LEFT: Linda Jones, an associate professor of journalism at Roosevelt University in Chicago, is the new executive director of the Illinois Journalism Education Association. Jones, who is also a member of the Illinois Press Foundation Board, has been teaching at the university since 1992. (Photo submitted by Linda Jones) RIGHT: Outgoing IJEA Executive Director Sally Renaud speaks after accepting an award from the organization at its annual luncheon June 1 at the Illinois Press Association/Foundation headquarters in Springfield. (Photo courtesy of Dave Porreca)
By CHRISTOPHER HEIMERMAN
For the Illinois Press Association
SPRINGFIELD – College journalism has not been immune to the effects of the state budget impasse that lasted from 2015 to 2017 and the ongoing fiscal crisis in Illinois.
Eastern Illinois University has been the home for the Illinois Journalism Education Association headquarters since the organization was founded in 1988. There, staff reductions and enrollment dips have taken a toll.
Sally Renaud has been the IJEA’s executive director since 2005. Then, about 15 full-time faculty at EIU handled classes, advising and outreach to the industry. Today, that number has been whittled to six by retirements and downsizing over the years.
“When the faculty got smaller – because of the budget impasse and other things – we just couldn’t continue to do these things anymore,” she said.
So, the IJEA headquarters needed to be moved.
Thank goodness Renaud’s fellow Illinois Press Foundation Board member, Linda Jones, was waiting in the wings. Jones took the reins as executive director June 1, as IJEA moved its headquarters to the Illinois Press Association’s office in Springfield.
“Some things had to go here, and it’s sad,” Renaud said, “but I believe this is a great way to move it to the next step. We value everything the [Illinois Press Foundation] does.”
IPA President and Chief Executive Officer Sam Fisher said Jones, who teaches at Roosevelt University in Chicago, will be in Springfield about once a month, and the move will open even more doors to collaboration.
"It's just going to create a closer relationship," Fisher said. "I'm glad we'll be able to be even more involved than we were before."
Fisher saw the power of IJEA firsthand in November during a conference in Chicago, where the Illinois Press Foundation was named a Friend of Scholastic Journalism by the national Journalism Education Association. At the same conference, Renaud was honored with the prestigious Pioneer Award.
“She’s a really humble person, but she’s done an amazing job; [IJEA] is such a dynamic bunch," Fisher said of Renaud and the organization. "There were literally hundreds of kids there. It was amazing to see the number of students and educators that scholastic journalism is touching."
A feature mentality
Jones spent most of her 13 years in newspapers as an editor, and taught a feature-writing class this past year at Roosevelt University, where she’s molded young minds since 1992.
She teaches her students that a feature-forward mentality is the keystone of effective writing.
She said many students resist anecdotal, colorful ledes, for fear of burying the facts.
“You sort of have to talk them down from that,” she said. “You can’t write like a wire service. If you’re going to write for a local paper like that, you’re not going to be read. It’s got to be interesting.”
She leans on tips for making hard facts easy reading, most effectively shared by Roy Peter Clark, the vice president and senior scholar at the Poynter Institute. Right off the top? Translate jargon for the reader, he advises.
“I still use that stuff,” Jones said. “It’s not enough to just report what a committee did. The story’s not there. The story is in what they did and how it affects real people.”
Jones marvels at the glassy-eyed stares she gets when she pays the advice forward. And then finals week wraps up.
“You get the click factor,” she said. “Going into the last two weeks of class, you think they’re never going to get it, and then they do.”
The transition of emphasis from print to digital has been challenging, she said, adding that just two of 35 of her students in a class this past semester read papers - and they’d predominantly read it for sports coverage. It’s a far cry from her upbringing, when her family got two papers: one in the morning and one in the evening.
“It was considered important to read the newspaper every day,” Jones said.
“Today, it’s not a routine,” Renaud added.
Jones clings to that mindset by giving papers to her students, giving them about 10 minutes and then asking what they found interesting or, often more importantly, what they found discardable.
She said with many schools, particularly in Chicago, no longer having access to a printing press, many teachers have been told they must transition to online.
Unfortunately, many teachers don’t have that skill set, so training is a key role for IJEA.
The organization’s board voted unanimously Feb. 23 that moving to Springfield and putting Jones at the helm was a way to bolster that training and outreach.
‘Mutual Admiration Society’
Renaud said both she and Jones are card-carrying members of that group.
“I could not ask this organization to be in better hands - perfect hands,” Renaud said of Jones.
Renaud has enjoyed paying her story forward over the years. At age 24, she had her daughter and realized she’d have to adapt.
“It was hard to be a sports editor with a baby,” she said. “I had to change my whole career because of a child."
So she got into education.
“I loved advising student media,” she said.
Renaud succeeded IJEA’s executive director, James Tidwell, in January 2005 and didn’t look back.
Under Renaud’s direction, IJEA has teamed with the Illinois High School Association to create an annual statewide onsite contest. She’s also helped create an All-State Journalism Team and training partnership with the IPF, as well as the James A. Tidwell Award for outstanding advising.
She also helped with the passage of the Speech Rights for Scholastic Journalism Act in 2016.
With expert timing, the National Scholastic Press Association awarded Renaud with the Pioneer Award at the JEA/NSPA conference Nov. 3 in Chicago. The Pioneer is the highest honor NSPA awards to journalism educators.
“These Pioneers represent the best of the best in the country,” NSPA Executive Director Laura Widmer said in a news release from the IPF.
Pioneers are individuals who make substantial contributions to high school journalism programs and scholastic journalism education outside their primary employment.
With that honor in tow, Renaud can look back on her career with utmost fondness. More importantly, though, she’s looking forward.
“Linda is someone who has supported high school journalism all of her career,” Renoud said. “She’s going to do a tremendous job.”