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MADE IN ILLINOIS: You may call her Tenacious Lee

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DePaul senior Ella Lee leaves no doubts in watchdog reporting

By CHRISTOPHER HEIMERMAN
For Illinois Press Association

CHICAGO – On Feb. 11, The DePaulia published a story summing up the university provost’s refusal to change a clause in the faculty handbook that’s drawn cries of systemic racism, and wrongful discrimination lawsuits.

The DePaul University student newspaper’s adviser, Marla Krause had utmost confidence the report would be comprehensive and fact-checked six ways from Sunday, given that the byline belonged to Ella Lee.

For the past few years, Krause has watched her managing editor exhaustively research every piece she’s written, while developing reliable sources and giving all sides ample opportunity to say their piece.

“She just loves to dig and dig, and she understands that the story’s not ready when it’s not ready,” Krause said. “She understands you don’t just talk to the lawyer representing the plaintiff. Even though you might feel some sympathy toward the plaintiff, you have to get both sides of the story.”

The DePaulia has been reporting on lawsuits filed against the university over the past couple of years. The clause's vague language states “a pattern of extreme intimidation and aggression towards other members of the university committee” can be grounds for faculty dismissal or other repercussions.

Two Black, female DePaul professors, requested the clause be changed in February 2019, and in April 2020, the university's Faculty Council overwhelmingly passed a resolution to change the language, but Provost Salma Ghanem shot it down.

When the administration put out a statement calling for unity and a self-examination of biases after the murder of George Floyd, then was given the opportunity to change the clause but refused, Lee knew it was time to connect all the dots.

“That to me, that statement and what they refused to do is a perfect juxtaposition of what all of our reporting was leading up to,” said Lee, a 22-year-old senior. “All of these narratives are telling the exact same story that we’ve written five or six times with different names. This is the type of thing I think you can’t say enough. It’s so clearly affecting a lot of people, and it’s being ignored. Anything I can do to bring attention to that lack of care for that issue is something I really want to do.”

Proud as Lee was to publish the story, she can’t help but feel concerned when she shines the light on the university’s administration.

“I felt very proud, but I’m always a little bit nervous when it’s a story that has potential to make waves,” she said. “There are things I need from the university. Like when I need to apply for aid for the spring semester, are they going to deny me?”

Now, if anyone were to question the accuracy of the story, she’d have no concerns.

A half-year fact-checking for the USA Today will do that.

Baptism by bile

Shortly after being promoted to managing editor of The DePaulia, Lee began a six-month internship at USA Today in June 2020.

She was part of a team that spent its days tracking social media channels. When a claim started being replicated at a high rate, team members got on the phone and didn’t put it down until they determined, without a doubt, whether those claims were true.

Those flags you see on Facebook stating a claim is missing context, partly false, or completely false? She and her teammates planted those. And conspiracy theorists were none too happy.

“I was working there during the thick of vaccine misinformation and election misinformation,” Lee said. “I think prior to my internship at USA Today, I would have been more nervous about people’s reactions to pieces that stir things up. After having faced some of the abuse that I faced from my fact-checks at USA Today, it doesn’t really feel like anything.”

But the scope of their fact-checks was much broader. For instance, when an image of Black doctors working on a Ku Klux Klan member went viral, she made two phone calls and reached a photographer who said it was an advertisement.

“This is something that was going out to millions of people every day,” she said. “People don’t grasp the amount of a grasp misinformation has on a very large part of our country. It isn’t just right-wing and left-wing. It’s startling, the amount of misinformation that percolates online.”

Doing fact-checks, vetting sources and generally reading horizontally adds more steps, albeit vital ones, to the reporting process.

“This shined a light on how much harder journalism is than a lot of people are treating it,” Lee said. “There’s no room in a fact-check. If you have any amount of thinking that you could possibly do wrong, it can’t go in your reporting.”

Her campaign kickoff

When Lee saw journalists being attacked leading up to and during the 2016 presidential election, she didn’t just sympathize. She wanted to join the team and help it rally.

“You can’t ignore that, seeing journalists being attacked and not understanding why,” Lee said. “That lit a little bit of a fire under me.”

She joined her high school newspaper before serving as a staff writer and arts and life editor at The DePaulia.

Lee said she got hooked on news, and fast.

“It’s a little bit of a drug,” she said. “You can’t get away from it.”

Her parents, Kari and Matt Lee, are professional classical musicians. So watching them persevere as the COVID-19 pandemic has decimated their livelihoods has prepared her for the gig economy.

“Having two classical trumpet players as parents has prepared me,” Lee said. “I don’t want to quit journalism just because I can’t get a job.”

That comes as a relief for Krause, who dropped the name of celebrated journalist Maggie Haberman when asked what sort of professional Lee could be.

