Bill Miller Public Affairs Reporting Hall of Fame

The Bill Miller Hall of Fame was established by Illinois Issues magazine and public radio station WUIS – both units within UIS’ Center for State Policy and Leadership – in 2006 to recognize the contribution the university’s Public Affairs Reporting program has made to journalism and to the state of Illinois, as well as to honor  program graduates who have had distinguished careers in journalism.

New classes are inducted roughly every two years during a ceremony in Springfield. Honorees’ names are inscribed on a plaque displayed in the Illinois Statehouse Press Room.

Miller, the Hall of Fame’s namesake, was director of the PAR program at Sangamon State University/UIS for 19 years until his retirement in 1993. Prior to PAR, Miller was an award-winning reporter with WTAX radio in Springfield and launched the Capitol Information Bureau, a predecessor of Illinois Radio Network. He died in 2003.

Here are the current members of the Hall of Fame. (Biographical information reflects achievements and employment status at the time of the induction.)

Inducted April 29, 2019

Trif Alatzas is publisher and editor-in-chief of Baltimore Sun Media. A 1989 graduate of the PAR program, he interned in the Illinois State Capitol with United Press International and Gannett News Service. Under his leadership, Baltimore Sun Media has been recognized with more than 40 national awards including being named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize three times during the past four years.

 Patty Culhane joined Al Jazeera in 2009. Before joining she worked as a correspondent for MSNBC/NBC covering the Bush administration. She has been a journalist for 24 years, working in Iowa, Illinois and Norfolk, Virginia where she covered the U.S. military, travelling extensively through the Middle East covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She is a 1995 graduate of the PAR program.

Natasha Korecki is a national correspondent for POLITICO, covering the 2020 presidential race. Before that, she authored and launched POLITICO’s Illinois Playbook. She previously worked as chief political writer at the Chicago Sun-Times covering federal courts and law enforcement during a golden age of political corruption prosecutions in Chicago. Korecki reported on the criminal trials of two consecutive governors – George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich – and created the “Blago Blog,” which drew a national following. She is the author of “Only in Chicago” based on the Blagojevich probe and trials. Korecki is a 1997 graduate of the PAR program.

Inducted March 6, 2017

 Scott Canon was a member of the PAR class of 1982 and has worked for the Kansas City Star since 1989. He has covered the bombing of the Oklahoma federal building, the Columbine school shooting, the NATO occupation of Kosovo, the start of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan in 2001, the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 and 2007 and tsunami recovery in Sri Lanka. He’s also covered political campaigns, statehouses and periodically produced investigative work. As part of a science writing fellowship, he visited the Arctic Circle and Antarctica. He began his career at the Champaign News-Gazette and the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Michael Hawthorne is a member of the PAR class of 1989. As an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, he focuses on public health and environmental stories. In 2013, Hawthorne and two colleagues were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. Their stories exposed a deceptive, decades-long campaign by the tobacco and chemical industries to promote the use of harmful, ineffective flame retardants in household furniture. Other stories by Hawthorne prompted new laws and health reforms at the federal and state level. Before joining the Tribune in 2004, Hawthorne wrote for the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Champaign News-Gazette and the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Mike Kienzler is a graduate of the first PAR class of 1973. He spent not quite 40 years as an editor and reporter with The State Journal-Register, the Springfield daily newspaper. He was metro editor and deputy metro editor for most of that period, with prime responsibility for the paper’s election and government coverage, among other duties. Since retirement in 2013, Kienzler has been founding editor of SangamonLink.org, the online encyclopedia of the Sangamon County Historical Society. Kienzler is a member of the Illinois State Historical Society Advisory Board and a recent past board member of the Lincoln Monument Association, a support group for the Lincoln Tomb State Historic site.

Inducted March 9, 2015

Bob SecterRobert Secter graduated from the PAR program in 1974. He spent 14 years at the Los Angeles Times including stints as foreign and national correspondent. Secter was an assistant editor at the Chicago Sun Times and, since 1995, has been with the Chicago Tribune, where he is the Illinois political editor. During his career he covered the U.S invasion into Panama, the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge rule in Cambodia and the fall of two Illinois governors.

