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Local Column

Schrader: Looking back at a career in community journalism

Kathy and her late husband, Chuck Siebrasse, are shown in their MidWeek office.
Kathy and her late husband, Chuck Siebrasse, are shown in their MidWeek office.

Accepting an invitation to speak at a meeting of the Hinckley Historical Society later this month on the history of local weeklies and community journalism, I decided to contact someone who spent more years than I did in the weekly business to get her input.

Kathy Siebrasse and her late husband, Chuck, owned The MidWeek for 19 years before selling it to the Daily Chronicle. Kathy graduated with a journalism degree from Northern Illinois University and went to work at the Chronicle for two years as a reporter.

Next, she was hired by Jim Morel, who owned the Citizens Shopping News, which was renamed The MidWeek and converted into a weekly newspaper, not just a shopper filled with ads.

Kathy served as editor for the next two years, the same as I did right after college, when I was hired as editor of three Ogle County weeklies.

When Morel decided to sell, she and Chuck bought the paper in 1982 and owned it until 2001. She said editing a weekly “was hard work and stressful, but also a magical and inspiring time.” She loved interviewing people all over the county and learning about their lives and accomplishments. She and Chuck also immersed themselves in community activities, volunteering for many groups and events, as well as promoting worthwhile causes.

“My time in community journalism was life-changing. I was lucky I found my ‘calling’ at a young age,” she said.

I can testify to the same feeling of making a difference in the life of a small town, so I now realize my time in the weekly business were some of the best years of my life.

Since nearly all the local weeklies no longer are in business around the county, I asked Kathy what she thinks will replace them, if anything. She said blogs, Facebook and podcasts are what attracts the younger generation today.

”Social media outlets are the wave of the future,” she said. But she did caution that there is a lot of misinformation produced by people who don’t care about the facts or share emails that they don’t take the time to verify as factual.

After they sold the paper to the Daily Chronicle, she went to work for Sen. Brad Burzynski as his district director for 10 years. She also worked as the public relations director for the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce.

During this time, she launched her own local magazine, Invironments, which she ran from 2008 to 2014. Beginning in 2011, she also worked at NIU and now is in the Center for Governmental Studies. She still is using her journalism skills on the job, producing newsletters, working on websites and other communications-related projects.

So our paths in journalism are very similar, as I left newspapering in the1980s to become public information officer for a Department of Energy research and engineering laboratory in the San Francisco Bay Area, eventually becoming manager of public affairs and employee communications, a career that lasted more than 20 years.

During the later years in my career, I returned to column writing as a sideline for three newspapers in the Bay Area. Upon retiring and returning to DeKalb County 11 years ago, I found the Chronicle willing to add my column to its pages, so have enjoyed that part time off and on since then.

I asked Kathy why she isn’t writing a column or producing a blog. She said she is busy enough at work, but did not rule out returning to “personal journalism” at some point in the future. I hope she does, as her background and knowledge of DeKalb County would make a very interesting column.

• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at barry815@sbcglobal.net or through P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115. An archive of his columns can be found on his website at
www.dekalbcountylife.com.

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