Register now for annual awards banquet

Please join Northern Illinois journalists Thursday, Oct. 20, for Northern Illinois Newspaper Association’s annual Fall Banquet. The special evening will include dinner, drinks, networking, awards ceremony and keynote speaker  Dann Gire, film critic for the Daily Herald. We hope to see you there!

Register online or call Shelley Hendricks at 815-753-4239.


When: Thursday, Oct. 20
Where: University Suite, Holmes Student Center
Cost: $25, NINA members; $35, nonmembers

5:30 to 6:30 p.m.: Cash bar
6:30 to 7:15 p.m.: Dinner
7:15 to 8 p.m.: Keynote
8 to 9 p.m. Awards ceremony


Candidate coverage and more discussed during ‘Tales From the Trail’ program in DeKalb

Jim Webb (left), a former political editor for the Chicago Tribune who is now with the public relations firm Serafin & Associates, and Chuck Sweeny (center), senior political editor for the Rockford Register Star, were panelists during the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association’s “Tales From the Trail” training program, which took place June 16 in DeKalb.


DEKALB – The Northern Illinois Newspaper Association hosted its annual spring training program June 16 at the Northern Illinois University Campus Life Building in DeKalb.

“Tales From the Trail” was the title of the program, which examined how the media covers elections.

The event was broken down into three sections: the first exploring how hard it is to write an engaging and fair election-based story and how election coverage is changing with the shifting political and media landscapes; the second discussing what the press does well when covering politics and where it falls short; and the third delving into how digital coverage of elections is evolving and what effective strategies are for using various social media platforms in election coverage.

Panelist Jim Webb, a former political editor for the Chicago Tribune who is now with the public relations firm Serafin & Associates, noted that lending context to political stories can help media outlets stand out in a world markedly different from the past – a world where, because of advancements in technology, “everyone is in the wire service.”

“It’s an incredibly challenging environment,” he said. “How do you make a difference for your readers? I would argue that you add context.”

Fellow panelist Chuck Sweeny, senior political editor for the Rockford Register Star, discussed how he took two road trips as part of covering the 2004 presidential contest between George W. Bush and John Kerry.

While on the trips, he asked regular people what they thought about that election. And during the training program, he contrasted the road trips with having covered multiple GOP and Democratic national conventions (first noting to laughs from the audience that “the Republicans have better booze” at those conventions).

“I went to places that were obscure and places that were well-known, like the St. Louis Arch,” Sweeny said of the two trips that he took. “I think that ended up as better stories than going to a convention where I’m doing the same thing 150,000 others are doing.”

Professor Matthew Streb, chair of the NIU Department of Political Science, and Bill Catching, a former journalist and current supervisor for Aurora Township and spokesperson for the mayor of Aurora, joined Webb for the second part of the training program.

While discussing where the media excels and where it is lacking, Streb said, “In general, I think the media gets a bum wrap. … At the end of the day, people get the information that they need from the news media to make decisions.”

But, he noted, journalists should be cautious of falling into the 24-hour news cycle, recommending that they often take a step back to ask themselves whether a particular event or happening actually matters in the long run.

Catching, meanwhile, answered a question from the audience about what journalists might not realize about elected officials, to which he answered that the vast majority of politicians are human; that it can be difficult for them to campaign; that – as part of campaigning – they often have to request money from their friends and others; that they are not all narcissists, as many of them want to help; and that they work hard.

Roger Ruthhart, president of the NINA Board and managing editor of The Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and Nicole Franz, who has served as a digital editor for the Northwest Herald, led the final part of the program.

Ruthhart used a projector to show the audience a new electronic database for candidates that his operation was creating, while Franz discussed utilizing new digital tools such as ScribbleLive for election reporting.

“I think as we try and figure out how to do more with less people and also present more information digitally … that’s one thing we’re working on,” Ruthhart said of the candidate database he presented. “I challenge you all to look for ways that we can do our reporting smarter and easier, and maybe better.”

NINA kicks off annual contest with new categories

The Northern Illinois Newspaper Association is accepting entries for its annual news competition, which this year includes four new categories.

Contest organizers have added categories for Best Niche Publication, Best Watchdog Reporting, Best Use of Social Media by an Individual and Best Use of Social Media. Although no categories have been eliminated, the submission information for some long-standing categories — Best Special Section, Best In-depth News Story and Best In-depth News Story Series — has been revised. Please read directions, rules and category information carefully. As in years past, entries will be submitted online as PDFs or JPGs with a few exceptions, which simply will require URLs. Directions for submitting entries, contest rules and categories can be found at here or at the contest site. The deadline to submit entries is 11:59 p.m. Friday, July 29, 2016.

The contest is open to NINA members only. Contact communications coordinator Shelley Hendricks at 815-753-4239 or for answers to questions about membership or about entering the contest.

