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“The People behind the Papers” is a Q&A series featuring the employees of 22nd Century Media who play an integral role in producing 15 community newspapers. The project is designed to give readers an inside look at the personalities that drive the journalism you have read weekly in print and daily on our websites. To support the work we do, please consider subscribing at SubscribePrairie.com or through any of our other 14 newspapers.
What do you do at 22nd Century Media?
I am the editor of The Lake Forest Leader. Every week, I spend hours researching story ideas, figuring out how to tell a story with that idea, utilize any resources available to me — such as my team of freelancers and members of the community — to craft that story and turn it into something that the community will respond to and, most importantly, make The Lake Forest Leader a quality product that the community can be proud of and that they love to share with their friends and neighbors. I also make sure our website, LakeForestLeaderDaily.com, is updated with the latest news that Lake Forest and Lake Bluff care about.
What does your job at 22nd Century Media mean to you?
It means everything to me. I've only been here for eight months, and I can tell you that this is the single greatest job I have had in my adult life. I spent eight years at a paper in Iowa, which I loved, but it was time for me to move on. 22nd Century Media welcomed me with open arms and, in no time at all, I went from being the inexperienced new guy to someone who confidently puts out a quality newspaper every single week that I know my readers look forward to receiving every Thursday. I take my job very seriously, and I have been known to painstakingly go through my paper to make sure it is perfect.
What is the most memorable story you've written during your time here?
Believe it or not, this is extremely difficult to choose, despite the fact I've only been with 22nd Century Media for eight months. But I can confidently say that the one that has had the biggest impact was the mysterious suspension and resignation of a beloved middle school principal in Lake Forest. One day, I got a phone call at my desk from a teacher giving me a tip about a special school board meeting, where Tom Cardamone, the very popular principal at Deer Path Middle School, was mysteriously placed on leave and later resigned. School sources have been quiet as to what happened, with the only clue being an unidentified "teacher concern." I'm still following up on this case, and want to know what happened to Cardamone. I've developed several sources within the community — including a group of parents — who I have met with to try to determine what exactly is going on here.
What have you learned about the community you cover that you otherwise might not have known?
I never realized how caring the communities of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff were. I'm a North Shore native, but I had never even visited Lake Forest or Lake Bluff until I started at 22nd Century Media. It didn't take me long before I realized the huge hearts on the people in these communities. They welcomed me with open arms. They taught me different aspects of the community. They showed me everything that makes the community unique. I am now incredibly well-connected to these communities to the point where, when people learn who I am, the first thing out of their mouths is how much they love The Lake Forest Leader, with many people telling me they love seeing how much coverage there is and how in-depth it goes with its coverage. Obviously, that's not just attributed to me, but as the public face of the paper, it means a lot to me that the community cares so much.
What do you like to do for fun when you're not working?
I love watching movies and TV shows. I actually have a fairly large movie collection, with movies ranging from romantic comedies to horror, and everything in between. When I turned 30, I even set a goal for myself to watch 30 TV shows in their entirety (I made it through 24).
What's one thing even your co-workers probably don't know about you?
I have my own YouTube channel. I started it back in 2013 after I had an idea to record myself visiting the Iowa State Fair. It became popular among my friends and, for many years, I uploaded a wide variety of videos to the channel — anything from "vlogs" (video blogs) to fun trivia about me to serious stories about what I've been through in my life. The channel hasn't had a regular upload since 2017, but I still maintain it as an important part of who I am.
What is your perfect work lunch situation?
I love when, as an office, we decide to go somewhere unique for lunch. Oftentimes, we'll go out on our own somewhere, but there are days when someone says, "Hey, I'm going to this place. Who wants to come with?" I love these lunches, because they allow me to get to know my coworkers a little bit more than I would if we were in the office.
How are you riding out this COVID-19 pandemic?
Honestly, it's hard. I'm a very social person, and staying at home is really not good for that. I make do with what I can — watching YouTube videos, watching TV, going for walks, walking the dog — but I miss human interaction so much. I know it's the best method for stopping this virus, but that doesn't mean it's easy.
Anything else you want people to know?
I knew I wanted to go into journalism when I was 11 years old. I had written for school newspapers starting with The Avoca Tribune at Avoca West Elementary School, and continued all the way through junior high (The Voice of the Viking), New Trier High School (The Focus, The Sophomore Journal, The New Trier News), Simpson College (The Simpsonian) and now in my professional life, from The Messenger in Fort Dodge from May 31, 2011-July 25, 2019, through my current position at 22nd Century Media, which I've held since Aug. 1, 2019. Writing is my passion, and storytelling is an even bigger passion I have. I mentioned earlier that I'm a very social person. There's nothing I love more than going out into the community with my camera, meeting with people, having them tell me their stories, taking photos of them, and learning more about them and the community they love. I happily volunteer to cover stories that may not sound interesting, but I truly believe that every story is important, because if they're willing to share it, the story matters to somebody. But even more than that, my colleagues and I have become family. I've learned, in all my years of writing for newspapers — both school and professional — that journalists are a very close-knit group of people. I still talk to the student journalists who were on my high school newspaper team. We don't have an easy job, but it's my colleagues that help me get through the stressful times. In my almost nine years as a professional journalist, I've covered just about every story you can think of. Some of those stories have been the hardest I've ever had to work on. But any time I needed someone to talk to, even if it's about something personal that has nothing to do with my job, my colleagues have been there for me. Journalism may not be an easy job, but it is easily one of the most rewarding jobs on the planet. I've been tired after a long day of work. I've skipped meals in order to get assignments done. But never once have I regretted choosing journalism as my career.