New partnership launches The Lansing Journal to meet local needs
SEPTEMBER 13, 2017 – “We have reduced coverage in Illinois significantly,” said a managing editor from the Northwest Indiana Times in a March 2017 email. “Due to resources and limited space in print, [we’re] keeping stories generally to larger issues.” This email might be considered the triggering event behind the launch of The Lansing Journal.
“We have so much going on in our community,” says Lansing native Melanie Jongsma. “And I know people are interested in this news, even though the larger papers aren’t able to cover it. I wanted to find a way to meet that need.” She teamed up with fellow Lansingite Matthew J. Splant, a business efficiencies expert, who immediately set up a website and online subscription service. When Arlo Kallemeyn, owner and publisher of The Shopper, offered to transform the Lansing edition of his paper into a print version of The Lansing Journal, the project picked up speed. The three began discussing a business partnership, which was formalized in August.
“This will be an exciting change for my advertisers who have been so used to the weekly Shopper,” says Kallemeyn. “The Shopper has been serving South Holland and surrounding communities for more than 60 years, ever since my father started it. But we’re flexible enough to make some changes in order to keep serving the community.”
The success of the Homewood-Flossmoor Chronicle (hfchronicle.com) served as an inspiration for The Lansing Journal. Started in June 2014 as a hobby by journalist and Homewood resident Eric Crump, the H-F Chronicle has grown into a real newspaper with a team of experienced local journalists led by Marilyn Thomas, Tom Houlihan, and Patty Houlihan.
A conversation between Crump, Jongsma, and Lansing resident Ashlee De Wit brought more structure to the concept of a Lansing news source. De Wit’s experience with a small-town newspaper in Iowa, and Jongsma’s years of writing news releases for a variety of businesses—combined with their personal commitment to the Lansing community—were necessary elements in generating regular, accurate content.
The past and the present
Splant and Jongsma originally had plans to name their paper the Lansing Chronicle, in homage to the Homewood paper that inspired the venture. But in order to prevent confusion and confirm each paper’s distinct identity, a different name was needed. Looking through old issues of the original 1930s Lansing Journal online, the two recognized an opportunity to honor Lansing’s past by resurrecting the old name. The Lansing Journal will feature occasional articles and ads from the past, providing a unique context for present content.
When Thornton Township Director of Communications Ernst Lamothe Jr. met with the partners, he was impressed with the potential benefits a solid community newspaper could offer. After sharing the concept with Thornton Township Supervisor Frank Zuccarelli, Lamothe committed to providing regular content from his office.
The Lansing Journal is also hoping to attract and develop local writing talent. “We will provide guidance as to our values and philosophy of journalism,” says Jongsma, “and we’re willing to train younger writers. Every writer gets a byline, so we want to make sure every story is one that someone is proud to put his or her name on.”
The Journal is hoping to cover high school sports, art, and theater, and has reached out to both Illiana and TF South to explore the possibility of somehow partnering with their journalism classes. Logistics of those partnerships will take time and experimentation to figure out, but all parties see the potential value and are willing to work out the details.
Jongsma wants to do more than pay lip service to the diverse demographic make-up of her village. “We want to let people know,” she says, “that The Lansing Journal is a newspaper for all of Lansing. Not only do we want to cover diverse stories in Lansing, we actually want diverse people to participate with us in providing news, photos, and story ideas. We are eager to keep learning and exploring new ways of gathering and sharing information, so Lansing residents can have the newspaper our community deserves.”
Meeting a need
Lansing has not had its own local newspaper since the original 1930s Lansing Journal transitioned to become The Sun, The Sun Journal, and eventually the Daily Calumet in 1983. Regional papers such as the Southtown Economist, the Daily Southtown, and the Southtown Star have all claimed to provide coverage of Chicago’s southern suburbs, yet Lansing-specific stories have been minimal.
Early reactions to the launch of The Lansing Journal have been positive. “Finally, a newspaper we can trust!” said one Lansing resident. Others confirmed that they would love to be able to stop their subscriptions to the larger paper that rarely covers Lansing.
A few have expressed doubts about the wisdom of starting a newspaper in an age when big names like the Tribune and the Sun Times are getting slimmer with each issue. But the Journal partners see opportunity. “We are not competing with the Trib or even the Northwest Indiana Times,” says Splant. “They chose not to serve Lansing, and they felt that was the right business decision for their business model. We are a different kind of newspaper. We believe we can meet a need and serve our community.”