BY RICK NAGEL
The future of local journalism isn’t something to d**k around with.
There’s a vulgar lead and a dangling participle to start your day. But maybe it will grab your attention long enough for me to get you to the nut graph.
The Northern Illinois News Association (that’s right, it’s “News” Association and not “Newspaper” Association, but we’ll get to the backstory later) has a new vision statement. It reads:
We aim to be the leading advocate in northern Illinois for reliable and factual local journalism – teaching what it is, celebrating its achievements, spreading its virtues and defending its role in society.
The vision statement was introduced by NINA’s 2023 president, longtime Daily Herald Editor John Lampinen, and unanimously adopted last week by the NINA Board of Directors.
It heralds (pardon the pun-as-transition) what I believe will be a powerful, positive change for a journalism organization that turned 60 last year.
I’m writing this in first person and under the banner of opinion, by the way, because I want to provide the “Top 3 Reasons” I think this vision statement actually means something. Please don’t blame the rest of the NINA board for the vulgarity of my lead or the thought trifecta that follows.
First, I love the noun (and the verb, for that matter) “advocate.” It gives NINA an urgent purpose – a quest, if you will. And I would submit that “reliable and factual local journalism” both needs and merits an advocate in 2023.
I won’t climb on too high a horse here, but a free society, a democracy, needs professionally trained, honest, principled and dependable sources of information.
Second, this vision statement axiomatically and exponentially expands NINA’s audience – and its relevance.
Last year, we dropped the “paper” from our name to signal that we’re not dinosaurs. But to me, that name change is significant because the principles of journalism – among them the reliable and factual reporting championed in NINA’s new vision statement – can and should be applied to other disciplines and professions.
One definition of journalism is “the activity or profession of writing for newspapers, magazines, or news websites or preparing news to be broadcast.”
In my opinion, journalism shouldn’t be limited to the ink-stained-and-pixel-savvy wretches who work for traditional news organizations. Business people and bloggers, freelance writers, local government communications staff – think city, county, schools, libraries, park districts, community colleges and universities – who share the core belief that truth matters can benefit from an “association” with professionals who put those core beliefs into practice.
NINA can grow and flourish by setting a higher standard and benchmarks for “news” in any form and on every platform.
Third, if NINA is to continue for another 60 years, it has to serve a useful purpose – and the baton must be passed to a new generation.
Certainly, we can do more to engage young journalists at the high school and college level. And this new vision statement reminds us of what’s important: teaching what (journalism) is, celebrating its achievements, spreading its virtues and defending its role in society.
What excites me about this new vision — and what I hope will be attractive to a new generation of journalists — is that it gives NINA focus and says, “What if.”
What if we can create enough buzz to get people to tune in and turn on — to borrow two-thirds of Timothy Leary? What if we can encourage more young people to enter the profession? What if we can make the journalism life more fun and engaging to Northern Illinois professionals? What if we can cement our partnership with NIU and become a wave that turns a tide?
What if we can help make our corner of the world a little saner and safer, fairer and freer, more honest and honorable?
OK, that’s over the top. But at its core, “saving the world” is one of the reasons we choose this low-paying, insanely difficult but infinitely rewarding profession.
And why the future of journalism isn’t something to d**k around with.