NPR reporter speaks for Journalism Day

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.” Millions of radio listeners hear those words at the closing of certain national news reports. And on Thursday (March 31), WIU students got to hear them in person, as Corley delivered the keynote speech for Journalism Day at WIU.

With a laptop onstage in the University Union Sandburg Lounge, Corley, a national desk reporter for NPR’s Chicago bureau, played for the audience one of her recent pieces, from the series of seven stories called Youths And Gun Violence: Chicago’s Challenge, that aired and was featured on NPR.org last week.

(more, below the photo)

photo of Cheryl Corley speaking at podium


After playing the feature about the young men in Chicago who participated in a program called BAM (Becoming a Man), Corley explained that, in order to develop the series, the reporters who worked on it had to develop a sense of trust with the subjects who were interviewed. The series took several weeks to report, she said, and over the process of her interviews, at least one young man admitted to her that he had shot at, but never hit, another person.

In her reportage on “Getting To Chicago’s Boys Before Gangs Do,” Corley noted that

The 13- and 14-year-old BAM members know many their age that have joined gangs.

At least 15 students who attend Chicago Public Schools have died by gunfire during this school year. The number is higher for kids who are either dropouts or go to other types of schools.

Chicago police report that the number of school-aged children shot to death in 2010 was 70. More than half of those were gang-related.

Each year, WIU’s Journalism Day, co-sponsored by the English and journalism department and Western’s Society of Professional Journalists, features noted members of the profession who speak about their careers. Corley, who began her career in nearby Peoria, Ill., described the current state of journalism as “a world of turmoil, but also innovation.” She delivered an overview of how NPR member stations and the overall nonprofit news organization brings news to listeners via bureaus around the country and the world. She explained that even though she is based in Chicago, she covers news in as many as 12 states.

“That means that I get up at 5 a.m. and I read 12 newspapers,” she said. “It might not be fun,” she said with a laugh, “but I can tell you what’s happening in Missouri.”

Corley also briefly addressed criticism of NPR for being “elitist” or having a liberal bias, as well as recent controversy surrounding the recent firing of NPR’s CEO, stressing that the values of public journalism are to be accurate and balanced, and to “provide a voice for “voices that don’t always get to be heard in a wider medium.”

Corley talked about the importance of the intimacy of the human voice and the rich use of sound in public radio. But even as NPR.org continues to grown into a multimedia organization with streaming sound, offering podcasts and other rich archives via the web, Corley stressed that in that changing face of journalism, the public radio journalist’s duties remain the same: “…being fair, taking rigorous steps to be accurate, … proving diverse perspectives in a narrative way.”

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Award-winning research: a family tradition

One of the high school students featured in a story on WSIL-TV yesterday (March 28) is pretty lucky when it comes to having a dad who can help with homework, so to speak.

WSIL, a TV station in southern Illinois, profiled some of best high school students in the state, who had gathered at Southern Illinois University over the past weekend for the 33rd Annual Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. One of those students was Macomb High School senior Prem Thottumkara. As the story explains, students delivered presentations based on their summer research projects and a written thesis, and one rule for the symposium was that “students must conduct their experiments and research under the watchful eye of a mentor.” This student didn’t have to look too far to find a scientist who could guide his work. Prem happens to be the son of WIU chemistry professor Vinod Thottumkara (who goes by T.K. Vinod). As the story says,

Thottumkara said he is glad that his mentor is his father because it makes asking questions an easy task, even if the answer is not what he wants to hear. “I can say, “hey dad, how does this work?” and he’s quick to give me a response and even when there’s something he knows I should know yet, he’ll say “this is advanced organic chemistry, you don’t need to know this yet” Thottumkara said.

And Prem’s participation in the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium is just another chapter in the family history of father-son collaboration. Professor T.K. Vinod even earned a patent on a project that was initially sparked by his elder son during a junior high school project. Learn more about Professor Vinod here.

picture of Professor T.K. Vinod with his son and other students

Professor T.K. Vinod with his son Arun and other students (2005)