At Tuesday’s Village Board meeting, Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury expressed frustration with a confused public and being unable to get her message out despite the fact that the village broadcasts its village meetings, distributes an electronic newsletter, operates a website, and updates a Facebook page with information about public events and news in Oak Lawn.
The public statement, contained on the video below, came as the Village Board listened to an hour long sales pitch that was not publicly disclosed on the agenda. John Fanning, a strategic communications consultant, spoke about his company, Fanning Communications Inc, and the need for the village to control its message by publishing a 20 page tabloid monthly newspaper that would be mailed to every house and business in Oak Lawn.
Fanning already produces the “Crestwood Advisor”, a pro-administration newspaper, aligned with Crestwood’s Mayor, that accents the positive news in the village. Fanning said that Crestwood is the only village that he produces a newspaper for and he began working there when the Village was caught mixing well water with Lake Michigan water illegally.
While Fanning’s presentation wasn’t listed on the agenda for the meeting, the agenda did list “Oak Lawn Matters” without providing any information about what would be discussed.
Fanning admitted that most people get their news from the internet and not from hard copy newspapers even though he was advising the village to put its message out through a tabloid. According to “Specifics on Newspapers from ‘State of the News Media’ Report”, the industry has lost 20 percent of its journalists while revenue has declined sharply and internet news has dramatically increased.
Despite those facts, Fanning claimed that the publication would attract advertisers, of which he would keep twenty percent of the revenue. The idea of attracting advertisers may run contrary to the experiences of newspapers throughout America. According to the Newspaper Association of America, which tracks industry data, advertising revenues for newspapers are now the lowest they’ve been since 1950. While the low numbers are dramatic and show the difficulty in gaining advertising in all print media, it is more dramatic when one realizes the U.S. population was less than half its current size and the economy was about one-seventh as large in 1970. In the last five years, ad revenue is down more than fifty percent and major newspapers, such as the Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune have laid off staff and offered early buy out retirements in order to survive.
Mayor Sandra Bury said “it’s been very frustrating as an elected official how to get the word out. We have our website, our Facebook page, we have the newsletter, we post flyers, we try everything to get the word out yet residents still are always confused and basic questions are unanswered and it leads to frustration and its not good government to have lack of communication. It’s been very hard”.
Neither Fanning or Bury provided any examples of “confusion” by residents or what events were not publicized. The village runs annual events through its special events committee, including the popular “Fall on the Green” Fest.
Information on village events are found on the village’s website. Each board meeting is broadcast on Comcast. Village news and events are also covered by various media outlets including the Daily Southtown, the Oak Lawn Reporter, the Oak Lawn Patch, the Oak Lawn Leaf, Southwest News Herald, the Village View, and the Oak Lawn Independent. With the exception of the Oak Lawn Patch and Oak Lawn Leaf, all of those media outlets maintain a hard copy newspaper and some also have websites.
The “newspaper idea” was not discussed during the budget hearings in December and the budget would have to be amended for the increased expenditures. Village officials said that the village previously discontinued the quarterly village newsletter, which cost over $100,000 a year, according to Village Manager Larry Deetjen. This publication would be monthly resulting in potentially higher costs. Bury thanked Fanning for providing an idea for what she called a “positive message”.