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A look at Peoria's 2022 media transitions, so far

WTVP Facebook

As media consumers continue the inevitable shift away from print to digital news consumption, transitions within the Peoria-area media market abound. While some familiar local news sources are cutting back on print delivery frequency and ramping up their digital offerings (Peoria Journal Star, Peoria Magazine), others remain largely committed to a print format (Community Word, Chronicle Media county editions).

Recent local media transitions include the sale of Peoria Magazine to WTVP-TV, which is increasing its local news profile under the guidance of president and CEO Lesley Matuszak and former Peoria Journal Star editor Mike Bailey. Other transitions include the resignation of Clare Howard and the announcement of a new editor, Brian Ludwig, at the Community Word; and the surprise retirement of longtime Journal Star columnist Phil Luciano — who will join an enhanced WTVP news team.

WTVP purchases Peoria Magazines, expands local news

Though Jan Wright has retired, the legacy she left as founder and publisher of Peoria Magazine will carry on under new owner WTVP-TV and the guidance of Wright’s friend Lesley Matuszak. Wright bid farewell to the magazine she founded 25 years ago in her final Publisher’s Note inside the magazine’s December 2021 issue.

WCBU sat down with Matuszak to find out what plans the Peoria public television outlet has for Peoria Magazine and its recently expanded local news staff.

“We have very distinct goals for our station, including membership growth. WTVP wants to reach a younger and more diverse audience with more and better content to serve our community, and the addition of Peoria Magazine allows us to do that,” Matuszak said.

The first monthly edition of a reconstituted Peoria Magazine under the ownership of WTVP will be published in March. There will likely be some changes in the design of the monthly magazine under the editorship of Bailey. A professional writing staff has been assembled around Bailey, with some recognizable names joining the team.

“We have brought in Sally McKee and other writers from around the community that folks will recognize. Additionally, Phil Luciano will be coming to join the WTVP staff and will be working for television as well as Peoria Magazine. Come this summer, Phil will be hosting our new Peoria Magazine On-Air show, a weekly show. We are very excited to have Phil come on board,” said Matuszak.

Live events and award programs established by Wright under the Peoria Magazine banner will continue, albeit with the addition of a “live” television component. Because of the live component, the magazine’s popular Women of Influence, 40 Leaders Under 40 and Local Legends events will reach larger audiences.

“Folks love the ‘People, Places and Parties’ society segment of the magazine. That segment will come back, and there will be other sections added as well as a place where local news releases can be posted. We will also have a lot of feature articles,” said Matuszak.

Matuszak, who, ironically, was once honored as a local Woman of Influence by Peoria Magazine, said the station’s purchase of Peoria Magazine mirrors a trend of public television outlets absorbing established local print media services. And while Peoria Magazine will see a greater web and television presence, it will — for now — continue as a glossy print publication (although with a reduced newsstand presence, at least at first).

“This is a very exciting time for WTVP, and we’re excited to have the full support of the WTVP board and the business community behind us,” said Matuszak. “We see this transition as a positive development not just for us, but for the future of local media in Illinois and the 22-county community that WTVP serves.”

Community Word introduces Brian Ludwig as editor

Formerly known as the West Bluff Word, the Community Word monthly newspaper has expanded its scope in recent years to claim the entirety of Peoria and many of its bedroom communities as its distribution region.

New Community Word editor Brian Ludwig — another Peoria Journal Star alum — has been associated with the Word since its early days as a West Peoria newsletter.

“Working for the Community Word brings my career in journalism full circle, so to speak, because my very first job was delivering the then-West Bluff Word in the late 70’s,” said Ludwig, a longtime Peorian who attended Manual High School before leaving for Drake University in Des Moines, then returning to complete a B.S. in political science at Bradley University in 1991. He was hired at the Journal Star as a part-time sportswriter in 1993 and promoted to full-time in 1998.

Ludwig stayed with the newspaper through its Copley-to-Gatehouse ownership transition, eventually accepting a buyout in 2019 after a 26 year career at One News Plaza.

He replaces Clare Howard — yet another ex-PJS writer — as editor of the Community Word.

“One of the reasons I took this job was literally just to help keep journalism alive,” he said. “There was a moment in around 2007 or 2008 when the Journal Star just kind of gave up on being the local newspaper of record. Up until then, every single thing that happened in Peoria was in the Journal Star.”

Ludwig said the Journal Star’s corporate-driven abdication of their position as the local media source “of record” has left a market void that ensures an audience — albeit a dwindling one — for small, locally sourced print and online media such as the Community Word, Travelers Weekly (Peoria’s only Black-owned news publication) and Peoria County Chronicle newspapers.

“This seemed like a good opportunity to get back in the game and promote those local stories,” said Ludwig, who brings a strong background in layout and page design to the Word after 20 years of layout desk experience at the Journal Star.

“That is kind of my forte, making the paper pop. I’d like to give the (Word) a little better look, but I also like to write. I think this is a great opportunity to tell local stories, and to be able to lay out great local stories for other talented writers and photographers,” Ludwig said.

The editorial transition at the Word occurred at about the same time as a slight shuffling of owners within the 19-person local ownership group. Other than the absence of Howard, the writing staff for the newspaper will remain largely intact with monthly contributions from local media fixtures like Bill Knight, Terry Bibo and Roger Monroe, along with columns by a talented cadre of community activists, art experts, religious leaders and others.

Ludwig wants to increase the newspaper’s online and social media presence, but isn’t rushing the process. First and foremost, the Community Word will remain a monthly, multi-colored print newspaper, distributed free to consumers at local food markets and selected businesses.

“I’m trying to get my feet planted first, but increasing our web presence is something we will definitely be looking at,” Ludwig said. “We are looking ahead to the future, for sure.”

Journal Star ends Saturday print edition

Moving rapidly towards an all-digital distribution format, the Gannett-owned Peoria Journal Star newspaper announced a change in print delivery beginning March 19, 2022. As of that date, the Journal Star will no longer offer a print version of their Saturday paper — instead offering a “full digital replica” of the newspaper.

In a Jan. 13 announcement, the Journal Star said its new digital format would have the same look and news as a printed newspaper and will be available every day. In addition, the digital issue will offer extra items such as the ability to clip and share articles and adjust text size. Subscribers to Peoria’s oldest and only daily newspaper will also have access to the USA TODAY network of e-Editions from across the country, along with 24-7 access to obituaries, legal notices and classifieds on the Journal Star website.

However, the number of local journalists employed by Gannett to write local news articles for the Journal Star continues to diminish. With Luciano’s recent departure, there are now just a few local journalists remaining in the newsroom, Ludwig noted.

Tim Alexander is a correspondent for WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.