BY JAY DICKERSON
2017 was a banner year for the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association. NINA had five key accomplishments in the past year:
NINA’s scholarships this year went to students at Walter Payton College Prep. Grace McDermott and Allison Cho each impressed our judges panel.
2017 marks the 20th year for our scholarship program. Over the past two decades we’ve received approximately 570 scholarship applications and awarded just under $30,000 to talented high school grads who plan to continue their journalism education in college.
2. FOIA Training with the BGA
More than 100 NIU students and Dekalb citizen watchdogs attended the joint Freedom of Information Act session NINA held with the Better Government Association in September.
Students had the opportunity to ask questions to the people involved in the increasing-challenging struggle to obtain public records. It was uplifting to see a lecture hall full of people take with them the gospel of open records and government accountability.
3. Working the beat
NINA held a training session in February about building better relationships between journalists and law-enforcement officials. If there is one community relationship a newspaper should strengthen, this is it. Both journalist and cop have their jobs to do, and both journalist and cop can have a better understanding of how each goes about their job.
We both, after all, work a beat.
4. Journalism Advocacy
“Journalism is less respected, but more important than any time in my 25 years as an editor.” NINA board member Tom Martin — from the Register-Mail in Galesburg — wrote this when I asked for input for a letter I was writing. I was encouraging a college president to not to make cuts to a journalism program for 2017.
Now more than ever before it’s important for journalists to engage the community, and remind all that the press is part of an important feedback loop between the government and voters. Without the press, the feedback loop is broken, and the government is no longer accountable to the people. Be fearless in your community engagement.
5. Rex Huppke
Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Huppke addressed the assembled journalists at NINA’s annual dinner.
His message is worth repeating.
In an era of elected officials painting journalists as enemies of America, Huppke’s message had weight. What journalists do has value. Keep working, keep covering the people in our communities as best we can. Keep reporting, and keep engaging your readers. Inject humor into your life. Journalists can do what social media can’t. And always remember: reporters make a difference in people’s lives.
If that isn’t a great message to start 2018 out right, I don’t know what is.
JAY DICKERSON is the editor of The Galena Gazette and immediate past president of the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association.