For the latest in our 'Meet a Member' series, we get to know Christine Herman, reporter with Illinois Public Media (WILL) in Urbana.
What’s your current station/employer and position?
I’m a reporter at Illinois Public Media. While I’m technically general assignment, I’ve designated myself as our unofficial health and science reporter. A portion of my time goes to reporting for Side Effects Public Media, a Midwest reporting collaborative focused on public health.
How did you develop an interest in reporting or broadcasting?
I studied chemistry in undergrad and grad school with the plan to become a chemistry professor and do research. Then I realized I hated doing research – even though loved talking about and writing about science. Long story short, I totally shifted gears and dove head-first into journalism and eventually got bit by the radio bug. With not very much prior audio experience, I landed a part-time opportunity at Illinois Public Media. Which led to a full-time producing position with The 21st show, and about a year ago, my current job as a reporter.
What was your first broadcasting job?
I swallowed my pride and – after finishing my PhD in chemistry and masters in journalism – took a part-time, unpaid internship at Radio Health Journal in the Chicago suburbs. I traveled back and forth from Champaign with my 18-month-old son and crashed at my parents’ house for a few days at a time. I was a producer/writer, which meant I did interviews and wrote scripts that I passed off to the host to voice.
Why do you love being a news broadcaster?
There is so much power in hearing a person tell their own story, in their own voice. It’s my favorite way to consume the news, and I feel so privileged that I get to do this as my job.
What broadcast or story you’ve done makes you most proud?
This year, I met a family in Illinois that gave up custody of their son because it was the only way they could get him the expensive mental health treatment he needed. Sounds totally unbelievable, but this is a real thing that happens to hundreds, if not thousands of kids a year. I just finished working with NPR and Kaiser Health News to nationalize the story. The fact that this happens at all, anywhere, highlights a systemic underlying issue: that our country’s mental health system is woefully lacking. My story highlights a critical policy issue – in a way that will hopefully capture people’s attention.
What’s the hardest story or broadcast you’ve had to do?
Another family I’m in touch with is still in the thick of what feels like the darkest time of their lives. They’ve been lucky enough to help their son get treatment, but he still really struggles with his mental illness, which manifests in violent outbursts, self-harming, and suicide attempts. This is their everyday reality. The dad’s biggest fear is his son will end up in jail or dead, or be the next terrible news headline. It’s hard to learn about stuff like this. At the same time, like I mention above, it’s important to tell these stories so that people can be made aware of how the current system is failing kids and families.
What’s your most embarrassing broadcast moment?
I think the worst thing I’ve ever said live on air is the wrong temperature – I read the temp inside instead of the temp outside. But the experience I will never forget is the first time I ever did a live newscast. I don’t think I breathed the entire time because as soon as I was off the air, my hands and face were all tingly from lack of oxygen, LOL.
Why did you join INBA?
To network with other broadcasters at INBA Conventions.