by Jamey Dunn
When I started working at the state Capitol as a Public Affairs Reporting intern, I never would have imagined that I would be writing this column.
A key point in the PAR program comes in the fall when the interns are matched with their bureaus. It is exciting and nerve-wracking. Classmates and friends become competitors. Who will end up at the Chicago metro papers? Who will the Associated Press pick? While many of my classmates dreamed of the fast-paced atmosphere of a daily paper’s Statehouse bureau, I had a clear top choice in my sights: Illinois Issues.
The opportunity to write thoughtful long-form stories on state government and the issues affecting Illinoisans was a prospect I did not want to miss. I was elated when I found out I would spend my internship with the magazine, and the reality of the job did not disappoint. Covering Illinois government was thrilling, and there was so much to learn every day. Former Illinois Issues Statehouse Bureau Chief Bethany Jaeger was a stellar reporter and is a wonderful mentor.
When Bethany decided to move on to a new career, I was lucky enough to return to the magazine as bureau chief and got to cover such interesting political developments as the abolition of the death penalty, the passage of sweeping education reforms and the legalization of same-sex marriage. There is always something new to learn, and I am striving to learn it. I am one of those fortunate people who truly loves her job and is excited to come to work every day. (Well, nearly every day. I am still human.)
I also get the annual privilege of supervising a PAR intern through each spring legislative session. Working with them and seeing their talents grow has been one of the most rewarding parts of the job.
Now my role with Illinois Issues is shifting yet again as I step into the position of interim executive editor. It is an opportunity I am deeply grateful for and one that I do not take lightly.
In the position, I will help guide the magazine through some exciting new developments. Illinois Issues will be merging with WUIS, the public radio station also based at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Regular readers may have noticed that both Statehouse Bureau Chief Amanda Vinicky and Statehouse Reporter Brian Mackey have contributed feature stories to Illinois Issues in the past, and I suspect many of our readers are already fans of WUIS’ top-notch Statehouse coverage.
Former Illinois Issues executive editor Peggy Boyer Long once called the magazine a “monthly miracle” in this column. I am not sure that the publication of each issue quite reaches the level of pulling off the supernatural, but sometimes it feels pretty close. Our small and dedicated staff works incredibly hard to bring Illinois Issues to you each month. It truly is a labor of love that requires from each of them long hours, creativity and talent for making the most of every resource we have.
By joining forces with WUIS, Illinois Issues will gain access to a wider range of resources. The move will allow the magazine to greatly improve its online offerings and reach new readers over the airwaves. We will have the capacity to do more long-range planning, tackle special projects and hold outreach events, such as public forums.
The merger plan is not about saving money, and both entities will maintain their own identities and brands. We have similar missions and already work together regularly on an informal basis. By formally combining our efforts, we can set goals together and work on a common strategy as a premier source of public affairs news in print, on the radio and online.
Former executive editor Dana Heupel worked with the Illinois Issues staff and contributors to make the magazine’s stories strong and compelling. A redesign and the addition of full color during his time as editor made reading each issue a far more aesthetically pleasing experience.
Now it is time to work on our presence online. While the Illinois Issues blog remains a key source for timely Statehouse coverage, it is in need of an upgrade to a new more functional platform. Monthly content can be found at our website, but the page is static and needs updating. We have a presence on social media, but we want to do more to engage readers in dialogue online. We hope to bring stories to you where you want to read them, beyond the print edition.
As we move forward, I want to assure you that Illinois Issues will not leave behind the core principles on which it was founded. Our new strategic plan, which was created under Dana’s supervision over the past year, came with a new mission statement: “Illinois Issues provides a forum for balanced and in-depth analysis of public affairs to empower citizens and decision-makers to make informed decisions that enhance public policy.”
While new, the statement encapsulates the essential identity that the magazine has had since the beginning as a source for informative, nonbiased coverage of the issues that matter to you. As Statehouse reporting dwindles, and the news generally becomes more opinionated and fragmented, what we do is important now more than ever.
I want to say thank-you to the longtime readers and the “charter subscribers,” who have been with us since the first issue in 1975. We will be thinking of you in all the decisions that we make as this merger progresses. Your civic interest and desire for in-depth reporting is why we do what we do. We are proud of the fact that our readers are well-educated, influential and invested in the future of our state.
We will also be thinking of the young people who are just becoming interested in or getting involved with state government and public policy. They need the information and analysis that we offer to prepare them on their way to becoming the decision-makers of tomorrow.
Finally, I want to stress that we intend to put thought and time into any changes we make. None of us are fans of change simply for the sake of it, and we all feel that the content the magazine currently has to offer is high quality and important.
Of course, you have a role in our future, too. If you like something we are doing, please let us know. What do you find interesting? What do you find useful? If we try something out that you don’t think is worthwhile or that you think could be tweaked to be better, we want to hear about it.
As you read this or shortly after, we will have moved to offices at WUIS’ studios on campus. But for now, you can reach us at:
University of Illinois at Springfield
One University Plaza MS HRB 10
Springfield, Illinois 62703-5407.
Our main line is 217-206-6084, and the primary email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illinois Issues, June 2014