Deb PetersonDeborah Peterson is a member of the PAR class of 1978. She is an editorial page writer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch where she has worked since 1985. She also worked for the Kansas City Star and the Associated Press. She was part of the Star’s Pulitzer Prize award winning staff that covered the 1981 collapse of the Hyatt Regency Hotel skywalk which killed more than 100 people.

AbbottChuck Abbott is a member of the PAR Class of 1975. A long-time commodities and farm policy correspondent for Reuters, Abbott now edits and writes for the Washington, D.C. based Food and Environment Network, which is a non-profit organization focused on food and agriculture policy. Prior to his work at Reuters, Abbott reported for United Press International and served as UPI’s farm editor. He is a past president of the North American Farm Journalists.

Inducted Jan. 28, 2013

Nina Burleigh is a journalist and the author of five books. She writes the weekly Bombshell column at the New York Observer. Her last book, The Fatal Gift of Beauty, was a New York Times bestseller. In the last several years, she has covered a wide array of subjects, including American politics, the Arab Spring, Israeli archaeological forgers, Iraq war veterans and drug addiction, Arab feminism, Iraqi immigrants in Nebraska, the NYPD and human trafficking in New York City, Nazi-looted art at the MOMA, a small-town Italian mayor murdered over slow food politics, Arctic travel, Chinese immigrants to Italy, and expat life in Italy. She covered the Clinton White House for Time and wrote human interest stories for People magazine as a staff writer based in New York in the 2000s. She has written for numerous publications including Businessweek, The New Yorker, the New York Times and New York Magazine, is a contributing editor at Elle and has appeared on Good Morning America, Nightline, The Today Show, 48 Hours, MSNBC, CNN and, on NPR and many radio programs. Born and educated in the Midwest, based in New York, Burleigh has traveled extensively in the Middle East and lived in Italy and France. She lives in New York with her husband and two children. Nina received her bachelor’s degree in English from MacMurray College, a master’s in English from the University of Chicago and her master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting from UIS (then Sangamon State University) in 1984.

Jim Prather began his career as a government reporter for WICS-TV in Springfield. He later went to work as a government reporter for KARK-TV in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he covered the Bill Clinton-Frank White gubernatorial campaign and the ensuing Clinton administration. Prather made the transition to management when he became the assignment editor for KTHV-TV in Little Rock. Later, Prather served as news director at KRIS-TV in Corpus Christi, Texas, KTXS-TV in Abilene, Texas, and KSBY-TV in San Luis Obispo, California. In 1989, he became assistant news director at WMAR-TV in Baltimore. Two years later he was named news director at WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee. During his 12-year tenure in Milwaukee, Prather rebuilt the organizational structure and culture in the Today’s TMJ-4 newsroom to provide more viewer-focused newscasts. In August 1995, Prather was named general manager of Today’s TMJ-4. With the help of a resurgent NBC prime time, a strong leadership team and a strategic plan which focused on winning breaking news, weather and investigative reporting, Today’s TMJ-4 became the dominant news leader in the Milwaukee marketplace. In 1997, Prather was named executive vice president of the Journal Broadcast Group. In December 1998 he became president of the television group. In August 2003, Prather moved to Las Vegas and took on the role of vice president and general manager of KTNV, a station in the Journal Broadcast Group’s largest revenue market. In July 2005, Prather was named executive vice president, Television and Radio Operations, of Journal Broadcast Group. He now oversees radio and television station clusters in Boise and Tucson, and a Journal Broadcast Group duopoly in Palm Springs. A graduate of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, Prather holds a bachelor of science degree in radio-television and political science, and a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.

