(Seth Perlman/AP)
September 04, 2013

Ill. Gaming Board May Allow 24 Hour Casinos

The Illinois Gaming Board is set to consider lifting a restriction that forbids casinos from staying open 24 hours a day.

Illinois' casinos have previously tried, and failed, to get the okay to keep their doors open 24-7. Now they are trying again. The gaming board will consider a proposal Sept. 14.

Tom Swoik, who represents many of the state's riverboats, said Illinois lets truck stops offer video gambling at all hoursl so casinos should be allowed to as well.

"Things have changed over the last several years," he said. "Not everybody wants to do it, but we'd like to have the option to do it; for example some casinos probably won't do it at all, others may do it on weekends and holidays."

Swoik saud it could help the casinos' bottom line, and help generate taxes for the state.

Anti-gambling activist Anita Bedell translates that as preying on compulsive gamblers.

"Some will never stop until the casino closes, and if the casinos do not close, some people will gamble much longer than 24 hours," Bedell said. "They'll gamble 32, 40, 72 hours at a time."

Bedell sad it will cause a public safety issue if gamblers get in their cars and drive home after binge sessions at the casino. Some casinos already operate up to 22 hours a day.

August 23, 2013

Ameren Gets OK For Transmission Line In Illinois

State regulators have given Ameren permission to acquire the right-of-way to build a 380-mile-long transmission line across Illinois.

The Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises newspapers reports that Ameren Transmission received approval from the

Illinois Commerce Commission for section of Coles, Douglas, Moultrie and Piatt counties.  Regulators denied construction in certain areas, including larger substations in Mount Zion and Pana, and delayed action on a section of the line between Pana and Pawnee.

The high-voltage transmission line is planned to be 150-feet wide and run from Quincy to Terre Haute, Ind.

Regulators denied construction in certain areas and the St. Louis-based company says it is reviewing its options on routing those segments. Construction is scheduled to begin as early as 2014.

The line will have 80 to 90-foot tall poles on 12-foot wide concrete bases. The company says that's to allow landowners to use land for farming or grazing.

August 21, 2013

Ameren Unveils Smart Grid Research Center At U Of I

A new testing center unveiled Wednesday at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will give businesses the chance to test out smart grid technologies like household appliances, electric cars, and transformers.

Ameren Illinois said the Technology Applications Center, located west of the Research Park, includes a working substation, and a connection to the live grid. Ameren Illinois President and CEO Richard Mark said that is valuable for businesses.

“The uniqueness of this facility is that it can test the newest technology. Its fiber optically connected to the University of Illinois," Mark said. "They have several research things going on, so we can work together in collaboration with the university, and I don’t know of another one in the state that has these advanced technologies that this one has. ”

Speaking at the dedication ceremony, U of I Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise said the substation will help strengthen the university's smart grid research.

“As a research university, we’ve charged ourselves with thinking about what the world is going to be like 20-to-50 years from now, and what the role of a public research university is in solving those challenges,” Wise said. “I think the resiliency of our power supply is one that fits both in the challenges of the next 20-to-50 years, and what a public research university can do.”

Ameren Illinois said it will use the center to find ways of helping customers better manage their energy usage.

Ameren is spending more than $640 million over the next decade to make the electric grid more reliable and efficient, and create hundreds of new jobs. That is because of legislation passed two years ago by the General Assembly that allows utility companies to raise rates to finance those projects.

Gary Knell
(Sesame Workshop)
August 19, 2013

NPR CEO Gary Knell Announces He's Leaving

After fewer than 21 months on the job, NPR CEO Gary Knell announced at mid-day Monday that he's leaving the organization to become president and CEO at National Geographic.

In a message to the staff, Knell says:

"Dear Friends,

"Before I even started at NPR, I had huge respect for this organization. And from the first minute of my first day at NPR, my respect has only grown. Seven days a week, around the clock, NPR is 'on the story' no matter where it happens. That's because of what each of you make happen. The power of this organization rests in the collective brilliance, courage, and dedication of our staff and our station community – and in our shared commitment to making this institution better each day.

"Knowing this makes it a little easier to share a difficult decision I've made. I will be leaving NPR after my term ends in late fall to join the National Geographic Society as its President and CEO. I was approached by the organization recently and offered an opportunity that, after discussions with my family, I could not turn down.

"As President and CEO, supporting NPR's success – your success – has been my highest ambition. Working together, we have put NPR on more solid footing to continue to deliver the highest-quality journalism and programming. We have launched innovative new platforms and made meaningful strides in attracting new audiences and new funding. We have promoted a series of collaborations in news gathering, development, and a digital future. And we have an exceptionally strong leadership team in place that is charting an ambitious path for our future.

