Guest Viewpoint

Gov. J.B. Pritzker hired a lot of expert talent to guide his $5-million “It Only Works if You Wear It” campaign to encourage Illinoisans to wear a facemask.

Sadly, the campaign isn’t spending a dime on print advertising in the state’s newspapers.

Instead, the promotion is using various forms of broadcast, billboards and social media to spread the word.

The governor hired an ad agency to place the advertising, a world-class photographer, production talent, an agency to provide creative direction and another agency that specializes in understanding and simplifying. Then, there’s a firm that provides data insights—and, let’s not forget the COVID-19 modeling team, whatever that is.

However, here’s one thing all of those media experts missed that the governor and his team do know, and it’s been in front of them every day—the importance of newspapers in Illinois.

They ignored the newspapers that have closely covered Pritzker’s daily news conferences to update Illinoisans about COVID-19.

More importantly, they overlooked the local newspapers statewide that kept every community informed about the pandemic. Newspapers provided a fact-based lifeline of much-needed information, which we all know is critical in times of crisis.

We’ve been told by the governor’s office that the goal is to reach a younger demographic, and that’s why print advertising in newspapers wasn’t part of the media mix.

Ironically, a study conducted by Civis that was used to guide the campaign showed that, with the exception of adults 65 and over, there is little difference in mask wearing.

According to the study, mask-wearing rates “generally increase with age but remain high for all age groups.”

Analytics and metrics are great, but how do you measure what’s staring you in the face every single day?

Maybe the analysts involved in the campaign should find a way to measure the impact that newspapers have produced in communicating critical information to the governor’s constituents across the state. That would be a substantial metric.

We understand the value of broadcast advertising to the governor’s campaign. Just like newspapers, broadcast media have been there every step of the way to get the message out about COVID-19 and the state’s response. However, there were no reporters from Facebook or any other social-media platform at any of the governor’s news conferences.

If we missed them, we apologize.

In fact, it seems that the only fact-based reporting on social media is from credible news outlets like newspapers and broadcast outlets, and those didn’t cost the state anything! As a result, Mark Zuckerberg profits while Illinois newspapers continue to struggle with economic hardships exacerbated by the pandemic.

Newspapers have disseminated the critical messages, but when it was time to receive the much-needed support of a paid advertising campaign, newspapers weren’t included.

Of the more than 400 newspapers in Illinois, 307 have accounted for the nearly 3,000 times COVID-19 coverage has been published from Capitol News Illinois (CNI), an initiative supported by Illinois newspapers. The CNI team has reported on every one of the governor’s news conferences.

This is just the latest in state government’s series of snubs against newspapers.

Others include the Illinois secretary of state’s recent campaign to reopen facilities and the Illinois Department of Aging’s promotion to increase the reporting of cases of elder abuse.

The governor and his staff have relied on print journalists to deliver much-needed and timely fact-based information during these trying times.

State government officials owe newspapers in Illinois much better treatment.

Editor’s note: Sam Fisher is president/CEO of the Illinois Press Association. He can be reached at sfisher@illinoispress.org.