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A Nonprofit Tries to Save Local News

The Kewanee Voice - website "front page"
The Kewanee Voice
The Kewanee Voice - website "front page"

Worried about the loss of local news coverage in their city in western Illinois, two people have stepped forward to fill the void. Last week, Mike Berry and Susan DeVilder launched a new online news publication, The Kewanee Voice.

Both had worked for the Kewanee Star Courier - DeVilder as a reporter and correspondent, while Berry was a reporter and editor for more than 40 years. They were laid off late last year by the owner Gannett, which has since turned it into what they call a "ghost paper." It's published four days a week, but has no local employees, and carries only news from other Gannett papers, including Peoria and USA Today.

"So he and decided to partner up and start trying to deliver as much news as we could through a Facebook page that we made. I guess it was in December that I attended a seminar online by the Institute of Non-profit News And it was there that I came away with the fact that if Mike and I were going to do this we needed to become a nonprofit. So I simply said to him hey I think we should do this, and he agreed."

They've applied to be a government-recognized non-profit, as a 501-c-3 organization, and for now they have a desk and some space at the Henry County Senior Center in Kewanee.

"And we're doing what we always did, we're doing local news how we used to do it. We are covering things that maybe a corporate media wouldn't think was news but we do. We're covering lemonade stands, we're covering church picnics, or park district events. We're covering anything we think Kewanee thinks of as news. We call it going old school and that's what we're doing."

"We've updated as things come along but you might see a story there for several days before it gets pushed down to where it doesn't come up any more. There's new content every day but it's not going to be totally re-hashed every day."

Berry and DeVilder have also recruited some local columnists for The Kewanee Voice, and they hope eventually to add more employees, especially a sports reporter.

Funding for it comes from the community.

"We've gotten a lot of small to large donations, just from people and we also have gotten some pretty substantial donations from local businesses but we haven't really approached a lot of businesses yet but we're going to continue that process. And we're exploring some grant possibilities and things like that, but mostly in other areas where they have a website like ours it's donations from the readers that really carry the weight of it."

Their first major donation came from Martin Engineering, in Neponset - 10,000 dollars.

"Over half of our donations that we have received to get up and running have just come folks in the community. You know 25 dollars here, and 50 dollars here, 100 dollars here, and that's over half of our donations that we received. So the community has responded to us and what we're doing and they know that there's a need for local news."

So why give up possible retirement, or finding some other jobs ?

"Well I think that studies have found that communities that lose their local news, they don't do very well. Voter participation drops off, and in fact in our last election we saw that happen in Kewanee. Just being without local news since December of last year, voter participation was really not good. And because of that they find that communities without newspapers, corruption rises in government bodies when the media isn't there to hold feet to the fire. And community spirit is just not there. I think local news is the tie that binds and hold communities together - that's what I think."

"And I still have interest in what the city council is doing, what local sports teams are doing, and so forth. It's fun for me to do it and if people want it and appreciate it, that's good."

"The reception that we've gotten from the community has been just very positive. Everyone is very happy."

"I think when the newspaper was there doing the job it was supposed to do, people took it for granted. You know they paid for their subscription once a month and it showed up on their doorstep, and they were used to it. Then it went away and they were rally upset and we're glad to step in and fill the void."

That was Mike Berry, Publisher of the online news publication, The Kewanee Voice, and Managing Editor Susan DeVilder.