How The Center Square has created a successful statewide wire service and ways to use their content

State content continues to be critical for news organizations due to the direct impact that state agencies and government officials have on the lives of their audience.

From property tax overhauls to public safety legislation, state content is really locally relevant.

That’s what makes The Center Square, a service producing state-level reporting in several states across the country, so interesting. They are currently offering coverage in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

We caught with Chris Krug, the president of the organization, to learn more about what they are doing and how media companies can utilize the content.

First, can you tell us a little about The Center Square and how the Franklin News Foundation assists with it?

Our company, the Franklin News Foundation, is a Chicago-based 501(c)3 nonprofit news organization dedicated to quality public-interest journalism at the state and local levels. Our work is hosted at The Center Square, though as part of our nonprofit mission, we also serve as a newswire service and make all of our content available to news outlets to republish. In 2018, our team of dedicated professional journalists produced nearly 4,000 stories and our work was republished more than 12,000 times in local legacy outlets across 44 states.

Now onto The Center Square. Can you give us the history of the site and what it looks like today?

Our team originally operated the Illinois News Network, which was a highly successful state-focused news site and newswire in the Prairie State. In 2017, we became responsible for the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity and Watchdog.org, but we realized that the shorter, more timely and faster-moving content didn’t fit with the name Watchdog.org, which invokes the long-form investigative reporting that had been the focus of the previous management.

Thus we decided to rename our website The Center Square to align with our journalistic principles and focus on objective, economic- and taxpayer-centric straight news. I laid this out in more detail in a column here.

How have you decided what states to focus on, and are there plans at this point to expand to more states?

We strategically choose our focus states based upon where we think our team can make the most impact, but our goal is to be producing statehouse and state-wide news for all 50 states by the end of 2020.

Why do you think right now that watchdog journalism, as you do, is so important?

Although we are producing a good amount of enterprise work that would be investigative in nature, the focus of The Center Square is to provide short news stories that our legacy partners can use in their daily news cycles to offset the loss of reporters at the statehouse and to supplement or improve upon the articles that they receive from their current paid syndicate services.

The number of reporters covering statehouses has been declining rapidly over the past decade. State-level news always has been tricky for newspapers and local radio and television stations with limited resources. Our reporting helps to fill those coverage gaps.

It looks like publishers can republish your content, is that correct? How do they do that?

News outlets with an interest in improving or augmenting their coverage of statehouse and statewide news can use the content we publish at TheCenterSquare.com without any obligation, and hundreds already are using our work across the country. We simply ask that any media outlet that wishes to use our content follows our republishing guidelines, the most important of which is just citing the author and The Center Square in the byline.

Share a little about the donation set up on your site. Is this a big part of your future?

As a non-profit journalism organization, we are funded entirely by our readers and the generosity of our donors. Our commitment is to provide a public benefit and to make our content available through any and all media channels. We do not ask our legacy partners to pay for the content. We believe that our ability to offer our content at no charge to legacy media is important, as timely and impactful state-focused news is essential to all Americans who simply want to understand what is happening at their statehouse and across their home state.

Is there any work you would like to share that you are really proud of?

We are very fortunate to have a team of dedicated journalists who have worked in legacy media and understand the kind of stories that today’s editors need to supplement or complement the work that their staff is contributing.

We are generating anywhere from 25 to 35 stories per day, almost all of which are written concisely and ready for print. When we do take on a bigger subject with enterprise reporting, we help to bring a new level of clarity to a given subject. In the past month, The Center Square has published two investigations we’re particularly proud of: “Local taxpayers spend more than $270,000 on park district conference” which looked at how taxing districts spent money at a statewide convention in Illinois and “It takes a lot of money to run a Big Ten school. Who spends it best?” about the cost of administration within universities that compose the Big Ten Conference.