WILL Pressroom

Illinois Public Media wins four national PMJA Awards


Illinois Public Media has been honored with four national awards by the Public Media Journalists Association (PMJA, formerly PRNDI) for Illinois Newsroom reporting during 2020. With nearly 1300 entries this year, the 2021 PMJA Awards recognized the best work in public media journalism from across the country.

text 2021 PMJA Awards with sound wave art

“We’re thrilled to be honored with four PMJA awards this year,” said Moss Bresnahan, executive director of Illinois Public Media. “In 2020, newsrooms around the country faced the enormous challenges of a pandemic, a racial reckoning, and a deep political divide. Our team stepped up its commitment to trusted local journalism when it was needed most.”

The PMJA has honored Illinois Public Media with first place in the “Nationally Edited Feature” category for reporting on the University of Illinois’ former mascot, Chief Illiniwek; second place in the “Division B Spot News” category for reporting on the Champaign-Urbana community’s response to the killing of George Floyd in 2020; second place in the “Division B Feature” category for reporting on gender disparities in agriculture; and first place in the “Student Spot News” category for student coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The journalists at Illinois Public Media have a long tradition of being honored by the Public Media Journalists Association, previously known as the Public Radio News Directors Inc.,” said Reginald Hardwick, news and public affairs director at Illinois Public Media. “We’re proud that first rate reporting by Dana Cronin and Lee V. Gaines was recognized.”

Illinois Newsroom Agricultural Reporter Dana Cronin—who has been with Illinois Newsroom since 2019—reported on the gender disparities prevalent in the Midwest agriculture industry, including the historical design of farm tools that are putting female farmers at risk. 

“Farm Tools Were Designed For Men. That’s A Problem For The Increasing Number Of Female Farmers.” shared the stories of female farmers who face significant challenges and health-related risks due to continual farming with tools designed for men. The story also highlighted the future of farming tools ergonomically designed for the female body trademarked “hergonomic” by Green Heron Tools.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by PMJA for this story, and especially on such an important and under-covered topic. Increasingly, women make up more of the farm labor force, but they still face day-to-day obstacles that put them at a higher risk of on-the-job injuries,” said Dana Cronin, agricultural reporter for Illinois Newsroom at Illinois Public Media. “I’m grateful to my news director, Reginald Hardwick, and editor, Maria Carter, for allowing me to hit the pause button on COVID-19 coverage in order to report this story.”

Former Illinois Newsroom Education Reporter Lee V. Gaines also received recognition at this year’s PMJA Awards for her feature story “Retired University Of Illinois Mascot Still Stands For Some Fans” and her news story “Hundreds Protest Peacefully In Urbana, Champaign In Response To Killing Of George Floyd”

Competing with entries from newsrooms of all sizes across the country, Gaines’ story on the University of Illinois’ former mascot chronicled the University's decision to retire Chief Illiniwek and its ever looming presence on campus today. The story also aired nationally on NPR during the weekday program “Here & Now” produced by WBUR. Gaines’ second award-winning story detailed the response of Champaign-Urbana community members to recent acts of police brutality against people of color, in particular the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.

Student Reporter Farrah Anderson also reported on peaceful protests in the Champaign-Urbana community during the summer of 2020, which earned her accolades in the Student Spot News category.

 “Farrah’s award is a great example of the outstanding contribution our student journalists make to Illinois Newsroom every day,” said Bresnahan.

Anderson’s award-winning story “U Of I Athletes Lead Black Lives Matter March Through Champaign” reported on University of Illinois athletes' response to the Black Lives Matter movement and their decision to lead a Black Lives Matter march in August of 2020.

“I’m so thankful for the opportunity to report for Illinois Newsroom and learn from the staff as a student journalist. Being able to report on such an important demonstration for equality has been fundamental in my growth as a journalist, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to tell the story,” said Anderson.

Anderson is a rising journalism sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s College of Media and an inaugural member of the Illinois Public Media Student Newsroom, launched in the Fall of 2020. The Student Newsroom integrates College of Media students into Illinois Newsroom to help them gain real-world reporting experience and get their work published at IllinoisNewsroom.org and heard on Illinois Public Media’s airwaves.

“We’re proud to work with the University of Illinois College of Media to present experiential learning opportunities for emerging journalists, and thrilled Illinois student Farrah Anderson was honored for a story she covered for WILL-AM/FM newscasts and IllinoisNewsroom.org,” said Hardwick.

In addition to Hardwick’s role as News and Public Affairs Director at Illinois Public Media, he also serves as the Medium Station Representative for PMJA on the Board of Directors. However, Hardwick did not have any role in reviewing award entries nor voting on submissions. 

In total, the PMJA virtually presented 203 awards to 88 organizations from across the country at the 2021 PMJA Awards. A full list of award winners in pdf format is available here.

Illinois Newsroom is powered by Illinois Public Media/WILL and provides news about Illinois as well as in-depth reporting on agriculture, education, the environment, health, and politics. To read more of Illinois Newsroom’s award-winning journalism, visit IllinoisNewsroom.org and follow Illinois Newsroom on Facebook and Twitter.