Awesome, FREE FOIA, Watchdog Seminar Sept. 21!

Seriously, how often have you complained in the last few years that there’s never enough time for training, or that training is too costly, or that we can’t get to those important stories?

News Journalism Gov Depositphotos A.jpgWhen was the last time you FOIA’d something, or asked yourself if you were doing it effectively?

Well, there’s an opportunity coming up fast for a first-rate seminar for you, your colleagues and your staff — and it’s free, and the speakers will be awesome, and you’ll come away a better journalist, dammit.

NINA, the NIU Department of Communication, and the Better Government Association are co-sponsoring a must-see Sept. 21 seminar at NIU on becoming a better watchdog of government, with an emphasis on FOIA.

The relevance of the topic speaks for itself.

NINA’s goal is to fill the 350-seat auditorium. You can best help by attending, sharing this message with your co-workers and friends and posting on your favorite platform that this thing is happening.

“Steal This News Release,” to paraphrase Abbie Hoffman.

Don’t wait an minute longer: click here to sign up now.

How to be a Better Watchdog

  • Watchdog_LogoWhen: 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017
  • Where: Cole 100 (auditorium), NIU main campus in DeKalb
  • Sponsors: NIU Dept. of Communication, Northern Illinois Newspaper Association, Better Government Association
  • Cost: FREE and open to the public. No reservations/tickets are necessary, but it is a first-come, first-seated event. The auditorium has a capacity of 350 people.
  • Presenters: Annum Haider and Matt Topic.

About the Presenters

Matt Topic

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Matt Topic

Matt Topic is an attorney at Loevy & Loevy in Chicago and the Outside General Counsel of the Better Government Association. He has extensive experience representing journalists, activists, and the general public in obtaining records under the Freedom of Information Act, enforcing the Open Meetings Act, and protecting First Amendment rights.

Among many other successes, Matt is responsible for the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video; the release of thousands of pages of emails on the so-called “private” email account of Mayor Rahm Emanuel; and the release of FBI records about corrupt Chicago Police Officer Ronald Watts, which helped lead to the exoneration of an innocent man. Matt also litigates intellectual property, False Claims Act, and other cases.

Before joining Loevy & Loevy, Matt was a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP and previously clerked for Hon. Morton Denlow in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Matt graduated from Chicago-Kent College of Law as valedictorian in 2006.

Annum Haider

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Annum Haider

Annum Haider serves as the civic engagement and research analyst at the Better Government Association. She is responsible for coordinating the BGA’s advocacy efforts, such as Citizen Watchdog Trainings on the Freedom of Information Act and Idea Forums on the Illinois School Funding Formula. She also writes content specific articles on legal and policy matters and handles a number of special projects with an end to promoting good governance.

Annum has more than six years of experience representing those who have suffered as a result of the negligence or unlawful conduct of others, both as a human rights attorney and a judicial clerk. She formerly clerked for the Chief Justice in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and currently externs for Judge William J. Bauer in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

In addition to this, she has handled claims on behalf of plaintiffs against large corporations and has helped prosecute corrupt governmental entities, pharmaceutical companies, and politicians—including a Head of State—for embezzlement, fraud, and corruption.

Annum holds a Master’s degree (LL.M. Honors) in International Human Rights Law from Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, and a Bachelors in Law (LL.B. Honors) from the University of London, United Kingdom.

How to be a Better Watchdog


April 14 Deadline to Enter 2017 High School Student Journalist of the Year Competition!

Calling all high school journalists in Northern Illinois!

Know any high school seniors who have done outstanding work in the past year on a student newspaper, as a freelancer for a professional publication or as a contributor to a high school yearbook or literary magazine?

The Northern Illinois Newspaper Association, a professional organization with member newspapers throughout the region, is seeking the best and brightest students in the region to compete for the title of 2017 Northern Illinois High School Journalist of the Year.

The winner will receive a $1,000 scholarship, the endorsement of the professional organization, a presentation at your home school and a title that will stand out on any resume or college application. The announcement of the winning student will be distributed via news release to all NINA member publications and will appear on the NINA website and in the NINA newsletter.

The second-place winner will receive a $500 scholarship along with the accolades that go with the title.

