New leadership, new home for Mid-America Press Institute

The Mid-America Press Institute, a newsroom training association approaching its fifth decade, has relocated to Champaign, Illinois, and is now under new management.

The move was finalized August 1.

The Mid-America Press Institute, a nonprofit offering low-cost training to mid-career journalists, built its membership from newspapers across the Midwest and had been located at Eastern Illinois University since 1994.

Management of MPI is overseen by part-time co-directors, Brant Houston, the Knight Chair in Investigative Reporting at the University of Illinois, and Pam Dempsey, the executive director of the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, an online, nonprofit newsroom covering agribusiness and related issues.

“As journalism faces greater challenges than ever before, it’s exciting to see MPI focused on the future with new leadership and a renewed commitment to providing affordable, relevant training for mid-career journalists. Brant and Pam are a solid team,” said Erin Orr, managing editor for The Times Media Co. and MPI board member. “With MPI’s move to Champaign and its involvement with the Knight Chair at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Brant and Pam’s leadership, we expect MPI’s presence to grow, our membership to become more vibrant and diverse, and our workshops to more deeply reflect the needs of today’s journalists.”

Before joining the university in 2007, Houston was executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors for more than decade and a database editor and investigative reporter at newspapers for 17 years. He is author of four editions of “Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide” and co-author of two editions of “The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook”. He also has been involved in the growth on nonprofit newsrooms in the U.S.

He has organized and spoken at more than 400 workshops and conferences over the past 20 years.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to work with MPI and not only help to improve the skills of professional journalists, but also to bring students together with those journalists as we prepare the next generation for the newsroom,” Houston said.

Dempsey, a former reporter for The News-Gazette in Champaign, Illinois, is a veteran journalist covering agribusiness and has reported on local and regional government, health, housing and Native American government through investigative and enterprise stories. Dempsey has helped develop many community engagement projects and coordinate the start-up of two online newsrooms. She also helped organize and run national and regional workshops for reporters and worked closely with Illinois Public Media.

“We are very excited to be part of MPI’s next chapter to better serve its members as we build upon the strong efforts of years past through the expanded power of our combined networks and resources,” Dempsey said.

MPI is now housed within the offices of Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

Long-time director, John Ryan, retired as executive director in July from MPI.

“John Ryan and Eastern Illinois University are the best friends MPI has ever had. And MPI has had many wonderful friends and supporters over its nearly 50-year history,” said Dan Corkery, managing editor of The News-Gazette in Champaign, Illinois, and current chairman of the MPI board of directors. “Whether he was organizing a seminar, lining up speakers or chasing down lunch, John kept MPI moving forward — even when newspapers unwisely cut back on training.”

MPI, along with its foundation, was previously located at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston where Ryan taught.

Ryan served nearly eight years as executive director.

During his tenure, Ryan organized, directed and oversaw dozens of training seminars, raised thousands of dollars in donations and provided a strong base of resources for journalists across the area.

MPI’s initial home was at Southern Illinois University between 1968 through 1992, when it moved to the journalism school at the University of Kansas.

In 1994, MPI relocated to Eastern Illinois University under the leadership of John David Reed, who retired from the faculty in 2004 but remains emeritus and continued to serve MPI until 2009.

John Ryan became executive director in 2009 and continued in the position, even after his own retirement from the university’s faculty in 2015. He now remains an emeritus professor.

“John Ryan played an instrumental role in helping MPI work through the period after the economic collapse of 2008-09, which saw many newsrooms suffer significant staffing reductions and the loss of money for training. Overnight, we had to move to a different workshop model that would allow MPI to continue to offer affordable, valuable mid-career training to journalists,” said Margaret Holt, standards editor at the Chicago Tribune, a former MPI board chair and a current board member. “John reached out to numerous partners in press associations as well as newsrooms across the heartlands to make this work. Whether it was helping focus a workshop or turning up with discount store pop and doughnuts at our seminars, John kept things going. His work was invaluable and will always be appreciated.”

 

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