The NINA Excellence in Journalism Award

As part of the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association’s 50th anniversary celebration, we’re announcing the NINA Excellence in Journalism Award. The award carries a $1,000 cash prize.

Contests don’t get any simpler than this:

  1. Pick your best piece of work from the past year: story, series, project, photography, online work … whatever.
  2. Write a short

    letter – or have someone else write it – stating why this exemplifies the best in journalism.

  3. Download, print and fill out the Excellence in Journalism Entry Form
  4. Mail it all to us, in whatever form you think best represents the work: tearsheet, CD or URL.

The contest is free to enter and is open to any journalist, as long as your work was published by a news organization in northern Illinois, between May 1, 2011 and April 30, 2012. NINA membership is not required. One entry per person.

Send entries to:

NINA Excellence in Journalism Contest
c/o Maria Krull, Northern Star
Campus Life Building, Suite 130
DeKalb, IL 60115

This contest, sponsored by NINA and the Northern Illinois University Department of Communication, is separate from the annual NINA contest. Entries will be judged by a panel of judges at NIU. All entries must be received by July 31, 2012.

The winner will be announced Thursday evening, Oct. 18, at NINA’s 50th Anniversary Fall Conference.


2012 NINA contest announced

We are pleased to announce NINA’s 2012 newspaper competition and invite your participation.  All materials will be mailed in the next few days, but they are available online now:

Contest Rules and Categories

2012 Entry Form

Please (1) read all rules carefully; (2) make certain your NINA membership is current and that you are entering in the appropriate division and entry categories; (3) fill out a form for each entry; (5) staple an entry form to the tearsheet for each entry; and (6) be

sure your entries are postmarked no later than Monday, July 2, 2012.

As part of NINA’s 50th anniversary celebration this year, we’re sponsoring an additional, special competition: The NINA Excellence in Journalism Award. It’s open to all journalists working in northern Illinois, and offers a $1,000 cash prize to the winner. Details soon in a separate post.

Finally, don’t forget to mark your calendars now for the annual NINA fall conference and awards ceremony scheduled for Thursday evening, Oct 18, 2012, at Northern Illinois University. This year marks NINA’s 50th anniversary celebration, and we’re planning a special evening. We look forward to seeing you there.

Good luck in the contest!

2012 NINA scholarship winners named

The Northern Illinois Newspaper Association honored two outstanding student journalists this spring in the association’s 15th annual Northern Illinois High School Journalist of the Year scholarship competition. Winners are:

First Place

Taylor Wanbaugh

Libertyville High School

Taylor Wanbaugh

Taylor has served as editor-in-chief of Libertyville High School’s “Drops of Ink,” the school’s newsmagazine. She plans to continue her journalism education this fall at University of Missouri. In selecting Taylor for top honors in this year’s scholarship competition, NINA judges were impressed with the professional quality of “Drops of Ink” and the versatility Taylor showed as a reporter and layout editor.

She will receive a total scholarship award of $1,200: $1,000 from NINA and $200 from The Daily Herald.

In a letter of recommendation, Michael Gluskin, faculty adviser for “Drops of Ink,” said as a first-year adviser he has consistently relied on Taylor to be a leader for the publication and to assist her fellow staff members when needed.

“She has published several in-depth feature stories (two personality profiles and one on distracted driving) that combined effective reporting, talented writing and creative layout skills,” Gluskin wrote.

“Taylor is a highly qualified candidate for this scholarship and is a great example of a student who can be successful in the 21st century journalism world,” he added.

In her autobiographical essay, Taylor recalled becoming transfixed with journalism while reading “Drops of Ink” as a freshman.

“I was instantly attracted to the publication and was always one of the first to delve into the new issues…I was amazed that high school students could impact our school and our community so powerfully just by using their own words.”

Taylor said she has enjoyed her tenure as editor of “Drops of Ink.”

“There is no feeling in the world like physically holding something that you know you were able to create and that you feel such a sense of pride about. The experience has taught me cheap car insurance quotes so much: how to be a leader, how to work with others, and, perhaps most importantly, how to feel truly passionate about something. I have poured my heart and soul into this publication, and I can only hope the readership reaps the labors of my heartfelt endeavors.”

