The Public Affairs Reporting program of the University of Illinois at Springfield is a master's degree program with a professional orientation. The program’s goal is to prepare students to become working journalists covering the issues of importance to their communities.
The Bill Miller Public Affairs Reporting Hall of Fame was established in 2006, by Illinois Issues magazine and WUIS public radio. The Hall recognizes graduates who have had distinguished careers in journalism that embody the program's goals and that reflect the ideals of Bill Miller, an award-winning journalist who served as the program’s director for 19 years.
Nina Burleigh Class of 1982 – 1983
Nina is a 1983 graduate of the PAR program, is a journalist and the author of five books. She writes the weekly Bombshell column at the New York Observer. Her last book, The Fatal Gift of Beauty, was a New York Times bestseller. In the last several years, she has covered a wide array of subjects, including American politics, the Arab Spring, Israeli archaeological forgers, Iraq war veterans and drug addiction, Arab feminism, Iraqi immigrants to Nebraska, the NYPD and human trafficking in New York City, Nazi looted art at the Museum of Modern Art, a small-town Italian mayor murdered over slow food politics, Arctic travel, Chinese immigrants to Italy, and expat life in Italy. She covered the Clinton White House for Time and wrote human interest stories for People magazine as a staff writer based in New York in the '00s. She has written for numerous publications including Businessweek, The New Yorker, the New York Times and New York Magazine, is a contributing editor at Elle and has appeared on Good Morning America, Nightline, The Today Show, 48 Hours, MSNBC, CNN and, on NPR and many radio programs.
Jim Prather Class of 1979 – 1980
Jim began his career as a government reporter for WICS-TV in Springfield. He later went to work as a government reporter for KARK-TV in Little Rock, where he covered the Bill Clinton-Frank White gubernatorial campaign and the ensuing Clinton administration. His career grew as he moved through the ranks from reporter to his current role with the Journal Broadcast Group. In July 2005, Prather was named executive vice president for the television and radio operations of Journal Broadcast Group. He now oversees radio and television station clusters in Boise and Tucson, and a TV duopoly in Palm Springs. In addition, Prather supervises news and marketing brand strategy for all TV stations in the Journal Broadcast Group portfolio. Jim Prather holds a bachelor of science degree in radio-television from SIU Carbondale,
and a master of arts degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield in 1980.
Jim Webb Class of 1986 - 1987
Jim is the editor for a Chicago Tribune investigative team focused on state and local government. Prior to that, he was the paper’s Illinois political editor from mid-2005 to mid-2010. In addition to supervising daily coverage of Chicago City Hall, Cook County and Illinois state government for five years, Webb oversaw state and local campaign coverage for the paper. During that time, he was the lead editor for the newspaper’s investigations of pay-to-pay politics involving former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, hiring corruption under then-Mayor Richard Daley and influence peddling involving City Hall zoning. Prior to joining the Tribune, Webb spent 18 years as a reporter, desk supervisor and news editor for the Associated Press. After receiving a B.A. in journalism from Bradley University, Webb interned with the AP at the Illinois Statehouse as part of the master’s program in Public Affairs Reporting at the University of Illinois-Springfield. Jim is a 1987 graduate of the PAR program.
Susan Cornwell, Class of 1978-79
Susan Cornwell has been a working journalist for more than three decades and in several countries around the world. She has interviewed pivotal world leaders such as former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and written the first draft of history in Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika-era Soviet Union. Cornwell has reported on U.S. policies and politics from Washington, where she has followed events on Capitol Hill, at the White House and the State Department. In 1996, Susan won the Merriman Smith award for presidential reporting on a deadline, which is given to one journalist a year by the White House Correspondents’ Association. She is currently a Capitol Hill correspondent for Reuters, focusing mainly on foreign policy. Cornwell received her professional start in Illinois, working briefly as a copy clerk for the Alton Telegraph, followed by her first full-time reporting job at the Springfield State Journal-Register.
Barbara Hipsman, Class of 1977-78
Since 1987, Barbara Hipsman has been an associate professor of journalism and mass communication at Kent State University, Kent, Ohio, where she received the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1996. Previously, she was an assistant professor at Bradley University in Peoria for three years and worked as statehouse bureau chief for The News Democrat (Belleville) for six years. Hipsman is active with Capitolbeat, the national association of Capitol reporters and editors, as a judge, facilitator and presenter at national meetings. She remains current on journalistic trends, using sabbaticals spent at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chicago Tribune, Arizona Daily Republic and Columbus Dispatch to study the effects of convergence, varying ownership, and unionization. This spring Hipsman will study cell phone usage in news gathering.
