. I’ve worked at many mid-size cities that claimed the world filtered through its streets, but nothing like I’ve experienced in Peoria. I guess that’s where the vaudeville line “Will it play in Peoria …” comes from.
4. What’s the link between the Peoria Journal Star and the “101 Things That Play In Peoria” book?
Peoria has a rich history, and people are proud of the city. Columnist Phil Luciano had an idea late last year to feature some of the items that are uniquely Peoria. So from March to May of this year, Phil and some of his colleagues wrote daily stories about these things, from the tenderloin sandwich that’s the size of a large plate to the stone gargoyles that protect a water treatment plant. Throughout the series, readers were contacting us, asking if we were going to do a “101 Things” book. We did some research and decided it made sense and we published the book, which is now available.
5. How do you see the future of news media?
That’s a big question. Newspapers continue to be successful, both in print and online, especially on mobile. When people learn I work for a newspaper, sometimes they look at me like my pet died. Then I tell them the success stories we’ve had, like the 20-percent growth of online traffic which we experienced recently. Once you tell people about the connections we make in our community and the possibilities of growing audience and revenue, they think differently about our industry.
For the future, however, I see the news media focusing its attention on mobile, and maintaining what brings audience to us: compelling and credible news that matters.