"We also face challenges, including the mandate to bring NPR to break-even cash operations. We are completing a plan to focus our limited resources which support our essential services to stations and audiences. We will present that plan to the Board soon, go over it carefully, and make it a reality.

"The Board, under the leadership of Chair Kit Jensen, has been incredibly supportive of my leadership and is more than up to the task of finding a great successor. This is a remarkable organization and being NPR's CEO is a remarkable job, the best part of which has been engaging with each of you and with thousands and thousands of our supporters around the country. This is a job that demands everything of you, but returns more than you'd thought possible.

"It has taken a great deal of personal reflection on my part to reach this decision. I will leave with a sense of enormous gratitude to each of you for all you do to make this organization a national treasure.

"In the upheaval of today's media environment, you offer something few other media companies can. NPR is and will always be a beacon of journalistic integrity, commitment, and courage. We do what we do so that we can serve our audiences and give them what they need to be informed and connected with their communities, their country, and the world we live in.

"Thank you for giving me the opportunity to work with you."

Knell came to NPR from Sesame Workshop in December 2011, in the wake of considerable upheaval. Vivian Schiller resigned as CEO and president earlier that year, after two high-profile controversies led NPR's board of directors to conclude that she could no longer effectively lead the organization.

There was the Fall 2010 dismissal of NPR analyst Juan Williams after he said on Fox News Channel that he gets nervous when he sees people in "Muslim garb" on airplanes. And there was the release in March 2011 of a videotape surreptitiously made by associates of conservative activist James O'Keefe and heavily edited before its release, showing then-NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller (no relation to Vivian) slamming conservatives and appearing to question whether NPR needs federal funding.


August 11, 2013

The Tricky Business Of Predicting Where Media Will Go Next

What's next for The Washington Post? With a new owner, the paper is stepping into a new era. Its path may lead to the ever-evolving future of journalism.

"There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy," said Amazon founder Jeff Bezos with the announcement of his purchase Monday. "We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment."

Experimentation and leaps of faith led to the Huffington Posts and the BuzzFeeds of the current media world. While advertising revenues decline and newspapers change hands, some still see a place for institutions like The Post (apparently, Bezos thought it was worth $250 million). But the face of legacy media will not look or feel the same.

Hope For The Post, In '92

Bezos' message on Monday echoes a prescient one made two decades earlier, by the Post's then-Managing Editor Robert Kaiser.

Kaiser had just attended a conference convened by Apple in Tokyo. On the plane back to Washington, D.C., he wrote his takeaway on a yellow legal pad, now available online. The conference, involving leaders in the computer, software and media worlds, offered a glimmer of how technology could — and would — revolutionize the media industry.

"The Post ought to be in the forefront of this — not for the adventure, but for important defensive purposes," Kaiser wrote in 1992. "We'll only defeat electronic competitors by playing their game better than they can play it."

(One of his recommendations: "Create the first electronic newspaper — put the paper into a computer and see if we can create something that was easy to read, fun to play with and so on.")

Though he had his warnings, Kaiser wrote that he could "find no one at this conference who would predict the demise of the newspaper. No one. All saw an important place for us."

And so, Kaiser expected, "There's a big and important role for The Washington Post in this new world." But the revolution didn't happen the way Kaiser had hoped.

"The fact is, because we were so big, so fat and so happy, and because everything seemed to be going our way, we were just in no frame of mind to take the big, adventurous steps that would have been required to really, you know, try to become pioneers in this realm," he tells Jacki Lyden, host of weekends on All Things Considered.

The Elements Of The Huffington Post

Arianna Huffington upended the traditional news model in 2005 by starting The Huffington Post, but she doesn't see ventures like hers as substitutes for newspapers.

"I don't really think it's a question of replacing newspapers. I think it's a convergence," she tells NPR.

But The Huffington Post, aggregating and re-posting content from across the Web, had many skeptics. "I think there were definitely many more naysayers than people who thought it would work," Huffington says.

One LA Weekly review was particularly unsupportive: "This website venture is the sort of failure that is simply unsurvivable. Her blog is such a bomb that it's the movie equivalent of Gigli, Ishtar and Heaven's Gate rolled into one."

But in what others saw as lowbrow Web content, Huffington saw opportunity to share and engage. She breaks the model down into four elements: blogging, curation, commenting/audience engagement and original reporting (which played a larger role as the site's popularity and profitability grew).

At first, curation, or aggregating content from other websites, in particular received backlash from traditional media, which viewed the practice as hawking others' work for free.

But, Huffington says, if curation is done accurately and fairly, it "is of tremendous benefit to the creators of the content, because it brings them many more eyeballs, a lot more traffic, which they can monetize." Now, curation is a common practice among news organizations of all statures.

The result of mixing these elements was something that didn't look quite like anything else.

