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Mark Baldwin, a tough decisions guy, retiring


Executive Editor Mark Baldwin greets Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker during the Rockford Register Star Editorial
Board meeting on June 6, 2019, at 99 E. State St. in Rockford. (Scott P. Yates/rrstar.com staff)

Rockford Register Star executive reflects on 40-year career in journalism

For Illinois Press Association

ROCKFORD – In 2012, Mark Baldwin was greeted in the Register Star newsroom by wringing hands. Financial realities were bearing down and forcing newspapers to get leaner, fast, or edge anxiously toward their demise.

Like most newspaper chains, the Register Star’s owner, GateHouse Media, was going through mass layoffs and buyouts.

“I had to deliver a lot of bad news, and he had to absorb the news and deliver the news,” said Paul Gaier, then the publisher of the Register Star. “Whereas others have gotten jaded, Mark was able to sit back and say, ‘OK we have to make these changes, because the business is changing, but you know what? These aren’t easy decisions, but they’re the right decisions.’ He always does the right thing, regardless of what that means.”

Baldwin announced the week of Dec. 14 that he’s retiring at the end of the year, capping 8 years as executive editor at the Register Star, and a 40-year legacy in journalism.

For him, doing the right thing has meant hiring a diverse workforce and developing talent. It’s meant stepping down from the Register Star’s (literal) tower and meeting the community on its level, giving back when possible, and being willing to join every corner of the community during a civil rights reckoning. It’s meant embracing the media’s role in one of the greatest battles it’s ever had to fight: a massive decline in media literacy.

Those hurdles are taller than collapsing advertising revenue, in Baldwin’s estimation.

“The greatest challenges aren’t going to be economic. They’re cultural,” he said. “You’ve spent years now being battered by accusations of fake news. People often misunderstand our role, people whose world view is not amenable to our role. Our role is not to confirm your comfortable view of the world.”

Expanding the comfort zone

Corina Curry had nearly 20 years of experience as a reporter when Baldwin, who’d settled into his office after about a year with the Register Star, called her into his office.

She’d been covering City Hall for several years. He wanted her to take on the education beat. Her head spun.

corina“I wasn’t sure why he was doing it,” said Curry, who’s been with the Register Star since 1999. “As a reporter, your mind goes to, ‘He must not be happy with what I’m doing.’”

With newsrooms being decimated industrywide by financial hardships, it’s become more and more common for such decisions to be made, and then for the reporter to be tossed back into the proverbial pond and told to sink or swim.

“That’s definitely not something we do here,” Curry said. “He’s always very supportive and nurturing, and challenging to reporters. He’s always wanted to give them opportunities.”

Baldwin saw plenty of opportunities the newsroom was missing on the education beat, Curry said.

“He helped me get settled, and he put a lot of confidence in me,” Curry said. “He told me I was going to do this really well, ‘I picked you to do this because I have a lot of confidence in you.’ “I think he saw how my skill set fit well with the sort of stories he wanted to see out of that topic, and it led to some of the best work I’ve ever done.”

In 2017, the national journalism society Sigma Delta Chi gave Curry one of its coveted awards for excellence in journalism for her coverage of racial inequities in Rockford’s public schools

“Corina’s work made people uncomfortable, in the best possible way,” Baldwin said in a Register Star report on the award.

Taking a stand on civil rights

Baldwin wasted no time weighing in on a tragically common incident that unfolded in August at the city’s popular downtown market.

On Aug. 21, Register Star reporter Shaquil Manigault, who is Black, was denied access to the market by a police officer, until photographer Scott Yates confirmed he was, in fact, a reporter.


Demonstrators approach the City Market Pavilion where officers from Park District Police (left) Rockford Police (right) and Metro Enforcement (not pictured) block the pavilion entrance to demonstrators on Aug. 21, 2020, in Rockford. A Metro Enforcement officer initially blocked a Register Star reporter from entering the public space but quickly backed down after the reporter's colleague vouched for him. The Park District and Rockford Police departments were not involved in the incident. (Scott P. Yates/Rockford Register Star)

Baldwin zeroed in on the officer’s language.

“I don’t believe you,” Baldwin’s editorial response reads, using italics for emphasis.