Finally, don’t forget to mark your calendars now for the annual NINA fall conference and awards ceremony scheduled for Thursday evening, Oct. 20, 2016, at Northern Illinois University. We look forward to seeing you there.

A look at election coverage

This election season promises to continue to be quite a wild ride. Join NINA and its panel of experts from journalism, government and academia for a hard look at how the media covers elections. What do we do well? Where do we fall short? How can we cope with shifting political and media platforms? See flier for details.


Watchdog reporting seminar in May

Mid-America Press Institute and Investigative Reporters & Editors are teaming up for a Watchdog Journalism seminar Tuesday, May 24, at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Co-sponsored by the Journal Sentinel and the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, registration for the seminar is $25. Journalists can register by emailing MPI Executive Director John Ryan at

The one-day seminar will run from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and include lunch.

Alex Richards, an IRE trainer, will lead the seminar, which will center on using the Internet in deadline and long-term investigations.

Speakers sought for school journalism conference

The Northern Illinois School  Press Association is looking for speakers for its spring conference, which will be Friday, April 22, at College of DuPage.

Speakers are needed for its 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. sessions. Each session will be 50 minutes.  Speakers are welcome to present on multiple topics. However, space is limited, and speaking opportunities can’t be guaranteed.

Send your name, job titles and presentation topic or idea to Jason Block at


Board debates name change

The board is considering changing the name of NINA from “Northern Illinois Newspaper Association” to “Northern Illinois News Association.” Please read the following two arguments: the first in favor of changing the name, the second in favor of retaining the name. Please email Communications Coordinator Shelley Hendricks at if you would like to share your opinion.

Argument to change name

By Sharon Boehlefeld

More than 50 years ago, the chair of the Northern Illinois University Journalism Department, Donald Grubb, met with several regional newspaper editors to gauge interest in a professional association.

At that time, if the stories told to me by old timers at my hometown publisher in Rochelle, it was called the Northern Illinois Editorial Association. By the time I came to my first meeting, it was already the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association – familiarly known as NINA.

Back then, the big technology changes were the move from lead type to computer punch tape, from letterpress to offset printing. That shift to computer generated copy, to cut and paste in the literal sense, was tough on some people in the industry.

Today, as computerized processes have permeated the entire industry, those of us who still have a print product have long since moved on to work with other means of spreading the news. We work with digital video, audio and social media in its many forms. We are still producers of news, but we send it out in a variety of media.

Our association began as a way for editors to share knowledge and support each other. When the first name change came, I was told, it was because the editors’ understood every department in their papers – news, advertising, and the back shop – were important to success.

Since I’ve been on the board, we’ve narrowed our focus so that it has rested largely on the news again.

We have not eschewed our mission, to advance journalism and journalism education in northern Illinois.

But our media have changed.

We should acknowledge that our commitment to quality, credible and reliable news extends beyond the printed page.

By eliminating the “paper” from our name, we make obvious our support of  journalists and journalism in all forms.

We also give ourselves a chance to encourage broader membership and rejuvenate our association.

We don’t even have to give up our familiar acronym.

It’s time to become the Northern Illinois News Association.

Argument to retain name

By Roger Ruthhart

We all know that the role of our newsrooms is changing, but at the same time I think the general public understands that “newspapers” today are much more than ink on paper. We are online, mobile, on social media, niche publications and sites, and besides a variety of text reporting, we also report with graphics, maps, audio, video, slideshows and more. NINA has embraced these changes, both by accepting non-traditional members and by providing training programs that dive deep into new media.

The Northern Illinois Newspaper Association has a proud tradition dating back to 1962 and is a valued and recognized brand in the industry. We need a really good reason to tinker with that. Our current bylaws were amended in 2012 to admit “establishments and their duly accredited representatives engaged in publishing local news (changed from newspapers) in the 26 northern most counties of Illinois …”

In short, we are already able to do — and are doing — what those seeking a name change are trying to achieve. To me, much more important than the name is how we see and carry out our mission.

Many of these same arguments were made in 2012 when the bylaws were amended, but the board voted down a name change for many of these reasons. It was also noted at that time that “News Association” was far less descriptive and could be taken to be a wire service or a group that issues news releases.

Under our bylaws, it will require a two-thirds vote of board members present to change the name.

The role of newspapers will continue to evolve and change as will our role. But in the end what is important is our effort to identify and support professional and ethical presentation of the news. This is what makes newspapers, and those who contribute to them, different from a blogger in his mom’s basement or an untrained person sending out poorly written press releases. At the same time we should be happy to work with online publications, religious, ethnic and other special interest publications, government websites, and independent contractors of all kinds, whose missions share our same values. In some cases we already do.

Protecting these professional standards, and helping to train people to meet them, should be our continuing goal. That’s been the position of newspapers dating back to beforeNINA was formed. Being an organization of NEWSPAPERS tells everyone who cares that we support such professional standards.