"The fact that we can have the prime minister of France next to a homeless teenager who has something interesting to say, is something that is very much at the heart of what distinguishes HuffPost as a purely digital operation," Huffington says.

The Social Web

But in eight short years, even The Huffington Post is now challenged by forward-moving competitors, like BuzzFeed. Its founder and CEO, Jonah Peretti, came up with the idea for the site while working at The Huffington Post, which he co-founded.

After launching in 2006, BuzzFeed "was very much a laboratory" in the beginning, says company President Jon Steinberg. BuzzFeed started with six employees in a room in New York's Chinatown. The driving concept behind the operation: social sharing.

"Everything we write has to be shareable," Steinberg says. "And we think that's a really high bar. As opposed to writing for a search engine or writing for a robot of some kind, the content has to be compelling and novel and interesting enough that a person is willing to pass it along to another person."


U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Jamesa Euler delivers mail in the rain in Atlanta in February.
(David Goldman/AP)
August 08, 2013

Can Congress Figure Out How To Rescue The Post Office?

The U.S. Postal Service lost some $16 billion last year and continues to bleed red ink. Congress has been unable to agree on a rescue plan.

The latest proposal would allow the post office to end Saturday delivery in a year and enable it to ship wine and beer.

The Postal Service's woes are familiar: People don't really send letters anymore, so first-class mail is down, and Congress makes the post office prepay future retiree benefits to the tune of $5.5 billion a year.

Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware says the Postal Service is on the verge of financial collapse.

"The Postal Service can't continue to bleed money, to run up its tab at the Treasury," says Carper, who heads the Senate panel with oversight of the Postal Service. "The Postal Service owes more than $15 billion to the Treasury — and the ticker's still running."

Plus, he says, there are "7 or 8 million jobs in the country that depend on a strong, viable Postal Service. And this is one that can be fixed."

Carper's fix? The Postal Reform Act, co-sponsored with the panel's top Republican, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. The measure would allow the post office to eliminate Saturday service in a year, and to reduce the number of mail-processing centers in two years. It would also allow the post office to ship alcoholic beverages, opening up a new revenue stream, and to reduce somewhat the pension prepayments.

Carper says the Postal Service suffers from too much capacity and too many workers, just like the auto industry used to.

"What they've done is they have right-sized their enterprise," he says of the carmakers. He says the Postal Service needs to do the same.

"They don't have the kind of market share that they used to have," he says. "First-class mail volume has continued to drop. That's where they've made their money over the years."

Coincidentally, the post office unveiled some new stamps Thursday, commemorating American workers. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe used the occasion to praise postal workers.

"Our employees do a very good job, and work very hard every day to keep mail moving, keep packages moving, across the country," Donahoe said.

But there are far fewer postal employees than there once were, and under Carper's proposal, there would be fewer still. So the American Postal Workers Union has taken to the airwaves, running an ad urging Congress not to cut employees, but to change the way the Postal Service funds its pension obligations.

The ad says the problem is "a burden no other agency or company bears — a 2006 law that drains $5 billion a year from post office revenue while the Postal Service is forced to overpay billions more into federal accounts."

Greg Bell, vice president of the American Postal Workers Union, says the prefunding of retiree health benefits doesn't make sense.

Bell says the union supports a bill sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, that would end the post office's prefunding requirement but otherwise keep the Postal Service relatively unchanged.

The Senate approved a Postal Service overhaul last year, but the House never acted. Meanwhile, the losses continue to mount.

Carper is optimistic the House will approve its own bill soon, setting the stage for the two chambers to find some middle ground.


August 06, 2013

Archer Daniels Midland 2Q Profit Falls

Archer Daniels Midland says its net income fell 22 percent in the second quarter as expenses climbed.

The agribusiness company also says it more than doubled its provision for a possible settlement of an overseas bribery probe that's being conducted by the federal government.

The Decatur-based company has been in discussions with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission over possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The potential violations mostly relate to grain and feed exports. The period in question dates back to 2008 and earlier.

ADM earned $223 million, or 34 cents per share, for the period ended June 30. That's down from $284 million, or 43 cents per share, a year ago.

Removing acquisition-related costs and other items, earnings were 46 cents per share.

Revenue dipped 1 percent to $22.54 million.

 Jeff Bezos
(Reed Saxon/AP)
August 05, 2013

Amazon Founder Bezos To Buy Washington Post

Jeff Bezos, the founder who helped bring books into the digital age, is going after another pillar of "old media": the newspaper. founder Jeff Bezos struck a deal Monday to buy The Washington Post and other newspapers for $250 million in a startling demonstration of how the Internet has created both winners and losers and utterly transformed the media landscape.

Bezos made his fortune by pioneering online shopping, first with books, then with just about everything else, while The Washington Post, like most newspapers, has been losing readers and advertisers to the Internet while watching its value plummet.