“That comment may be the most infuriating part of the incident because of the way it denied one man the benefit of the doubt for one reason only, the color of his skin. And that’s wrong,” it continues. “Yet encounters like that are all too-routine for people of color, whether they’re professionals like Shaquil or students, teenagers or old folks. And it shouldn’t take a white colleague, classmate or friend to make things right.”

Urban planner Michael Smith and dietician Jody Perrecone are community members who, along with Baldwin, round out the Register Star’s editorial board. Smith marvels at Baldwin’s rapid, thoughtful responses to what’s happening in the community, with which Baldwin has established a deep connection.

“That editorial was quick,” Smith said, laughing a little with appreciation. “He can turn on a dime to make sure the organization and the content therein reflect the times we’re living in.”

The Register Star has doggedly covered civil rights protests this year, and Baldwin has firsthand knowledge of the target that fair and balanced coverage paints on journalists’ backs. He said he recently received a crude piece of hate mail at his home, “even though my address is nowhere to be found. That was a first.”

Baldwin said the letter’s return address was a local police department, and that its contents attacked the paper for spotlighting a local demonstrator.

“Even though we’re being intimidated, we have to cling to what’s true: It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Some people would say this is crusading, but I just don’t agree. The press in this country is a child of our constitutional values.”

Baldwin has always insisted his team cover its community holistically – which means not just covering festivals and events centered around People of Color’s traditions and history.

“There’s an awful lot of coverage of communities of color that’s been the bread and circuses variety,” Baldwin said. “You cover festivals, or Cinco de Mayo or Juneteenth. That’s not journalism for the community. That’s journalism done by nice white people.”

Teaching Media Literacy

Another steep-hill climb for journalists is the battle against misinformation that, in a single generation, transformed from snail mail crawling to small audiences to tweets instantaneously poisoning large wells of public discourse.

“We need to build better news consumers,” Baldwin said. “Democracy doesn’t work unless we agree that facts are facts. The industry has a big role in helping to build that more discerning news consumer.”

About 5 years ago, he and now-retired Opinion Page Editor Wally Haas began taking the Editorial Board on the road, meeting with the community in various neighborhoods, at library branches and other community centers.


Wally Haas (right) opinion editor of the Rockford Register Star, listens as Mayor Tom McNamara (left) proclaims the day Wally Haas Day on Jan. 28, 2020, at the newspaper’s office in Rockford. The day marked the 40th anniversary of Haas' employment at the newspaper. Mark Baldwin (middle), the executive editor, listens as well. (Scott P. Yates/rrstar.com staff)

“It’s very important to reach the corners of the community that oftentimes don’t see upper-middle-class professionals,” Baldwin said. “It was important to meet with diverse people in the community, and not necessarily people who subscribe to the newspaper. We shape the news environment more than any other news organization.”

And they do it from a literal tower, he pointed out.

“We work in a downtown tower next to the Rock River,” he said. “It’s kind of a fortress, and it can be intimidating. If anybody’s going to get out of their comfort zone, it ought to be us. We have to wield our influence with some level of humility.”

Baldwin urged said tools are available for publications that are re-examining how they’re doing their job, even going through self-evaluation and -training on media literacy. It’s become common for even down-the-middle journalists to retweet information without properly vetting it.

“Some of the outrageously false falsehoods are pretty easily debunked by individuals who take the time to read horizontally, as they say in the news literacy movement,” Baldwin said. “Check sources to confirm what you’re reading.”

He recommended the News Literacy Project, specifically.

“It’s the leading advocate and provider of training tools,” Baldwin said. “There’s some great free material, and they want local partners.”

He’s introduced the group to educators in the Rockford area.

“You have to be very intentional about [media literacy] and make it a priority,” he said. “The First Amendment assumes a news-literate public.”

Retirement plans

Baldwin will have to give up at least one of his crusades in retirement, including his seat on the board for News Leaders Association, which is working to help newspapers align the diversity of their newsrooms with the communities they cover. NLA was formed when the Associated Press Media Editors, for whom Baldwin was a longtime board member, merged with the American Society of News Editors in 2019.

In August, Gannett, which merged with GateHouse in late 2019, pledged to achieve NLA’s ambitious goal by 2025.

The city of Rockford is 22 percent Black. While the Register Star’s newsroom is 17 percent Black, its two most recent hires have been women of color.