The competition is open to graduating high school seniors who plan to continue their journalism education at the college level.

All entries must be postmarked no later than Friday, April 14. Competitors are asked to send entries to The Northern Illinois Newspaper Association, c/o John Etheredge, Record Newspapers, 109 W. Veterans Parkway, Yorkville, IL 60560.

Eligibility requirements and other criteria are listed below and available by clicking this link.

The scholarship competition entry form is available by clicking here.

The NINA Board of Directors is asking high school principals, student advisers and guidance counselors throughout Northern Illinois to help spread the word about this vital and prestigious award opportunity.

NINA maintains this scholarship fund to encourage high school students to continue to study journalism and to promote journalism careers.

NINA past president and Kendall County Record Newspapers Editor John Etheredge says that in days when “fake news” and social media snarkiness are almost ubiquitous, it’s more important than ever to support young people who are committed to professional journalism.

“As a professional organization dedicated to advancing print and online journalism education and training in Northern Illinois, we are excited at the prospect of awarding this scholarship to a student who shows promise for a career in our profession,” he said. “As always, welcome comments and suggestions about the scholarship program and how we can work together to advance journalism education at the high school level.”

2017 scholarship rules


Northern Illinois High School Journalism Scholarship recognizes outstanding achievement by high school students in print and/or online journalism.


A winner will receive a cash scholarship from the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association, a plaque and an announcement of the award in the NINA online newsletter. Arrangements will be made for a formal presentation of the scholarship award and plaque.


The scholarship award will be presented to a high school senior who demonstrates the standards of honesty, integrity, attention to detail, hard work, creativity and an understanding and commitment to quality community journalism.

The successful candidate may be an editor, writer, photographer, manager, marketing or advertising representative or graphic designer at a high school newspaper and/or website, or a professional news publication, either print or online.

All applicants should show an intent to attend college as a journalism or communications major with an emphasis on print and/or online journalism.

Students must attend high school within the Northern Illinois region. The primary counties include Boone, Bureau, Carroll, Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Henry, Jo Daviess, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Knox, Lake, LaSalle, Lee, Marshall, McHenry, Mercer, Ogle, Putnam, Rock Island, Stephenson, Whiteside, Will and Winnebago.

Selection criteria

Applicants must submit a copy of their high school transcripts, which must include grade-point average.

They also must submit:

  • A letter of recommendation from a high school counselor, newspaper adviser or professional supervisor. Additional letters of recommendation are welcome.
  • A portfolio of published newspaper work. Examples include articles, display or classified advertisements, photographs or photo pages, page layouts or full copies of a newspaper showing the student’s contribution to the overall product.
  • An autobiographical essay that includes a description of career goals.
  • A completed nomination form (next page).


Applications must be postmarked by the April 14 deadline, which was extended from March 17. Send to: Northern Illinois Newspaper Association, c/o John Etheredge, Record Newspapers, 109 W. Veterans Parkway, Yorkville, IL 60560


All applications will be judged by members of the NINA board of directors. The scholarship winner will be notified in April.

2017 scholarship entry form

Nomination Form

Nominee: ________________________________________________________

Address: ________________________________________________________

(street, city, state, ZIP)

Email: ________________________________________________________

High school: _______________________________________________________

Address: ________________________________________________________

Nomination submitted by: ____________________________________________________

Title: ________________________________________________________

Telephone number (day): ___________________________________________________

Email: ________________________________________________________________

List all materials submitted with this entry:




How did you learn about this opportunity? ________________________________________

Send entries to:

Northern Illinois Newspaper Association
c/o John Etheredge
Record Newspapers
109 W. Veterans Parkway
Yorkville, IL 60560

Deadline extended: April 14, 2017

About the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association

NINA-logo1NINA was founded by Northern Illinois University journalism faculty and newspaper editors and publishers throughout the Northern Illinois region. Its present board consists of some of the top online and print publications in Illinois and the United States, including but not limited to the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald, Shaw Media, The Register-Mail, Galesburg, The Times, Ottawa, The Dispatch / The Rock Island Argus, The Hinsdalean, Rockford Register Star, The Observer, Rockford Diocese, the Northern Star and The Galena Gazette.

