When Jenna Dooley (then Jenna Wright) first walked into WNIJ as a college freshman, little did she know that she would build a career in public broadcasting, first as a “Morning Edition” host at WUIS-FM in Springfield, Illinois, and later returning to WNIJ as a reporter and news director. She recently garnered recognition – and a chance to make a positive difference in the field of news broadcasting – with her election as president of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association (INBA).
Dooley says of her introduction to news broadcasting, “During high school in Orion, Illinois, I had an assignment to shadow someone in a field I was interested in. I shadowed a local TV reporter who had worked at WNIJ as a student and highly encouraged me to reach out to the station once I arrived on campus. So, as a freshman in the fall of 2003, I walked into the station and asked for work!”
This bold move paid off, and Dooley began working as a board operator on nights and weekends. She worked part time at the station while earning her bachelor’s degree in journalism at NIU, and she later went on to earn her master’s degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield. Dooley is a former “Newsfinder of the Year” from the Illinois Associated Press and recipient of NIU’s Donald R. Grubb Journalism Alumni Award.
Dooley credits a number of mentors, including WNIJ’s Dan Klefstad and Susan Stephens, as well as Allen May and Alex Wiertelak (formerly faculty members with the Northern Television Center), with teaching her the ropes of broadcasting, editing and newswriting during her student years at NIU.
This focus on mentorship and personal connections shapes Dooley’s approach to her new role as INBA president, where she says she plans to personally reach out to each of the current 145-plus members to see how they’re doing and how the organization can support them. Dooley also intends to establish a network of mentors to support professionals early in their careers.
“Often, young reporters must leave their immediate support networks to take their first jobs,” Dooley says. “Once they land a job in a competitive field, it’s in a new community where the hours are long and unpredictable. Their ambition is an amazing attribute for their newsroom, but it can be a lonely time when cameras aren’t rolling. The Illinois News Broadcasters Association is more than 145 members strong with folks at all levels of their careers. Mid- to late-career reporters can draw strength from the enthusiasm of young reporters. Likewise, early-career journalists can hear from others who know what it’s like to live the unique lifestyle of a broadcaster.”
Founded in 1955 by news professionals from across the state, INBA continues to take an active role in educating, defending and promoting fellowship among those in the broadcasting industry. INBA also plays an important role in preparing the next generation of electronic journalists for this complex and ever-changing business. Dooley was elected during the organization’s fall convention held Sept. 26. She succeeds WREX station manager Josh Morgan, who served in the role for two years.
Dooley says the relationships and professional development shared at INBA are more important than ever right now. “Everyone is so isolated personally, and that has undoubtedly seeped into our professional lives,” she says. “Reporters have spent months running a marathon at a sprinting pace. It’s important that we give ourselves permission to practice the same self-care that we report to our audiences. My goal in talking to members is to ask how they are managing this stressful time and how we can work together to be a support system that they can rely on now and into the future.”
WNIJ 89.5 FM is part of Northern Public Radio, the broadcast arm of Northern Illinois University. 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. Learn more at northernpublicradio.org.