Without the pressure of putting out a daily newspaper, Baldwin will have a lot more time on his hands – which bodes well for the community in which he and his wife, Sydney, call home.

“He’ll actually have the time to use his connections,” Smith said.

During his time in Rockford, Baldwin has been involved with many groups, including 815 Choose Civility, a project through which the media, public and private sectors address civility and civic dysfunction. The project was born from Transform Rockford, a nonprofit creating and executing a strategic plan addressing the city’s socio-economic shortfalls.

“How do we as hu1020117831IL_ROC_Cas...mans and neighbors get better at talking to each other about issues that are contentious – race, education – issues that can get really heated?” Smith said. “[Baldwin] believes very deeply in being able to have civil conversations, in an informed manner.”

“He’s been able to really defuse situations when they’ve gotten heated,” said Smith’s wife, Jennifer, who is engagement director for the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois.

The Smiths and the Baldwins became close friends after meeting at church about 5 years ago.

“He’s someone you can come to, and he always has a level head about those situations, including hyper-political situations in the community,” Jennifer Smith said. “It doesn’t hurt that he has an excellent sense of humor. He’s a person who sees people who want to be involved, and people with talents and connects them with opportunities.”

Baldwin said for all of Rockford’s socio-economic struggles, it’s a city with a great entrepreneurial spirit and prized infrastructure such as Chicago Rockford Regional Airport and the Rock River.

“People are proud to be from Rockford,” Baldwin said, “and there are some sharp people in positions of political leadership who are bent on doing the right thing, and frankly have been unafraid of making tough decisions.”

One initiative he’s particularly excited about is the city’s agreement with Rockford Promise to use casino revenue to invest $1.5 million annually into scholarships at Northern Illinois University.

Michael Smith said Rockford Promise for the past 15 years has funded scholarships at Rockford College, a 2-year institution.

“In a community where educational attainment isn’t as strong as it could be, [the NIU scholarships] are a
big deal,” Baldwin said.

He said his chief goal in retirement is as hyper-local as it gets.

“I’m looking forward to getting reacquainted with my long-suffering wife,” he said. “The only reason this has worked is because of her.”

After a career in journalism and consulting that’s taken him throughout the Midwest and New York, Baldwin said he’s dropped anchor in Rockford. It’s easy to skip over to the city and catch a flight to see their three daughters, in Missouri, Albuquerque and Singapore – that is, once travel is safe and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

A year of hiring, coaching, counseling and editing via Zoom is hardly the way an editor of Baldwin’s ilk would like to go out. But he said the stars have aligned for his retirement, and he has seen the silver lining in the pandemic.

“We’ve actually learned, the pandemic has taught a lot of us that we don’t need to consume as much as we thought we did,” he said. “We can live smaller and, in some ways, happier.”

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Press Releases


Americans have been preparing
for the impact of a pandemic for over 75 years!

From home economics to the modern family and consumer sciences classes, the foundation of basic life skills helped bring families through 2020 and beyond.  

Feb. 9, 2021
CONTACT: Marissa Kunerth, communications & public relations manager
Family, Career and Community Leaders of America


RESTON, VA For many, it has taken a global pandemic to motivate them to refine and reuse many basic life skills. With restaurants closed and stay-at-home mandates in place, a growing number of adults have turned to online tutorials, social media recipes, and family and friends to learn basic life skills. Admittedly, more than a fourth of Americans admit they cannot cook and claim this skill is something they now realize is an essential skill that should be taught in every school in the United States.

75 years ago, when Future Homemakers of America (FHA), presently known as Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), was founded, no one thought the skills gained through Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) classes would get families through a pandemic. The country was digging out of the Great Depression and using skills taught at home and in Home Economics to rebuild the economy of our country. In education, Home Economics transitioned to Family and Consumer Sciences in 1994 and some felt these classes were no longer essential. Since 2012, there has been an estimated 40% decline in FCS classes, but the coronavirus pandemic has led to an outcry to bring “Home Ec” back and reinforced how important basic life skills are to not only be successful at home but holistically as humans impacting careers and communities.

Since its inception in 1945, FCCLA has promoted the need for FCS education for every student in every state in every school. FCCLA knows the importance of FCS education, which provides students with lifelong skills such as nutrition, menu planning, food preparation, clothing care and construction, money management, child development, and workforce readiness. Many students move from learning basic skills in an apron to preparing hopefully to someday wear a chef’s coat.

