The final days of reporter Chris Kaergard's life as a heavily bearded man might be near, "and I cannot tell you how excited I am about that," said Kaergard, a political reporter for the (Peoria, Illinois) Journal Star. "In the summer, this is like wearing a sweater on my face."
Kaergard started growing his beard more than a year ago as a way of getting readers engaged with the ongoing budget saga (and ongoing lack of any budget to speak of) in Illinois. He thought, at the time, that he'd have to deal with more than his usual goatee for about six weeks.
Since then, "it's been growing and growing."
In April, as the one-year anniversary of #BudgetBeard, as it's called, neared, Kaergard told Columbia Journalism Review it was a useful tool to gin up audience interest in budgetary issues.
Now, with one day to go before a new fiscal year begins, Kaergard might finally get to shave.
"It sounds as though there's solid progress toward a temporary deal that would basically keep the lights on for six months," he said.
"It's helped people pay a little more attention to it and get them in the door on what are otherwise serious government stories," he said of his hashtagged facial hair. "If it gives them more than a passing level of familiarity with what's going on or even holds their attention long enough to pay attention to what's going on, I think that's a service to the readers."
Kaergard isn't the only Illinois journalist trying to keep the budget impasse in the news. On Wednesday, more than 60 newspapers in Illinois published editorials (many on the front page) telling the statehouse that they'd had enough.
The idea started from a brainstorming session with The State Journal-Register's Rosanne Cheeseman, interim publisher, and Angie Muhs, executive editor.
"We both just felt like we needed to do something different," Muhs said.
First they decided to do a front-page editorial, then they reached out to other papers throughout the network of papers owned by Gatehouse Media. The response was so overwhelming that they reached out to the Illinois APME board and then the Illinois Press Association. Some ran The State Journal-Register's editorial, some ran their own, but "everything kind of crystalized around the word 'enough.'"
Since starting to let his facial hair grow, Kaergard has tried to make it clear that his isn't a partisan beard. If a temporary agreement is reached, he's ready to shave it off and plans to do so in a way that gives something back to the organizations hurt worst by the lack of action. He doesn't yet know details, but there could be a charity shave livestreamed very soon.
Here's a look at some Kaergard's #BudgetBeard tweets and some of the fronts from newspapers that participated in Wednesday's editorial push, via Newseum:
— Chris Kaergard (@ChrisKaergard) October 19, 2015
— Darin LaHood (@RepLaHood) December 4, 2015
— Chris Kaergard (@ChrisKaergard) January 7, 2016
— Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) June 9, 2016