Jim Webb is the editor for a Chicago Tribune investigative team focused on state and local government. Prior to that, he was the paper’s Illinois political editor from mid-2005 to mid-2010. In addition to supervising daily coverage of Chicago City Hall, Cook County and Illinois state government for five years, Webb oversaw state and local campaign coverage for the paper. During that time, he was the lead editor for the newspaper’s investigations of pay-to-pay politics involving former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, hiring corruption under then-Mayor Richard Daley and influence peddling involving City Hall zoning. In his role at the Tribune, Webb works with a team of reporters focused on the relationships between powerful public officials and private interests. The team has produced a series of stories about how Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has built a political empire while repeatedly taking public actions that benefit private clients of his property tax law firm. Starting before the election of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Metro investigations team has examined Emanuel’s creation of a campaign fund juggernaut, outlined the new mayor’s increasing reliance on privatization and exposed his resistance to transparency on everything from speed cameras to school closings. Prior to joining the Tribune, Webb spent 18 years as a reporter, desk supervisor and news editor for The Associated Press.

Inducted Nov. 15, 2010

CornwellSusan Cornwell has been a working journalist for more than three decades and in several countries around the world. She interviewed pivotal world leaders, such as former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and wrote the first draft of history in Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika-era Soviet Union. Cornwell has reported on U.S. policies and politics from Washington, where she has followed events on Capitol Hill, at the White House and the State Department. In 1996, Cornwell won the Merriman Smith award for presidential reporting on a deadline, given to one journalist a year by the White House Correspondents’ Association. She is currently a Capitol Hill correspondent for Reuters, focusing mainly on foreign policy. Raised in Metropolis and Edwardsville, Cornwell received her professional start in Illinois, working briefly as a copy clerk for the Alton Telegraph followed by her first full-time reporting job at the Springfield State Journal-Register. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and her master’s degree from UIS (then Sangamon State University) in 1979.

John O’Connor has been an Illinois state Capitol reporter for The Associated Press since 1998, focusing on a variety of enterprising and investigative pieces. He is the 2010 winner of the $10,000 Oliver S. Gramling Journalism Achievement Award from the AP for a year-long body of work that included reports on a secret early prison-release program that nearly cost Gov. Pat Quinn the primary election and forced changes in state laws requiring minimum sentences. Other articles included a report on the gaping racial disparity in school discipline that inspired a state legislative task force and an article on salary increases given to Quinn’s top staff—some topping 20 percent —during a budget crisis, that had prompted the governor to announce extra furlough days for all state workers. He was given the specialist byline ― AP Political Writer ― in 2005 for consistently breaking stories. Prior to working with the AP, O’Connor was a journalist at several Illinois newspapers, most recently The State Journal-Register (Springfield), the Bloomington Pantagraph and the Daily Herald (Arlington Heights). A native of Freeport, Illinois, O’Connor received a bachelor’s degree in speech communication from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, before receiving his master’s at UIS (then Sangamon State University) in 1986.

Barbara Hipsman has been an associate professor of journalism and mass communication at Kent State University, Kent, Ohio since 1987, where she received the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1996. Previously, Hipsman was an assistant professor at Bradley University in Peoria for three years and worked as Statehouse bureau chief for the Belleville News Democrat for six years. She is active with Capitolbeat, the national association of Capitol reporters and editors, as a judge, facilitator and presenter at national meetings. Hipsman remains current on journalistic trends, using sabbaticals spent at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chicago Tribune, Arizona Daily Republic and Columbus Dispatch to study the effects of convergence, varying ownership and unionization. This spring, Hipsman will study cell phone usage in news gathering. She received a B.S. in journalism from Northern Illinois University in 1972 and her master’s from UIS (then Sangamon State University) in 1978.

Inducted Nov. 17, 2008

Mary Bohlen, associate professor and chair of the UIS Communication Department, was in her 25th year of teaching journalism at the time of her induction. She supervised nine full faculty members, six adjunct instructors, and nearly 200 undergraduate and graduate students. In 2008 she received the university’s Pearson Faculty Award for Teaching, an annual honor given to one faculty member for outstanding teaching. Following her PAR studies, Bohlen was employed by United Press International full time as a Statehouse reporter for five years covering Illinois state government, especially the Illinois Senate; LPGA golf tournaments; Big Ten football; primary and general elections; and federal and state court cases. She also wrote numerous features covering Illinois. Bohlen left UPI in 1982 to become press secretary for the Illinois Senate Democrats and began her teaching career in 1983. She is a co-founder of the Springfield-area Association for Women in Journalism and a past president of the Springfield-area Women in Communications. She received her B.S. in journalism from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1972 and her master’s from UIS in 1976.