Libertyville High School journalism student Taylor Wanbaugh receives her first-place award and scholarship from Jason Schaumburg, President of the Northern Illinois Newspapers Association.


Second Place

Jessica Van Kley

Illiana Christian High School

Jessica Van Kley

Jessica has worked on Illiana Christian’s student newspaper, “The Echo” since her sophomore year when she worked as a reporter. During her junior year, she was feature editor and this year has served as editor-in-chief.

She will receive an $800 scholarship from NINA and plans to major in journalism at Purdue University.

In selecting Jessica for a second place scholarship award, NINA judges said they were impressed with her writing style, especially as evidenced in several columns and features.

In recommending Jessica, Jeffrey DeVries, faculty adviser to “The Echo,” said he has thoroughly enjoyed watching Jessica grow as a writer.

“She has developed a breezy, off-the-cuff, self-deprecating style that is enjoyable to read. After every issue the staff votes on the best pieces in that edition and Jessica’s column routinely win that contest,” DeVries said.

Noting that Jessica has also served as co-editor of the Illiana Christian yearbook, DeVries added, “Jessica has consistently performed far and above the call of duty. She has a passion for journalism, a passion for words, a passion for finding the truth.”

In her autobiographical essay, Jessica said working on “The Echo” provided a learning experience as she worked on stories and layouts on sensitive topics such as race relations and student depression.

“But the largest aspect of journalism I learned and developed over the past there years was to listen. I listen to people constantly…listening is and always will be key for any journalist.”

Jessica plans a career in print journalism and hopes to one day work for a major metropolitan newspaper, covering beats such as news and politics.

“I hope that with a career in journalism I can spread the trust and uphold the shining archetype of the journalist — giving the world unbiased news, ensuring political honesty and provoking thoughtful discussion,” she wrote.

15-year history

A total of $2,000 in scholarships was awarded, including $1,800 from NINA and $200 from The Daily Herald.

The annual scholarship competition is open to all graduating high school seniors living in northern Illinois and recognizes outstanding achievement by high school students in the field of print and/or online journalism.

NINA has received more than 525 scholarship applications and awarded more than $22,000 in scholarships over the past 15 years.

Revenues for the scholarship program come from NINA member dues and proceeds from NINA training seminars and programs.

John Etheredge, NINA scholarship coordinator, said he and other scholarship judges look forward to examining the students’ portfolios each spring.

“The passion and commitment that these students have for their high school newspapers, news magazines and websites is clearly evident and continues to impress me,” Etheredge said. “Like good professional journalists, these students are already using their talents to seek the truth and better inform their readers.

“As an organization, NINA is proud to be able to help these students further their journalism education at the college level,” he said. “We look forward to seeing these students in our newsrooms in the future.”

Etheredge said he appreciates the NINA Board’s continued financial support for the scholarship program.

“I also want to give a special thanks to The Daily Herald for their contribution to this year’s scholarship program,” he said. “Since we started the program in 1998, The Daily Herald has consistently contributed additional funds to our scholarship winners. These funds have helped the scholarship winners pay for college, while making our scholarship program even more attractive to students.”


Honorable mentions

Elizabeth Amanieh

NINA judges also selected two other students as honorable mention winners in this year’s scholarship program: Elizabeth Amanieh, a student at William Fremd High School in Palatine, and Marissa Blachard, a student at Harry D. Jacobs High School in Algonquin.

Elizabeth has served as lead news editor for Fremd’s student newspaper, the “Viking Logue.”

Her adviser, Russ Anderson wrote in his letter of recommendation: “With the inclusion of online-exclusive articles, Facebook, and Twitter feeds, Liz has taken a department that in the past has struggled for direction and connection to the student body and has given it a distinct voice…”

Elizabeth plans to major in broadcast journalism as an undergraduate and then earn a master’s degree in journalism at Northwestern’s Medill Journalism Institute.

Marissa has served as assistant news editor for Jacobs’ student newspaper, the Talon. Her duties have included writing news and feature articles, page layout and launching the paper’s website.

Among Marissa’s reporting assignments was to cover a dispute between Hoffman Estates and Community Unit School District 300 over tax benefits from an economic development area.