“She has a tenaciousness,” Krause said. “She isn’t the kind of student journalist who says, ‘I’ve got my three sources. I’m done.' I could see her doing investigative reporting for major media. I could see her at the Washington Post or the New York Times someday. She has that kind of ability, and she’s not the only one of my students I’d say that about.”

But first, Lee and her team have unfinished business. They’ll soon publish a Title IX piece they’ve been building for the past couple of years. She said they’ve given administration ample opportunity to answer their questions, so the university’s leaders have to know the piece is coming.

“I can’t express enough how much we would love to sit down with them and get their responses, and this is one they’ll have to respond to,” she said. “We’ve been working on this since we were sophomores. We’ve been calling it our magnum opus.”

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Sara Davis
Habitat for Humanity of McHenry County
(815) 759-9002 ext. 102

sdavis@habitatmchenry.org
www.habitatmchenry.org

 

Habitat ReStores in Woodstock & McHenry
kick off Winter 2022 Donation Drive
 

McHENRY COUNTY — McHenry County residents can support the store that helps build homes by donating to the Habitat McHenry County ReStores Winter Donation Drive, happening now through Dec. 31!
 
With free and convenient pickup service, McHenry County residents can easily donate new and gently used household items, appliances, building materials, furniture, lighting fixtures, cabinets, and more!
 
The Habitat ReStores in Woodstock and McHenry carry gently used donations along with an excellent selection of new and like new furniture, tools, home d├ęcor, and more! Habitat ReStores are open to the general public for shopping and donation drop-offs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Every purchase at a Habitat ReStore generates funds to help build, rehabilitate or repair Habitat for Humanity homes in McHenry County. Individuals and families applying to the Home Ownership program must complete a brief application, earn between 30% and 80% of the area median income based on their family size, and perform sweat equity to be considered for a home. 
 
“Every item donated to our ReStores helps to improve the lives of families in need of safe, affordable housing,” said Sara Davis, operations director for Habitat McHenry County, “This year alone, proceeds from our Habitat ReStores have helped us build and repair homes for more than 15 families in McHenry County.”
 
The Habitat ReStores rely heavily on the generosity of community donors, and all donations made through the 2022 Winter Donation Drive are tax deductible. For information about how to schedule a donation drop-off or pickup, email donations@habitatmchenry.org or call: 815-331-8153 ext. 302.
 
Habitat for Humanity ReStores – Woodstock, IL and McHenry, IL
Open to the public, Habitat ReStores are thrift home improvement stores and donation centers that sell building materials, appliances, furniture, and home decor at deep discounts to the communities they serve. In fiscal year 2021 alone, Habitat ReStores nationwide raised more than $76 million to help support Habitat's affordable housing mission while also diverting reusable material from landfills. All proceeds generated between both HFHMC ReStores are used to help build or improve homes in McHenry County. To shop, donate or volunteer, visit us online at www.habitatmchenry.org.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Brandon Bergersen
Valley Orchard
(815) 332-9696

BrandonBergersen@hotmail.com

 

Valley Orchard celebrates 45 years in the community with 'Fall 45 Fest' on October 8

 

CHERRY VALLEY – Valley Orchard in Cherry Valley, Illinois, is one of the oldest orchards in the community and has been a destination for cherry picking, apple picking, and apple cider donuts for 45 years in northern Illinois. Every spring, summer, and fall it has been a spot for outdoor entertainment, farm market shopping, and cider slushes. On October 8, the orchard is commemorating all the roles it has played for the community throughout its 45 years in business with a daylong anniversary celebration called “The Fall 45 Fest”. 

The event will be celebrating with the community by offering a variety of fun activities from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, October 8. This will include attractions for guests of all ages including pumpkin carving and scarecrow building contests, children’s activities, an antique tractor show, yard games, multiple food trucks, and one free apple cider donut for every visitor. For the full schedule of events visit the Valley Orchard Facebook event. 

"I love growing apples, I have for 45 years," said Valley Orchard owner and operator Raoul Bergersen.

Bergersen went on to say how grew up with a love for farming.

"I had a friend that one day said, 'Hey, are you interested in doing an apple orchard?' I said, 'Sure, why not' and had absolutely no idea how to do it," Bergersen said when asked how it all started. "In retrospect, that was really foolish knowing what I know now," Bergersen said with a laugh. "But it was really fun."

Bergersen purchased the land in the Village of Cherry Valley in 1977. In the first year, he planted 1,800 apple trees which now have more than 5,000 trees on the 35-acre property.
 
With an array of apples, including their own handcrafted Johnalicious, berries, pumpkins, corn, and an abundance of rhubarb; visitors can find everything they need.

"You become friends with your customers," Bergersen said, “and we want to celebrate 45 years with them. I'm going to keep this up for as long as I possibly can, and hopefully my sons will continue something that I started 45 years ago."

Join Valley Orchard for 45 years of fun on October 8 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

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