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To DeKalb and beyond: How NIU news goes global

June 18, 2015

Collage of NIU news storiesMany people work behind the scenes to make sure Northern Illinois University is front and center.

That’s the case for NIU’s Office of Media and Public Relations.

“We want to raise the profile of the university and make people realize that NIU is involved in some very important and exciting research, teaching and artistry,” said Joe King, assistant director of NIU Media and Public Relations. “Anything that helps us gain positive attention for the university is a good thing.”

Along with Media and Public Relations Director Paul Palian and media relations specialists Tom Parisi and Mark McGowan, King is a champion for the university and its faculty.

“We have faculty creating new knowledge and making technical breakthroughs in all areas in every college across campus,” King said. “But no one is going to know that those things came from NIU unless we tell them.”

Parisi shared the sentiment.

“Great publicity for NIU typically begins with terrific faculty or student research,” Parisi said. “The press loves research findings that are surprising and or important.”

Parisi’s work on Antarctic research conducted by geology professors Ross Powell and Reed Scherer is just one of many NIU stories that have been picked up by media around the globe.

Other recent examples include:

  • Telepressure research by psychology professors Larissa Barber and Alecia Santuzzi;
  • Bad boy CEO” research by finance professor Adam Yore;
  • The unique “Game of Thrones” class taught by professors Jeff Chown and Valerie Garver; and
  • Thunderstorm research by NIU geography Ph.D. student Alex Haberlie and professors Walker Ashley and Thomas Pingel.

Telepressure!As a veteran journalist, Parisi has a unique perspective and understanding regarding what makes a story newsworthy.

And he’s not alone.

“Joe King, Mark McGowan and I all worked previously as journalists, so we have a good idea of what the press is looking for,” Parisi said.

The NIU writing team is passionate about making sure the university’s success stories aren’t a secret. King said part of the challenge is getting staff members to realize the importance of their work – and then the importance of telling others about it.

“We want people to see the value in getting their name out there. While there is no monetary reward for having a story go viral when you are a faculty member, there is value to being the public face of something,” King said.

From research on Antarctica to what happens to a company when the CEO behaves badly, NIU’s Media and Public Relations staff is ready to react.

“The research needs to be explained in a way that the press and public can easily understand,” Parisi said. “That’s where we enter the picture as writers who can find key aspects of a research story and explain it in a clear, accurate and interesting manner.”

And while their mission is to share NIU’s successes with the world, in turn, they suggest faculty share in their zeal to get the word out.

“Consider part of your academic mission is to educate the public about what you are doing,” King said. “There is value in raising the profile of the university.”


  • Does your research change the world or alter the way we look at it? Medical breakthroughs, new inventions, unique artistry, a new take on an old topic or a controversial take on something new are all good bets to attract attention.
  • Is your research quirky or counterintuitive? Does it challenge the way people will think about your topic? Is it funny? Do you incorporate unusual teaching methods in the classroom? If so, your work has potential to draw a lot of attention. Media (and the public) love things that put an unusual twist on things.
  • Does your research or expertise pertain to something in the news or pop culture? If so, chances are media will be interested in speaking with you. Reporters are always looking for ways to better explain current events, and if you can shed some light on some aspect of a hot topic, they may want to speak with you – even if your research was conducted years ago.
  • Does your research elicit a “Wow!” from your family and friends? If so, chances are it will be of interest to a wider audience. It also probably means that you are good at making your topic accessible to a non-academic audience, which is a big plus!
  • Does your story have a human interest angle? Are your students working with an underserved population? Will your research improve the lives of the downtrodden? Are you working in an extreme environment? Does your research pertain to the daily lives of most people? People love stories about people, and reporters like such stories because they are relatable.
Professors Jeff Chown and Valerie Garver team-teach NIU’s Game of Thrones honors seminar.

Professors Jeff Chown and Valerie Garver team-teach
NIU’s Game of Thrones honors seminar.

Timing is critical for success, and faculty members need to keep in mind that sooner is better than later.

“Our office would like to know of any upcoming publications that might be newsworthy well in advance,” Parisi said. “When researchers have an exciting study accepted to a journal for future publication, that’s the time to give us a heads-up so we can consider whether or when to do a news story, and whether it will need the support of our highly talented web, graphics, video, photography and social media experts.”

King shared the sentiment.

“There is a lot of preparation that goes into starting the chain reaction that leads to big publicity,” King said.

It is not only research that can attract media attention, the writers said. Unusual classes, unique class projects, partnerships with real-world businesses and organizations are just a few examples of things that can attract media attention.

Of course, not every class or piece of research lends itself to publicity. However, the Office of Media and Public Relations staff is happy to talk with faculty to help evaluate the newsworthiness of their work. Each writer works with a specific college and can be contacted via email or by phone.

  • Parisi works with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: (815) 753-3635.
  • King works with the College of Business and the College of Health and Human Sciences: (815) 753-4299.
  • McGowan works with the College of Education and the College of Visual and Performing Arts: (815) 753-9472.
  • Palian works with the College of Law and the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology: (815) 753-7346.

For more information, call (815) 753-1681.

by Jane Donahue