In a letter of recommendation, John Bigler, an AP English teacher at Jacobs described Marissa as a highly motivated student.

“Her writing exemplified the attention to detail and critical thought necessary to succeed on a higher level,” Bigler wrote.

Marissa plans to continue her journalism education in college. She has been accepted to both the University of Missouri and the University of Illinois.

SPJ offers awards

The Society of Professional Journalists is offering two awards you may want to apply for. The Eugene C. Pulliam Fellowship for Editorial Writing awards $75,000 to an editorial writer to help broaden his or her journalistic horizons and knowledge of the world. The cash award can be used to cover the cost of study, research and/or travel in any field. Read about last year’s Pulliam Fellow, Mark Woods, a columnist at the Florida Times-Union.
The Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award is presented to honor a person or persons who have fought to protect and preserve one or more of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. An individual, group of individuals or organization will be awarded $10,000 cash and an engraved crystal to honor those committed to the same goals and as a tribute to the professional contributions Pulliam made to journalism. Read about last year’s honoree, the Associated Press staff.
For more information, including application

requirements and information about these awards, click here.

Applications for both awards are due June 22. For questions, please contact SPJ Awards Coordinator Lauren Rochester at

Election coverage tougher than ever, but ideas abound

News flash: Newspapers are understaffed. But elections are still happening and innovative coverage ideas are surfacing.

On May 11 at NIU, in two town-hall style conversations moderated by Dirk Johnson and Roger Ruthhart, NINA journalists talked about challenges they face and some solutions they have found.

“It’s our duty as gatekeepers to wade through what’s true and what isn’t,” said Daily Chronicle managing editor Jason Schaumburg.

That’s become tougher than ever for understaffed newspapers (practically all of us). Savvy campaigns understand this and crank out the press releases, sometimes two or three a week. Newspapers are left with the choices of turning these releases into stories – which may contain too many unchecked assertions; ignoring the releases completely – and potentially miss real news; or simply posting the press releases to an online bulletin board page and let readers investigate for themselves.

None of those are great options for newspapers.

“Our traditional role is to filter the crap down to what readers need and want,” said Larry Lough, executive editor at Sauk Valley Newspapers.

Combine that with often-restricted access to candidates, and you have an even bigger problem of getting at the truth.

“Stories constantly quote the campaign manager but never the candidate,” said Ruthhart, managing editor of the Rock Island Argus.

“Plus, everyone’s a publisher now. Candidates don’t think they need us as much as they used to,” added Northern Star adviser Jim Killam. “When they publish it on their own sites they can manage and control their message however they want.”

Voters also need full information earlier than ever before. The advent and popularity of early voting has altered timetables for publishing profiles, endorsements and other election information.

Here are a few ideas that surfaced during the conversations:

• Newspapers rely on their websites for profile information. Create “Election Central” sites, post the information early and add to it as you can. If your website CMS allows, tag stories so they filter onto the election pages.

• Realistically, understaffed newspapers cannot cover every campaign issue. Ask your readers to help identify three or four key issues in your community. Then focus your paper’s coverage – and your reporters’ time – on those issues.

In this way, papers can maximize reporters’ time and focus on issues and stories that touch the most readers.

Ruthhart’s suggestion: “Find issues that overreach politics – like daycare centers losing state funding, or in our area employment at the arsenal – and then you can connect those back to the election cycle when needed.”

Johnson, who teaches at NIU and writes for the New York Times and other publications, asked about taking a community’s pulse at election time.

“Is there a way to get at what the influential people in a community think?” he said.

• Be strategic and intentional about which campaign events you cover. If your publication can’t cover every speech and chicken dinner, then think about only covering debates or forums where all major candidates are present.

• Archive candidates’ online questionnaires so

you and the public can check later to see if they kept their campaign promises. Maybe after someone’s been in elected office for a year, give them a report card based on those earlier promises.

• Video record editorial board sessions with candidates and post it to your website, unedited. Let the public in on your endorsement process. If you don’t endorse, this is still a great way to help the public decide.

 Join the conversation by commenting: What innovative coverage ideas have worked for your publication?