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Campana: 2021 Should Be Community Journalism’s Best Year

BY DAN CAMPANA

In Campana family lore, we have no confirmed date of when newsprint first touched my hands, but good sources recall it happened before my eyes could understand the words printed in what turned out to be a sports section.

That early fascination with a newspaper led me to be the kid dropping a quarter to buy a Tribune most mornings at the 7-Eleven near my grade school bus stop. That kid is now an adult who spends considerably more money to support the daily routine of scooping up a paper from my driveway.

It would be an easy narrative to suggest I was predestined to spend 10 years as a reporter and why, long after my last day in a newsroom, I’d serve as NINA president. As we all know, there is nothing easy about the print world – and many of us can never fully detach ourselves from it.

How I got here is simple: I grew up in community journalism. My stops at papers in DeKalb, Geneva and Aurora (and the time covering stories in practically every city and town near those hubs) over 10 years taught me so much. Crime, courts, elections, Sunday events, politics, missing cats, triumph, tragedy, mundane meetings and countless other stories big and small over the years add up to a lot of learning about people in places I never lived but will always consider my adopted hometowns.

What still stands out from those years is how much what the paper did mattered to our readers, from explaining a tax increase to publishing that photo of their grandkids at a carnival. They cared because we cared.

So much has changed in the nearly 21 years since I started and certainly in the 11 since I left. Not much of it good. As a news consumer and a communications professional now on the other side of the reporter-source relationship, it’s hard to believe what’s happened to so many once-vibrant newsrooms in and beyond northern Illinois.

There is a silver lining. It’s the too-small, but not short on ambition, crews of local journalists still grinding it out to tell the stories that need to be told and find the stories some people would prefer never saw the light of day.

That’s community journalism at its essence – local coverage you can’t get anywhere else. Unfortunately, these are far from the days of a reporter-per-town, dedicated education beats and hyper-focused local government coverage.

But the good fight continues, carried by a collective of reporters, photographers and editors who deserve to be supported whether they work for a weekly, a daily, online-only or for some other journalistic entity.

NINA will rally around them in 2021 as part of our emphasis on community – the NINA community and the importance of community journalism. The NINA community is stronger together, and together we can focus on community journalism to better support the neighborhoods, cities and towns where we live and work.

I’m a writer who tries too hard to avoid repeating the same word too often, but it’s no accident I’ve used “community” eight, now nine, times. It’s what NINA is all about this year. How will we do it?

Look out for story brainstorming sessions on local elections, economic development and other key community topics; NINA-hosted training events that help hone localized coverage of larger issues, such as social justice and equality; and, of course, our annual contest that celebrates the best of what our members write, photograph and design in service to your communities.

Watch your inbox and follow NINA on Facebook and Twitter to stay on top of everything happening in 2021.

Whether you’ve been a member for years, are part of NINA through your publication or are a freelancer looking to network, the #NINACommunity welcomes you to be an active part in supporting local journalists this year.

Dan Campana

Dan Campana, the 2021 president of the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association, is director of communications for the Emergency Nurses Association and a longtime newspaper reporter and editor at The Beacon-News and Kane County Chronicle.

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