The newspaper, celebrated a generation ago for breaking the Watergate scandal, has been forced in recent years to scale back its ambitions, cut its newsroom staff repeatedly and close several bureaus.

Bezos, 49, is buying the paper as an individual. Inc. is not involved.

Washington Post chairman and CEO Donald Graham called Bezos a "uniquely good new owner." He said the decision was made after years of newspaper industry challenges. The company, which owns the Kaplan education business and several TV stations, will change its name but didn't say what the new name will be.

Bezos said in a statement that he understands the Post's "critical role" in Washington and said its values won't change.

"The paper's duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners," Bezos said to Post employees in a letter distributed to the media. "We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads, and we'll work hard not to make mistakes. When we do, we will own up to them quickly and completely."

Katharine Weymouth, the paper's publisher and CEO and a member of the Graham family that has owned the paper since 1933, will remain in her post. She has asked other senior managers to stay on as well.

"Mr. Bezos knows as well as anyone the opportunities that come with revolutionary technology when we understand how to make the most of it," she said in a letter to readers. "Under his ownership and with his management savvy, we will be able to accelerate the pace and quality of innovation."

The news surprised industry observers and even the paper's employees.

"I think we're all still in shock," said Robert McCartney, the paper's Metro columnist and a 31-year veteran. "Everybody's standing around the newsroom talking about it. ... I don't think much work's getting done."

The email hit staffers' inboxes at 4:17 p.m. Eastern time. It summoned them to a meeting 13 minutes later.

Graham spoke at the staff meeting of how he has known Bezos for more than a decade, and described him as a decent and patient man, said McCartney.
PHOTO: FILE - In this Sept. 6, 2012 file photo, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos speaks in Santa Monica, Calif. Bezos plans to buy The Washington Post for $250 million. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 6, 2012 file photo, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos speaks in Santa Monica, Calif. Bezos plans to buy The Washington Post for $250 million. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

Graham told the staff he is convinced that Bezos is committed to quality journalism and has no political agenda. There was sustained applause from the staff after Graham and Weymouth's remarks.

Allen & Co., which held a high-level conference for media and technology executives in Sun Valley, Idaho, last month, was named as an adviser to the deal.

To observers, Bezos is eminently qualified to be a newspaper owner: He's rich, he's innovative and he's willing to live with slim profits. That's proven by his running of Amazon since its foundation in 1994. Last month, Inc. reported a surprise loss in the April-June quarter even though revenue grew 22 percent to $15.7 billion.

"Some other buyers might see the Post as a thing to drain money out of," said Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. "There's little reason to think (Bezos would) fall into that category."

The Poynter Institute's media and business analyst, Rick Edmonds, compared Bezos' purchase of the Post to billionaire John Henry's $70 million purchase of The Boston Globe, which was announced Saturday.

The newspaper transactions remove well-loved, established publications from publicly traded parent companies which had to answer to shareholders who demanded good quarterly financial results.

"This means putting the Post in the hands of a wealthy individual who can take as long as he needs and spend as much money as he wishes in keeping the paper strong," Edmonds said. "That's a much better situation than a company with other faster-growing businesses trying to justify that same investment."

Alan Mutter, a media consultant and former newspaper editor, said this deal marks the first time a newspaper has been bought by a "digital native," not someone entrenched in the print medium.

"Here's a guy who's going to re-envision the newspaper from top to bottom and we'll see what we get," Mutter said.

The soon-to-be-renamed Washington Post company will retain Slate magazine, and Foreign Policy magazine, as well as the Post's headquarters building in downtown Washington.

Bezos said in his letter to employees that he'd be keeping his "day job" as Amazon CEO and a life in "the other Washington" where Amazon's headquarters in Seattle are based.

But he made clear there would be changes, if unforeseen ones, coming.

"The Internet is transforming almost every element of the news business: shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources, and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs," Bezos wrote. "There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment."

August 01, 2013

39 Jobs Cut At Vermilion County Nursing Home

Thirty-nine people at the Vermilion Manor Nursing Home located west of Tilton are losing their jobs.

Vermilion County Assistant State’s Attorney Bill Donahue confirmed the announcement Thursday shortly after the nursing home was sold to a private equity firm for $3.4 million.

Premier HealthCare Management, which is partnering with FNR Healthcare Group, is now overseeing Vermilion Manor. Donahue said Premier did an assessment of the nursing home’s operations, and determined that it could stand to lose those employees.

“No one’s pleased when people are not employed because in this community we need employment,” he said. “We’re hopeful that’ll change over time as the resident population grows.”

Donahue said people losing their jobs have been notified, while around 130 existing nursing home jobs are still in place.

The Vermilion County Board sold the nursing home after struggling to maintain it.

A call seeking comment from the owner of Premier Healthcare Management was not returned.

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