Illinois State Adviser Marta Lockwood shares, “The Illinois Association of FCCLA is proud to be a part of the long-standing legacy of helping students become great leaders. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing young people making a difference in their personal lives, their homes, schools, and communities!”

Through FCS education, FCCLA provides opportunities for members to develop 21st century skills that enhance students’ understanding of community, work, family, and their interpersonal relationships. This year, FCCLA celebrates its 75th anniversary by commemorating all 50 state associations who have contributed to student’s success through character development, creative and critical thinking, interpersonal communication, practical knowledge, and career preparation.

Since chartering with the national organization in January 1946, thousands upon thousands of Illinois students have taken advantage of this incredible organization and all it has to offer. As a youth led organization, Illinois FCCLA has teams of student officers who serve at every level of the organization from the local high schools to the state and national levels. These youth leaders plan and assist with all the community service projects, leadership training, and conferences that are held. Illinois State Adviser Marta Lockwood adds “one of the greatest things about FCCLA is that it has so many different programs and opportunities for the students to find success in. From community service projects to competitive events, FCCLA gives students the opportunity to combine their education and leadership skills to make a difference and receive recognition for their accomplishments”.

FCCLA’s 75thanniversary is a major milestone for the organization and FCS education. Whether one is looking to feel confident in the kitchen, make a difference in their community, or prepare for career success, FCCLA and FCS is the secret ingredient to succeed in the home and workplace.

Research Sources:

Tufts University: https://www.nutritionletter.tufts.edu/general-nutrition/28-of-americans-cant-cook

WZDX Fox: https://www.rocketcitynow.com/article/news/what-ever-happened-to-home-ec-millennials-struggling-with-home-and-nutrition-skills/525-7f8fd87d-2134-408f-909b-4687ba46b496


Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) is a dynamic and effective national student organization that helps young men and women become leaders and address important personal, family, work, and societal issues through Family and Consumer Sciences education. FCCLA has more than182,000 members and 5,253 chapters from 48 state associations, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.


Illinois Principals Association to host first virtual Education Leaders Conference in February  

Feb. 1, 2021
CONTACT: Dr. Jason Leahy, executive director
Illinois Principals Association


SPRINGFIELD – In a first for the Illinois Principals Association, we are hosting our Annual Education Leaders Conference virtually. The 49th annual Education Leaders Conference and Exhibition, “L.E.A.D.” Conference (Learning – Equity – Advocacy – Diversity) will take place online February 22-23, 2021. The annual conference provides an opportunity for principals and other administrators to learn from leaders in the education field and participate in sessions to better serve their schools. 
“School leaders have been there to support teachers, guide parents, and serve our students through the multitude of challenges this school year,” said Dr. Amy Dixon, IPA President. “With the aid of the Illinois Principals Association, principals have not only overcome the challenges, but shown tremendous personal growth and flexibility.  Now it is time for school leaders to take time to recharge and renew their purpose, passion, and leadership. The IPA Education Leaders Conference is the premiere event of the year that will allow them to do that and so much more!”
The conference will include presentations from keynote speakers Adam Welcome, Illinois State Superintendent Dr. Carmen Ayala, and Beth Houf.  Monday’s first general session will feature Adam Welcome, a Principal and Director of Innovation for a large school district in the Bay Area of California, and his presentation “Kids Deserve It!” Mr. Welcome has been honored as Principal of the Year for his region, a “20 to Watch” for the National School Board Association, guest blogger for EdWeek, NAESP magazine, and other publications. His presentation is a simple, yet profound message to become more engaged with your school community.
Speakers at the second general session on Monday afternoon include Dr. Carmen Ayala, Illinois State Superintendent of Schools, and Dr. Amy Dixon, principal of Jefferson and Lincoln Elementary Schools in Carmi, IL and IPA President. IPA Principal of the Year awards, the Reaching Out & Building Bridges Award, and the Mr. John Ourth & Dr. Fred W. Singleton Professional Development Scholarships will also be presented at this session.
Beth Houf will begin the conference Tuesday morning with her presentation “The Power of Appreciation,” including strategies to build rapport with students, staff, and parents. Beth Houf is the proud principal of Fulton Middle School in central Missouri.  She is the Co-Author of “Lead Like a PIRATE:  Make School Amazing for Your Students and Staff.”  Beth also serves as a facilitator for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Leadership Academy, providing monthly training to state educational leaders.  She has spoken at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference, the Association for Middle-Level Education National Conference, the National Principals Conference, and many other state and local educational venues. 
The conference will include popular IGNITE sessions, presented by IPA Principal of the Year Award Winners and leaders including Mandy Ellis (Principal, Dunlap Grade School), Dan Kaiser (Retired Principal, Dwight Township High School), Hattie Llewellyn (Principal, New Berlin High School), Dr. Tron Young (Principal, Joseph Arthur Middle School), Dr. Marcus Belin (Principal, Huntley High School), and Abir Othman (Associate Principal, Victor J. Andrew High School). These innovative, fast-paced sessions provide a unique way to hear from dynamic speakers who will inspire fellow leaders.
Small group sessions at the conference include timely topics such as: Race Relations in Schools; Practical Steps for Transforming School Culture; Trauma Informed Care; Leading through the Lens of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; Attendance, Chronic Absence, and Equity; Building Leadership Teams; and legislative and legal updates. Conference attendees can also explore the online exhibit hall for the latest in educational products and services, and resource materials from sponsors such as AMBA (Association Member Benefits Advisors), ECRA Group, Good for Schools, Horace Mann, Illinois Principals Foundation, Lifetouch School Portraits and Southern Illinois University Carbondale. For more information about the Education Leaders Conference, please visit ipafc20.zerista.com. For more information about IPA, please visit www.ilprincipals.org.