Kevin FinchKevin Finch is a national Edward R. Murrow Award-winning broadcast journalist with 23 years of experience in radio and TV news. Finch is news director at WISH-TV, the CBS affiliate in Indianapolis, having served as assistant news director there as well. In his tenure as news director, Finch’s station has won several national and regional honors, including a George Foster Peabody Award; several regional Emmys; and the Indiana AP Outstanding News and Weather Operation Awards. Prior to WISH-TV, he spent 13 years at the NBC affiliate in Indianapolis. Early in his career, he covered news for radio and TV stations in Morton, Peoria, Springfield, and Champaign. Finch has reported on major political events, serving as executive producer and organizer for 15 election nights and 10 televised political debates for U.S. Senate, governor, and other offices. He has covered four national political conventions, a presidential inauguration, and the Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton. Finch guided coverage of 9/11 from Washington and covered the anniversary of that event in New York a year later. He also produced reports from Washington on the start of the current war in Iraq. He is the recipient of numerous national and regional awards. Finch received his bachelor’s degree in 1981 from Murray State University and his master’s from UIS in 1986.

Ray LongRay Long has written about Illinois government and politics for more than 25 years. He is a reporter in the Chicago Tribune’s Statehouse bureau, where he has been since 1998. Previously he ran the Associated Press bureau in Springfield. Long covered Mayor Richard M. Daley, City Hall, local courts, Cook County Board, and state government for the Chicago Sun-Times. He worked local, state, and federal beats for the Peoria Journal Star. Long is a founding member of Capitolbeat, formerly known as the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, a nationwide organization promoting excellence in state government coverage. He is the author of a chapter about investigative reporting in the book A Guide to Statehouse Reporting. His experience includes writing about numerous scandals, questionable public spending, massive budgets, ethical lapses of government figures, and major legislative issues under four governors, including one sentenced to prison. He has received local, state, and national awards for spot news, enterprise, investigative reporting, and news analysis from numerous organizations. The Illinois AP awarded Long the 1997 Charles Chamberlain Award, a staff honor recognizing a reporter’s storytelling ability. The National Commission Against Drunk Driving presented Long and a Tribune colleague its 2002 media award for a series of articles that led to the revocation of more than 3,000 licenses of drivers whose convictions — including 67 percent of those reckless homicide offenders in prison or on parole — had gone unrecorded in state driving records. Long received his bachelor’s degree in 1980 from what was then Sangamon State University and is now UIS, and his master’s from UIS in 1980.

Inducted Nov. 13, 2006

Kathleen Best, a member of the PAR class of 1979-80, joined The Sun in 2005. As assistant managing editor of Sunday, national, and foreign news, she directed the paper’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina and helped shape the reporting on the war in Iraq and on a number of major domestic issues. Previously a reporter and editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, she both covered and directed coverage of the Illinois Statehouse. She moved to the paper’s Washington, D.C., bureau in 1992. Best also spent five years as a reporter and editor at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer covering, among other news stories, the World Trade Organization riots. Her first full-time reporting job was at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa. She moved to that paper’s Illinois capital bureau in 1981.

Bill LambrechtBill Lambrecht has been a national correspondent for the Post-Dispatch since the mid-1980s. He is the author of two books, including Dinner at the New Gene Café, about genetically modified food, and he is co-founder of the Bay Weekly in Annapolis, Maryland. He has covered politics and the environment since his student days with the PAR program’s first class in 1972-73. He has been on the campaign trail for every presidential election since 1984 and has written extensively on the global politics of biotechnology and the politics of water. His first newspaper series on genetically engineered food, published in 1986, accurately predicted the political storm that would erupt a decade later when this technology was approved for commercialization in the United States. In the late 1990s, he traveled extensively for the Post-Dispatch while reporting about the global uprising that greeted the arrival of these genetically modified crops.