John O’Connor, Class of 1985-86
John O’Connor has been an Illinois state Capitol reporter for The Associated Press since 1998, focusing on a variety of enterprising and investigative pieces. He is the 2010 winner of the $10,000 Oliver S. Gramling Journalism Achievement Award from the AP for a year-long body of work that included reports on a secret early prison-release program that nearly cost Gov. Pat Quinn the primary election and forced changes in state laws requiring minimum sentences. Other articles included a report on the gaping racial disparity in school discipline that inspired a state legislative task force, and an article on salary increases given to Quinn’s top staff—some topping 20 percent —during a budget crisis, that had prompted the governor to announce extra furlough days for all state workers. He was given the specialist byline “AP Political Writer” in 2005 for consistently breaking stories. Prior to working with the AP, O’Connor was a journalist at several Illinois newspapers, most recently the State Journal-Register (Springfield), The Pantagraph (Bloomington-Normal) and The Daily Herald (Arlington Heights). O’Connor is a native of Freeport, Illinois.
Mary Bohlen, Class of 1976-77
She is in her 25th year of teaching journalism at the University of Illinois at Springfield (formerly Sangamon State University). She is associate professor and chair of the Communication Department, overseeing nine full faculty members, six adjunct instructors and nearly 200 undergraduate and graduate students. In 2008 she received the university’s Pearson Faculty Award for Teaching, and she is the recipient of a national teaching award for journalism ethics from the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Following her PAR studies, Mary was employed by United Press International (UPI) full time as a Statehouse reporter for five years, covering Illinois state government, especially the Illinois Senate, LPGA golf tournaments, Big Ten football, primary and general elections, federal and state court cases, as well as writing numerous features throughout Illinois. She left UPI in 1982 to become press secretary for the Illinois Senate Democrats and began her teaching career in 1983. She is a co-founder of the Springfield-area Association for Women in Journalism and a past president of the Springfield-area Women in Communications.
Kevin Finch, Class of 1985-86
He is a national Edward R. Murrow Award-winning broadcast journalist with 23 years of experience in radio and TV news. Kevin has been the news director at WISH-TV, the CBS affiliate in Indianapolis, a Top 25 market, since early 2007. He also served as assistant news director there, following 13 years at the NBC affiliate in Indianapolis. Early in his career, he covered news for radio and TV stations in Morton, Peoria, Springfield and Champaign. Throughout his career, Kevin has reported on major political events, serving as executive producer and organizer for 15 election nights and 10 televised political debates for U.S. Senate, governor and other offices. He has covered four national political conventions, a presidential inauguration and the Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton. Kevin guided coverage from Washington following 9/11 and covered the anniversary of that event in New York a year later. He also produced reports from Washington at the start of the current war in Iraq. He is the recipient of numerous national and regional awards.
Ray Long, Class of 1980-81
For the better part of a quarter-century, Ray has written about Illinois government and politics. He is a reporter in the Chicago Tribune’s Statehouse bureau, where he has worked since 1998. Previously he ran the AP bureau in Springfield. Ray also covered Mayor Richard M. Daley, City Hall, local courts, Cook County Board and state government for the Chicago Sun-Times and worked local, state and federal beats for the Peoria Journal Star. Currently, he is president of the Illinois Legislative Correspondents Association and is a founding member of Capitolbeat, formerly known as the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, a nationwide organization promoting excellence in state government coverage. His experience includes writing about numerous scandals, questionable public spending, massive budgets, ethical lapses of government figures and major legislative issues under four governors, including one sentenced to prison. Long has received local, state and national awards for spot news, enterprise, investigative reporting and news analysis from numerous organizations. including the Chicago Headline Club, The Associated Press, the Illinois Valley Press Club, the Illinois Press Association, and the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors.
Kathleen Best, class of 1979-80
She joined The Sun in Baltimore in 2005. As assistant managing editor of Sunday, national and foreign news, she directed the paper's coverage of Hurricane Katrina and helped shape the reporting on issues surrounding the war in Iraq. Previously a reporter and editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, she covered the Illinois Statehouse then moved to that paper's Washington, D.C., bureau in 1992. Best also spent five years as an editor at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Bill Lambrecht, class of 1972-73
He is chief of the Washington, D.C., bureau for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and has been a national correspondent for that newspaper since the 1980s. Starting in his student days with the PAR program's first class, he has specialized in politics and the environment. He has been on the campaign trail for every presidential election since 1984 and has written extensively on the global politics of biotechnology and the politics of water.