After the mayoral election ended in May, senior Stephen McAllister began looking for a way to respond to the events that transpired during his father’s campaign. Feeling powerless and unable to respond to the events unfolding, McAllister began a project known as Unify Galesburg, an online independent newspaper.
Unify, according to McAllister, was formed as a way to give a voice to those in Galesburg who feel ignored by mainstream media.
“I don’t want anybody in Galesburg to feel like that, and as long as I have an internet connection and a computer, I’m going to make sure, if anyone is in that position, [they] have a voice,” he said
Unify is looking for a way to discuss topics that McAllister believes local news sources are unwilling to cover, such as stories on local bands and local musicians. The newspaper wants to bring societal problems in Galesburg, including problems with heroin and opioids, to the forefront of conversations.
“There’s this idea that if we bring these issues out into the open, we’re going to be seen as a town with problems. And a town with problems doesn’t attract new development,” McAllister said. “America as a whole is in grips of a terrible opioid epidemic, and it’s national. When they talk about it, they start working on it. But, we kind of don’t want to talk about it in favor of development, even if it’s not true that it would hurt development.”
Not reliant to advertisers, McAllister says that the paper is free to investigate issues in Galesburg that might not get picked up by local news sources. Some of the stories they have looked into this summer have started local dialogues regarding the apparent opioid epidemic in Galesburg.
“One of the effects that we’re having is that we’re driving conversation. I’ve noticed a shift in what the news publications in Galesburg are starting to report now,” McAllister said. “You can’t start talking about ‘do you think we need needle exchanges, more detox centers — you can’t start talking about that until you admit that there is a heroin problem in the first place.”
Since the creation of the paper in May, the online newspaper has generated 1,748 likes on Facebook, with their most popular stories having a reach of 25,000. According to McAllister, the reach represent that everyone who has a computer in Galesburg is seeing their articles.
However, McAllister mentioned that the paper is struggling to find a way to reach those who do not have access to computers or Facebook, since they currently have no intentions of going to print.
“We’re just trying to figure out how to get information to those people since a lot of people who don’t have internet are impoverished, and a lot of our articles are about that,” McAllister said. “It’s somewhat ironic that they are the ones who can’t see it.”
Although most of the writers for Unify Galesburg are untrained in the field of journalism, they are hopeful for the future of the their town. McAllister pointed to the former independent newspaper in Galesburg, the Zephyr, as one of their main inspirations. He hopes to continue on the work started by the Zephyr as Unify Galesburg continues finding their way through the journalism world.
While most of Unify Galesburg’s feedback has been positive, according to senior staff writer Djaq Morris, there have been a few instances of hateful or negative comments on their articles. While she mentioned that these comments can be discouraging, she agreed that they sometimes only further their resolve to continue investigating these societal issues in Galesburg.
“When we get some of the comments, it feels like people are not willing to change or that people are not willing to listen,” Morris said. “If people are angry at what we write, at least they’re doing something, at least they’re paying attention. But, if people don’t care…you can’t make people care.”
However, while some were angry with Unify for publishing articles covering issues Galesburg would like to keep brushed under the rug, Morris wanted to express that Unify only wants the best for Galesburg.
“We do this because we love Galesburg. It’s not about bashing Galesburg or wanting to show all the bad stuff, or discourage people from coming here, being here, staying here,” Morris said. “We care about it and we want to see this community be the best that it can be. It’s not going to improve, it’s not going to get better unless we bring these issues to light.”