Membership is open to print and digital publication professionals, freelancers, educators, students and others working in or supporting professional journalism in northern Illinois. For more information, visit the NINA website or Facebook page.

General membership meeting

As required by the NINA constitution, a general membership meeting has been called for Friday, Dec. 7, to vote on proposed changes to the NINA constitution and bylaws. The meeting will be held at 10 a.m. at the Northern Star office, Campus Life Building, NIU-DeKalb. Anyone who works at a NINA member publication, or who is an individual member, is invited to attend (but attendance is not required for membership).

View the proposed changes HERE.

Southtown Star’s Matt Marton wins top prize

Matt Marton (right) chats w

ith Kane County Chronicle editor Kathy Gresey and State Rep. Bob Pritchard after Thursday’s NINA awards banquet at NIU.

Matt Marton, a photographer for the Southtown Star, has won NINA’s Excellence in Journalism Award and the accompanying $1,000 prize for his work on the series, “Haiti: Two Years Later.”

The award was presented Thursday night at NINA’s 50th Anniversary Fall Conference, at the Northern Illinois University Convocation Center. The Excellence in Journalism competition invited journalists to submit their best piece of work, published between May 1, 2011, and April 30, 2012.

Here are judges’ remarks about Marton’s work:

In February 2012, the Southtown Star send photographer Matt Marton and reporter Donna Vickroy to Haiti. “We wanted to find out where cargo containers full of shoes, bicycles, medical supplies and musical instruments, donated by our readers, ended up,” Marton wrote. “In following the trail of compassion, we hoped to form a bridge, built on communication and understanding, from here to Haiti.”

Marton’s stunning series of photos didn’t just follow that trail of compassion. It stirred it anew in readers. It’s difficult to imagine any reader being confronted with these photos and not feeling changed. This series – both the photos and the words – shines the light of truth and compassion on the people of Haiti, for the benefit of an audience who may have given money, time and/or prayer for them. It’s a sterling example of the type of journalism that newspapers still must find a way to produce – despite budget crunches and staff shortages.

Not insignificant is that this series comes from a newspaper whose newsroom has been gutted by layoffs in recent years. Yet, the Southtown Star saw an opportunity to connect local efforts to an international story that’s fallen from the public eye but is every bit as urgent as it was two years ago. The paper made a significant investment to send these two journalists to Haiti for five days. The journalists stepped into harm’s way at times, witnessed the horror of extreme poverty, and also chronicled hope for better days.

Vickroy’s heroic series of stories was a runner-up, and ordinarily could have won a competition like this. But in this case, judges felt that Marton’s Pulitzer-quality photos were so compelling that they merited singular attention.

Thank you to the Southtown Star for seeing the value and importance of this story. Congratulations to Matt Marton, and thank you for the reminder of why most of us became journalists – to tell stories like this, and to make a difference in the world.

See this series at the Southtown Star website

Matt Marton’s blog

Fall Conference features watchdog, nostalgia, awards

NINA’s 50th anniversary celebration features lots of nostalgia, a respected government watchdog and our annual awards presentation – including a special journalism prize worth $1,000 to the winner.

The Fall Conference will be held Thursday evening, Oct. 18, at the Northern Illinois University Convocation Center in DeKalb. The keynote speaker is Andy Shaw, longtime Chicago newspaper and TV news reporter and currently president and CEO of the Better Government Association.

“Andy Shaw has long been one of Chicago’s most prominent journalists — in television and print before that,” said Dirk Johnson, NINA executive secretary. “He now shines a bright light on the unsavory and shadowy in Illinois government. NINA is honored to welcome him in discussing the role of journalists in watching the foxes near the chicken coops.”

Shaw spent 37 years covering politics, business and education and general assignments for City News Bureau, the Chicago Sun-Times, NBC 5 and ABC 7. He was ABC 7’s political reporter, retiring after the Obama inauguration in 2009. He’s an Evanston native and an alumnus of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The BGA “works for integrity, transparency, and accountability in government by exposing corruption and inefficiency; identifying and advocating effective public policy; and engaging and mobilizing the electorate to achieve authentic and responsible reform,” according to its mission statement. The association’s Investigative Unit tackles waste, fraud and corruption in local and state government, and publicizes the results through local media partnerships.