The Illinois Principals Association is a leadership organization which serves over 5,800 educational leaders throughout the state of Illinois and whose mission is to develop, support, and advocate for innovative educational leaders.






Ten $1,000 Scholarships Now Available for Midwest High School Seniors  

High school seniors from states that surround Iowa have a chance to earn one of 10 $1,000 college scholarships

Jan. 13, 2021
CONTACT: Christopher Weishaar
Digital Public Relations Specialist
Iowa Student Loan

(515) 273-7140

WEST DES MOINES, IOWA (Jan. 13, 2021) — High school seniors from Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin now have a chance to receive one of 10 college scholarships worth $1,000. Registration is open now through April 30, 2021.

High school seniors may register for the ISL Midwest Senior Scholarship at www.IowaStudentLoan.org/Midwest. Iowa Student Loan® will award $1,000 scholarships to 10 students whose names are randomly drawn after the registration period. Registered students also receive emails highlighting financial literacy tips, such as the importance of early career and college planning and ways to reduce student loan indebtedness.

“We know 2020 has been a tough year on students and families mentally and financially. We want high school seniors to have the tools and resources they need to plan and pay for college,” said Steve McCullough, president and CEO of Iowa Student Loan. “The information students receive during the program can help them make better decisions as they consider college finances, student loans and their future financial situations. We hope families also take this opportunity to explore all the free resources available on our website.”

The ISL Midwest Senior Scholarship is open to legal U.S. citizens who are seniors at a high school in one of the qualifying states during the 2020–2021 school year and who intend to attend college, either virtually or physically, in fall 2021. It is a no-purchase-required program, and full rules and details are available at www.IowaStudentLoan.org/Midwest.

Additional Resources Available 

Iowa Student Loan also has additional resources for families planning for college and for students who intend to pursue advanced degrees. The Parent Handbook consists of valuable tips to help families of students in sixth through 12th grades prepare for success in college and other postsecondary options. Parents of students in eighth through 12th grades can also sign up to receive twice-monthly emailed tips on academic, college and career planning through the Student Planning Pointers for Parents program. The College Funding Forecaster helps families understand the total cost of four years of college based on a freshman-year financial aid offer. Information about these resources is available at www.IowaStudentLoan.org/SmartBorrowing.


About Iowa Student Loan
Established in 1979 as a private, nonprofit organization, Iowa Student Loan helps students and families obtain the resources necessary to succeed in postsecondary education. Iowa Student Loan has helped nearly 400,000 students pay for college. The organization, based in West Des Moines, Iowa, also provides an array of borrower benefits, financial literacy tools and community reinvestment programs, including support for free college planning services for students and their families. For more information about Iowa Student Loan, visit www.IowaStudentLoan.org.




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