Planning ahead is common theme at CJA back-to-school networking event

Advice, laughs and stories were plentiful on Thursday, Sept. 21 as three award-winning journalists recalled various reporting experiences during the Chicago Journalists Association’s second back-to-school networking event.

The Chicago Tribune’s Lolly Bowean and Jason Wambsgans along with WGN Radio’s Bill Moller addressed an intimate crowd of students and recent graduates at Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery about important skills they have learned, mistakes they made early in their careers and reporting binds.

“We have been fortunate to have some great journalist guests at each of our events, but I think the students really related well to this group,” said CJA associate board chairman Stephanie Choporis. “I learned a lot from them too.”

Chicago Tribune reporter Lolly Bowean (center) says she once incorrectly referred to Madison Street as Madison Ave. in a story. She advises students to fact check the small details beyond sources’ names.  Photo credit: Becky Yerak

Similar to previous networking events, the first part of the night featured mingling among journalists and students and ended with a Q & A discussion.

The laughter truly began a couple of questions into the discussion, when Wambsgans, who won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for feature photography, recounted an assignment when he forgot to bring a camera. He tried locating a disposable one and scoured the phone book for a wedding photographer, but to no avail.

“The reporter was going to murder me, but I stayed calm,” he said.

Things worked out in the end, but the situation taught Wambsgans an important lesson: to remain calm when problems arise.

His story prompted Bowean to advise the students to be resourceful. As a breaking news reporter, she explained how some situations don’t allow for a recorder or notebook to take notes. She said reporters need to have a plan for getting stories back to the newsroom if Wi-Fi is unavailable.

Other important talking points included arriving early and staying late for assignments, finding creative ways to tell stories and reporting in Chicago. Moller and Wambsgans think the city’s issues, such as the “extreme poverty” and “pockets of racism,” need to be portrayed and therefore make Chicago a good place for journalism.

Students and recent graduates listen intently as the journalists share their experiences. 
Photo credit: Stephanie Choporis

One of the final questions focused on underreported stories of which the journalists would like to see more. Bowean mentioned the inadequate coverage of different communities, from Indian Americans to Chinese Americans to people with disabilities.

Choporis said she would like to continue holding two seasonal networking events and sprinkle in workshops and other events throughout the year. The group’s next event will be a Google News Lab training session for professional and aspiring journalists on Saturday, Oct. 14.