Special guests and a multimedia presentation will look back on NINA’s 50-year history, beginning with its founding in 1962 by Dr. Donald Grubb, founder of the NIU journalism department.

Judging is complete and we’ll award the annual winners in 23 categories for both daily and nondaily publications. Plus, we’ll announce the winner of the NINA Excellence in Journalism Award. This special contest rewards what our judges panel considers the best single work of journalism over the past year. The winner gets $1,000 in cash from NINA.

The dinner is being subsidized this year both by NINA and by the NIU Department of Communication. That means the evening’s cost, including dinner and program, is just $15 a person for NINA members and employees of member publications. Registration deadline is Friday, Oct. 5. Register HERE.


NINA 2012 Fall Conference

50th Anniversary Celebration
Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012
NIU Convocation Center
1525 W. Lincoln Highway
DeKalb, Illinois


6 p.m. Cash bar

7 p.m. Dinner

7:45 p.m. Keynote speaker Andy Shaw

8:15 p.m. Awards

Cost: $15 for NINA members and employees of member publications. $25 for nonmembers. Payable at the door. Please register by Friday, Oct. 5.

Parking is free in the NIU Convocation Center lot.

For more information, call 815-753-0707.

Editors and publishers: We can tell you in advance who from your staff won awards, but we can’t tell you what place they won.

NINA future: Your ideas wanted

2012 NINA President

As we draw closer to NINA’s Fall Conference and celebration of its 50th anniversary, work still is being done to keep NINA relevant for another 50 years.

You might recall that in this space earlier this year I announced that a task force was going to tackle an examination of our organization. Task force members include myself, Sauk Valley Media Executive Editor Larry Lough, Ottawa Times Managing Editor Lonny Cain, Suburban Life Publications Publisher Mark Colosimo, former Northern Star Adviser Jim Killam, The Observer Features Editor Sharon Boehlefeld, Kane County Chronicle Editor Kathy Gresey and Rock Island Argus Managing Editor Roger Ruthhart.

The goal: Determine what NINA is, what it wants to be and how its structure can better reflect the organization’s membership and mission. To this point, discussions have focused on the following areas:


The amount of money media organizations spend has been cut. The number of editors and reporters in newsrooms has been cut. With no money and fewer people, training has taken a backseat. We’re examining ways to develop meaningful training and make sure people receive that training. One possibility is to bring our training sessions to members. Another possibility is more webinars. What do you think?


It is becoming more difficult to for media organizations to find quality journalists coming out of college. That’s partly because it’s becoming more difficult for college newspapers buy personal narrative essay to find students interested in journalism. We’re examining ways to get more involved in journalism education at the high school level.


Socializing and making connections with peers in our industry also has taken a hit as newsroom budgets have decreased. Networking, however, can help spur the sharing of ideas, the recruiting of talent and the building of friendships. We’d like to bring networking back to our business.


As government continues its assault on the state’s revised Freedom of Information Act, it’s clear many public officials would rather do the public’s business without the public interfering. We’d like to take a larger role in advocacy of issues pertaining to journalism and serve as a watchdog.


Each year, it seems the same handful of member organizations are the only ones to enter NINA’s annual contest to recognize outstanding journalism. We are looking at ways to make the NINA contest relevant and increase participation.

The task force is scheduled to have an all-day meeting Sept. 28 to tackle these issues. It is our goal to have our work done – or nearly done – before the Fall Conference on Oct. 18. If you have any ideas that fall into five areas, please email them to me for consideration.

Jason Schaumburg is executive editor of Sun-Times Media’s Pioneer Press newspapers and websites. If you would like to weigh in on the future of NINA, email Jason at

J foundations to university presidents: Wake up

Six foundations have urged university presidents to get on the ball in re-inventing their journalism programs to fit the needs of the 21st century. Here’s the line that ought to get their attention:

Schools that do not update their curriculum and upgrade their faculties to reflect the profoundly different digital age of communication will find it

difficult to raise money from foundations interested in the future of news.

See the Poynter post here.