Southern Illinois shines in New York Times town hall - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Southern Illinois shines in New York Times town hall

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WEST FRANKFORT -- The nation's premier national newspaper holds a town hall meeting in West Frankfort Thursday night, to take the political temperature of southern Illinois.

The paper's interest comes in the wake of its reporting about Carlos Pacheco, an undocumented immigrant, who people in the middle of Trump territory, rallied around.

But a times reporter learned, southern Illinois has a great many more, important stories to tell.

Olivia Weeks, has grown up in West Frankfort, but doesn't know if she'll get to stay here... because of the lack of opportunity... something she says has affected attitudes here.

"The thing I feel like, we have the most control over is, pride.  I feel like that's such a big issue and it has so much to do with the economy and jobs and that kind of thing".

She wants the rest of the country to know about southern Illinois... and its needs... so she came to this Thursday night town hall meeting, put together by the New York Times.

Times reporter Monica Davey had covered the story of Carlos Pacheco, the undocumented Franklin County restaurant manager arrested by immigration agents, for living here illegally.

"It was partly what people said that got my attention," she explained

Davey realized southern Illinois has a great many stories that remain untold... stories that would resonate with the readers of America's top national newspaper.

"I wanted to come back;... we've been doing events around the country, going back to towns that we wrote about and trying to really look more deeply at what's happening in town." 

She convened a panel, including Sheriff Don Jones, Mayor Tom Jordan, and Circuit Clerk Jim Muir, among others, for an honest conversation about what matters most, in the heart of America.

Davey quickly realized she'd only begun to scratch the surface of issues facing southern Illinois... and she says that's something people are bound to read more of, in the New York Times in the months ahead.

"The best thing, was that people here were so engaged, they had so many questions they had so many issues. I learned a ton."

And so did people in the audience, like Olivia Weeks, who say they look forward to telling their stories to people around the country, who may have suggestions as to how southern Illinois can make itself over into a more vibrant, livable place.

"I am a big fan of the New York Times, obviously.  I listen to their podcast every morning, so it just feels really cool that they're interested in what we have to say."

Davey says stories about the economy, coal, and... the devastating impact of the Illinois state budget crisis will no doubt find their way into the pages of the New York Times, in the months to come.

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