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posted: 6/9/2013 5:00 AM

Scrambling to find a 'victim' for our weekly radio spot

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Every Thursday, I find myself scrambling for someone in the newsroom to drop whatever they're doing at 9:15 that evening, and call WBBM Newsradio 780 to talk about a story that will be in the next day's paper. The interview takes less than three minutes, but I know some people stress out over this. There is a reason, you know, that we're writers, not broadcasters.

Late in the afternoon last Thursday, I dispatched an email to my good buddy Mike Riopell, our Springfield reporter and someone with no shortage of interesting and important stories. Hey, Mike, I said, once again you seem to be carrying the water for tomorrow's front page. Can you go on WBBM tonight and discuss your National Security Agency story, emphasizing the Roskam and Kirk angles, of course? Offered to buy him a beer next time I'm in Springfield. (Buttering up the victim is a tack I often take.) But Mike, who has made numerous appearances, was tied up.

Next candidate was Renee Trappe, assistant managing editor for local news. She is the primary mover and shaker behind our Academic Teams, which appeared in the centerpiece position of Friday's front page. Renee does much of the heavy lifting to find students who not only excel academically, but understand the value of their education. With the help of educators who nominate the students and help us decide the most deserving, this year we ended up with 131 students from 78 schools in our coverage area. Renee pores over the nomination forms to determine which 40 students will make up the Academic Teams. So we pick a top 10 from each of our news zones -- Northwest Cook, DuPage, Fox Valley and Lake County. Those are the students whose photos we put on the front page, but all of the nominees win an honorable mention.

But alas, Renee also couldn't fill our spot on WBBM. So I nominated myself to be her proxy. It dawned on me that in the five years or so that we've been doing the Thursday night interviews, I've never put myself on the air. And, you know what? It is a little stressful, especially as you sit there on hold, listening to the traffic and the weather and the metropolitan area news, knowing your time is creeping closer and closer. (Side note: Back when this concept was initially forged, I recorded a test interview with Julie Mann, WBBM's managing editor. I was doing so poorly in explaining a story I had edited that I just stopped and blurted, "Can we start over?") Fortunately, this time I managed to keep on point without tripping over my tongue. But don't take my word for it. You can listen to the interview on WBBM's website at

Instead of sending the station several enormously long files detailing our 131 academic stars, I simply passed along our editorial on the topic that ran Friday. It did a great job of illustrating that these students are not just smart, but understand the value of their knowledge and are already putting it to good use, such as the Elgin High School student who learned the value of good medical care when his father had a heart attack. "I admire those people and strive to be like them." Or the Addison Trail student who at age 9 lost her mother to breast cancer. She came to admire those "who work every day at discovering a cure, and I began to envision myself as one of them."

Renee, as you might imagine, had a strong hand in the editorial, which another editor described as poetic. The students, it read, "are fortunate. They attend some of the best schools. They have families who support and encourage them. And they all seem to understand that to whom much is given, much is expected. What a relief to know they will be here when we're gone."

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