How political news junkies in Illinois can get their fix

When the Chicago Tribune launched a new weekday politics feature in late September, the paper was trying to create an online space for their reporters to empty their notebooks. 

The Tribune is the only news organization in Illinois that still has full-time staffing in the state capitol, at the state government center in Chicago, at City Hall, plus a reporter in D.C. who covers the Illinois congressional delegation. The tidbits they collect don’t always find a home in stories. But “why leave it in the notebook,” said politics editor Eric Krol, “if our online audience will read it?”

That’s part of the theory behind Morning Spin, which combines a look at the day ahead with insider nuggets aimed at politics junkies. Recent installments have given an advance look at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plans for a big property tax hike, recapped scenes from a heated council meeting, and offered a glimpse of an unusually punchy mayor joking with the press corps.

For now, Morning Spin is a web-only offering for the Trib’s digital subscribers—and it’s routinely among the top 10 clicked items while it’s featured on the home page, said Krol. 

But it’s easy to imagine the feature becoming an email newsletter—much like another new offering from a brand-new rival outlet, Politico’s Illinois Playbook. Both are trying to capture readers who want the skinny on a state fat with political gossip.

Politico’s Natasha Korecki, who was a reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times for more than a decade, aggregates news but also breaks a few stories of her own in the Politico newsletter, like a scooplet on the FBI closing in on a circuit court clerk. The Illinois Playbook, which began Oct. 1, is part of Politico’s national expansion, which CJR detailed earlier this year. Politico now has state-level beta sites for New York, New Jersey, and Florida, and Playbook newsletters for Massachusetts and California, in addition to Illinois.

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“The vision is to give people a daily rundown of what they need to know in Illinois and to capture the circus we all live in,” Korecki said. “To make it fun. To lift up journalism here, to point to very good stories.”

Coverage for political diehards is not exactly an unfilled niche here. Rich Miller’s independent Capitol Fax site, for example, is an established must-read in the state capitol—Paul Green, director of the Institute of Politics at Roosevelt University in Chicago, even suggests that the new efforts should leave the statehouse to Miller and focus on Chicago. Then there’s Lynn Sweet’s widely read political blog from Washington, where she is the Sun-Times longtime bureau chief.

Still, it’s interesting to see two prominent news outlets betting that there’s an appetite for more.

Madeleine Doubek. chief operating officer of the nonpartisan reform-oriented site Reboot Illinois, which has its own daily digest and list of what’s hot for subscribers, said the focus on local audiences from both Morning Spin and Illinois Playbook is a welcome development.

“There’s far too much focus on what’s happening on the national stage and not enough focus on what’s happening in state and local governments and really much closer to people and their wallets,” said Doubek, a former newspaper executive at the suburban Daily Herald. “You can get minute-by-minute coverage of Obama from other sources, but you can’t get a whole lot of what’s happening in Illinois and Chicago.”

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Jackie Spinner is CJR’s correspondent for Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin. She is an associate journalism professor at Columbia College Chicago and a former staff writer for The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter @jackiespinner.