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WNIJ reporters earn two Illinois Broadcast Awards for 2019

May 6, 2020

Two WNIJ news reporters have earned top awards in the Illinois Associated Press Broadcast News Contest for stories aired in 2019. Susan Stephens earned First Place as “Best Newswriter” while Sarah Jesmer earned Second Place in the “Best Reporter” category.

WNIJ staff celebrate their award winners with a Zoom watch party.

The awards were announced April 25 during a Facebook Live event held by the Illinois Associated Press Broadcasters Association (APBA). Thirty-one broadcasters submitted 254 entries in the contest, which featured news, sports and investigative reporting as well as features, documentaries and newswriting from 2019. The APBA is a not-for-profit news cooperative representing thousands of newspapers and broadcast stations in the United States.

Entries submitted for Stephens in the Best Newswriter category included: “NIU Students Remember Their Colleagues As Golden Hearts” and “Longtime Rockford Register Star Columnist, Political Editor Chuck Sweeny Dead At 70.”

The “Golden Hearts” story featured a ceremony held last April by NIU School of Business students to honor two of their own killed in an office shooting in Aurora Feb. 15, 2019, senior Trevor Wehner and alumnus Clay Parks. The story about Sweeny reported on the sudden death of longtime Rockford Register Star columnist and political reporter Chuck Sweeny, age 70. The Rockford native had worked at his hometown newspaper since 1984. Sweeny’s final column was filed just hours before he died.

The AP judges commented about Stephens: “An incredible story, well told with a great deal of thought, emotion and imagination in almost every word. The reporter took the listener into the story and kept them there.”

Stephens, senior reporter and WNIJ “All Things Considered” host, said her number one goal is to tell the most compelling stories in the fewest words possible … ”all the better if a little humor can be thrown into the mix.” Stephens is a previous finalist and award recipient in this AP contest category for the consistent high quality of her work on a wide range of stories.

Jesmer is a former WNIJ reporter who focused on stories of justice, religion, human rights and agriculture. She grew up in DeKalb as a Canadian American, and studied multimedia journalism at Concordia University in Montreal. 

Jesmer’s second place award was earned in the Best Reporter category. Contest entries for Jesmer included: Inside DeKalb County’s Unincorporated ApartmentsNorth Main Manor: Flood Of Water And Resident ConcernsWigs, Lipstick & Sparkles: The Thriving Drag Scene In Northern Illinois; and Kish College: Anonymous Letters And A Controversial Investigation

WNIJ 89.5 FM is one of two non-commercial public broadcasting radio stations managed by Northern Public Radio, the broadcast arm of Northern Illinois University, and provides independent, local, national and international news. The mission of Northern Public Radio is to enrich, inspire and inform adults in northern Illinois through programs and services that share ideas, encourage thought, give pleasure and create community.