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Defining ‘Downstate’ Illinois

Calling all Illinoisans: Help us understand the location and connotations of “Downstate,” so our newsroom can better choose our words both in how we write and how we talk.

I’ve got an itch I need to scratch. It’s bugged me since I first moved to Chicago in the summer of 2012. It’s that word in the headline up there (duh): Downstate. What do people mean when they say “Downstate Illinois?” Where are they actually talking about?

Logan Jaffe/ProPublica Illinois

As the engagement reporter at ProPublica Illinois, this is a serious question. Because, as I wrote this week about our plan to put people, and community, at the start of our reporting, it’s important to understand basic geographic terminology about the state we’re reporting in. And, if “Downstate” contains certain connotations, it’s important for our reporters to understand them, so we can better choose our words both in how we write and how we talk.

So, naturally, and maybe naively, I Googled: “Where does downstate Illinois start?” And right away, I realized that not only was that probably a dumb thing to do, but also that the internet just made everything more confusing, as it often does.

From Wikipedia: Downstate Illinois is all of Illinois south of the Chicago metropolitan area.

From the Encyclopedia of Chicago: “Downstate” defies any single definition.


This is clearly a problem worth unpacking. So, now, I turn to you for help with the same question: Where does “downstate” Illinois start for you? And how do you feel about that term?

The conversation’s already generated a little bit of a Twitter buzz, but we would like far more people across the state to weigh in. And to be clear: I’m not just asking you this because of that itch I have. Your input will actually inform the words we use in our reporting.

So, tell me what you think. You can email me directly at [email protected]. And you can always tweet me @loganjaffe.

I’ll follow up with the results over the next few weeks. But if you need some help to get you going, you’ll definitely want to read what people are already saying:

Let ProPublica Illinois engagement reporter Logan Jaffe know what’s going on in your neighborhood: [email protected].

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Portrait of Logan Jaffe

Logan Jaffe

Logan Jaffe is a reporter for newsletters at ProPublica.

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