The $51 million renovation of the west wing of the state Capitol includes $6.5 million for the basement, about half the square footage of which is office space for news organizations. Radio, newspaper, television, and wire service reporters who cover Illinois politics and government full-time have used publicly-funded space since at least the 1950s, says Steve Brown.
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“In some cases, there’s a more adversarial relationship” between reporters and newsmakers than there used to be, says Brown, a former newspaper reporter who is now chief spokesman for House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago). While Madigan himself probably has few media people on his own Christmas card list, Brown says, “the relationship is a reality, and an important one, in terms of getting out information about what state government and the legislature are doing.”
Brown, calling the media “the eyes and ears of the general public,” says the question occasionally comes up if the state should charge reporters rent, but one downside would be less control over who has access. These days, some organizations are lobbyists who hire reporters or use the word “news” in their names; Brown says they can rent space elsewhere, like the other lobbyists.
Speaking of rent, a Springfield real estate agent says 500 square feet of office space near the Capitol might go for about $600 a month.
As for the Capitol restoration, certainly something would occupy the basement if the media weren’t there; in fact, a previous iteration of the plans had a catering kitchen there instead.
Reporters, including the one who prepared this story, recently moved into the Capitol basement after a long stint on an upper story of the building, with two years in an adjacent office building during the construction.