Meet a Member: Lee Gaines

In the latest entry of our "Meet a Member" series, we're introducing you to Lee Gaines, a reporter with WILL (Illinois Public Media), covering education and criminal justice.

Lee GainesOne of the biggest benefits of your INBA membership is getting to know professionals in different markets, in different stages of their career, maybe even working in a different aspect of broadcasting or education.

In the latest entry of our "Meet a Member" series, we're introducing you to Lee Gaines, a reporter with WILL (Illinois Public Media), covering education and criminal justice. She's also part of Illinois Newsroom, a collaboration between NPR member stations across the state.

How did you develop an interest in reporting or broadcasting?

I needed a job. I was a freshman in college during the 2008 financial crisis. I previously wanted to be an actress but failed to get into any acting schools. I loved reading and writing. I was and currently am a much better writer than actress. Teaching didn’t appeal to me, and therefore journalism made sense. And then I fell in love with reporting. I feel so lucky to have found a job that I love doing every day. I was a print reporter for the first seven years of my career, and I transitioned into public radio a little more than a year ago.

What was your first job in journalism and/or broadcasting?

I was the sole reporter for a weekly newspaper in the suburbs of Boston. The paper was part of the GateHouse Media New England chain. I covered the very ritzy bedroom community of Wellesley, Mass. That’s where I got a taste for investigative journalism. The school district was rife with controversy, and I stumbled onto a good story at the right time. I look back at that experience as the inspiration for my interest and preference for investigative and hard news reporting. I realized through that experience how much I enjoy digging for information — pulling on a thread until a complex and nuanced narrative fully unravels. It is often a laborious process, but one I enjoy immensely.

Why do you love being a journalist?

It’s exciting. My entire job involves absorbing, processing and regurgitating facts, data, and personal stories. Then I get to transform all of that information into a cohesive and engaging narrative. It’s the perfect combination of critical analysis and creativity. I’m an extrovert, and I really enjoy one-on-one conversations with sources. I’ve met an incredible array of incredibly interesting people through my job. Some of those interviews are hard, but they’re necessary. I also think this work is important. I don’t think I could do something where I didn’t feel like I was contributing something to a community — whether that’s my town, the state, the region or the country. And there’s this indescribable thrill I feel when I’ve stumbled onto a story no one else has reported. It's intoxicating.

What broadcast or story you’ve done makes you most proud?

I’m really proud of the work I’ve done around incarceration and education in Illinois. I hope my stories examining the lack of state spending on books in prisons, barriers to higher ed for formerly incarcerated people, and the reporting I’m currently doing around the value of a college in prison program beyond recidivism rates as well as the state of educational programming in Illinois prisons will foster a better understanding of what access or lack thereof to education means for those convicted of crimes. That was a long sentence.

What’s the hardest story or broadcast you’ve had to do?

A few weeks ago, I drove to Des Plaines to visit a school district who had helped a couple homeless families get into housing thanks to a little known state law passed in 2017. As part of that reporting, I visited with one family who received assistance from the district, and spoke on the phone with another.

Poverty is a difficult subject to report on. It feels overwhelming. It’s hard to point to the root of the problem as well as who or what is responsible for that problem. I really labored over that story because I wanted to do it justice. Not for the schools so much as for the families I interviewed. Their stories were difficult to hear, and difficult to whittle down to a few sound bites for broadcast. I often wonder whether the four-minute public radio feature is really the best way to tell stories about human suffering exacerbated or caused by systemic inequities. So, yeah, that was hard.

What’s your most embarrassing broadcast moment?

I’ve screwed up a few All Things Considered broadcasts. Thankfully I’ve never cursed on air. The first time I hosted ATC I could barely read the scripts because my hands were shaking so much.

Why did you join INBA?

I think it’s a great opportunity to connect with editors and reporters in the field. It’s nice to be able to put a face to the voice and byline.

Mike Miletich

Joining the INBA was one of my best life decisions. I met some of the best broadcast journalists while I was still a college student. Plus, I ended up getting a job through the connections I made!

Bob Roberts

INBA is as much about friendship and as it is about achieving common goals. It provides two things individual newsrooms cannot: in-service training, and the ability to speak out on issues affecting the profession. But most of all, it brings newspeople together.

Andrew Tanielian

INBA taught me how to network in a meaningful way. The scholarship process taught me how to endure a hard job interview and thrive.

Aaron Eades

As a student, it's often difficult to picture what working in the real world will be like. For me, the INBA bridged that gap by giving me the chance to talk to professionals who used to be in the same shoes I'm in now.

Jeff Bossert

When I was working in radio for the first time, I had no idea whether I could truly handle the demands. But INBA made me curious and want to improve. Even now, when I’ve maybe worked a lot of hours or planned some stories that didn’t come together for one reason or another, what I learn from an INBA conference gets me re-invigorated about the business.

Molly Jirasek

One of my top goals in my career was to get to Chicago. Thanks to INBA I met Margaret Larkin. She remembered our great conversations about Chicago and first alerted me to a job opening in the city I might be interested in. Lo and behold, I got that job! INBA helped me reach my dream.

Michelle Eccles McLaughlin

INBA is an organization that really caters to continuing education for professionals. It offers a relatively inexpensive way to learn new things, reinforce best practices and network.

Ryan Denham

“I recently attended my first INBA conference—and it won’t be my last. The combination of professional and student journalists learning together is electric. Everyone learns from each other and walks away with new friends (and LinkedIn connections). I know I did.”

Alexis McAdams

INBA played a huge part in preparing me for my broadcasting career. The INBA conventions connect students with on-air talent and news directors who give feedback on now to improve your work. Through relationships I made at those conventions, I was able to obtain my first on air reporting job.

Brian O'Keefe

One of the greatest benefits for me has been getting to see and know other parts of the state. I’m not from Illinois and traveling to spring and fall conventions over the years has transformed dots on a map to memories of places that enhance my story telling process.

Nora Baldner

The support INBA gives to student journalists is vitally important as we all discover how technology is changing news dissemination, INBA monitors and actively encourages truth, transparency and accountability from students and their universities.

Jennifer Fuller

INBA is not only a great networking tool, it also provides advocacy and support for journalists in an ever-changing world.

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