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Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016 12:07 am

Exit interview

Amanda Vinicky, longtime WUIS reporter, on Illinois politics and her new job in Chicago

Amanda Vinicky
PHOTO BY KARI BEDFORD

 

As Statehouse bureau chief for Illinois Public Radio, Amanda Vinicky has been a familiar, authoritative voice on WUIS for a decade, providing excellent coverage of state politics and government. That is all about to change when, starting Jan. 1, Vinicky begins her new position as full-time correspondent for “Chicago Tonight,” WTTW-Channel 11’s flagship television news show, for which she has been an occasional contributor for the past year.

“It’s bittersweet,” Vinicky said. “I keep on describing it as moving from one dream job to another.” She says she is looking forward to the challenges of switching from radio to the more visual presentation required by television. “I will need to up my wardrobe and makeup game,” she laughs. “I think in this media landscape it is good to be able to reach readers, listeners, viewers – good journalism is good journalism no matter how it comes at you and that is what I intend to practice. We’ve all had our ‘driveway moments,’ and I like to think I’ve created a couple.”

Vinicky said she was particularly intrigued by the new position because she saw it as an opportunity to bridge some gaps she has noticed in reporting statewide. “So often there is this notion of the ‘Tale of Two Illinois(s)’ – that there’s Chicago and then all the rest.” She is pleased to take a central role in what she sees as an effort on WTTW’s part toward making a greater commitment to covering state government at a time of unprecedented change and importance. “This is a new position,” she points out. “Nobody is leaving WTTW, they’re adding [the Statehouse beat] to their newsroom.”

Vinicky originally got into public radio as a listener, and remembers hearing WUIS news director Sean Crawford and former Statehouse bureau chief Bill Wheelhouse as a cub reporter and realizing this was the career path she wanted to follow. “That was why I applied for the public affairs reporting program [at UIS] and interned for them. I had a brief bit of time working in Iowa City but the bulk of my journalism career has been here.”

She was quick to point out that as a journalist, it is her place to provide facts rather than interpretations. But when pressed, she was able to provide some parting observations about the state government she has focused on for so long. “There is often the notion – it’s a very human one – where people want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to cut government abuse but don’t want to pay more in taxes. There is good reason for that, too, when you look at Illinois’ often flawed track record of proving that they are good stewards of people’s hard-earned money.”

Vinicky has also noticed indications of some confusion on the public’s part about the role of the institutions she has devoted her life to covering. “Government exists to provide the services and infrastructure that there isn’t another private entity to do,” she said. “That is what government’s job is – and that costs money and comes with responsibilities.” She holds out hope that the ongoing budget impasse might have helped bring this message home, but she has some doubts. “I think Illinois has teetered for so long without a true budget that I fear perhaps some people imagine the stories we journalists report as a bit of crying wolf – even though these things do have really true and long-term consequences – so  pay attention!”

A wider trend on both state and national levels is the popular notion that government should be “run like a business,” with billionaire businessmen elected to executive office in Illinois and Washington. “There are a lot of built-in ways that government is not supposed to be like a business,” she said. “You have checks and balances of the various branches of government and things are supposed to move slow because we’ve seen that too much power can be exploited into ethical lapses. And when the economy is going bad, you have more people dependent on government services, not less – that’s how it works. To think it can be run like a business, with a boss and immediate decisions and cutting of services – that doesn’t really work.”

Vinicky’s love of the subject of state government remains undiminished. “I still get that wonderful feeling, when I walk into the State Capitol, of awe that I work here in this beautiful building where I believe there remain a lot of people who care,” she said. “I’ve been very proud to be part of an Illinois press corps with strong traditions of pressing their elected officials to answer tough questions.”

As for leaving Springfield, which has been home for so long, Vinicky says that more than anything else she will miss her colleagues. “I will be back to cover state government, but surely not every single day and moment like I have been. It’s been really great to have a network of talented reporters across Illinois where we can collaborate and notice trends.” Also chief among the things she will miss about Springfield is the pad thai at Magic Kitchen. “That’s gonna be one of the toughest parts,” she said. “Nothing in Chicago like it. It is the best.” She also says she truly loves and will miss easy access to horseshoes. “I don’t understand people who have lived in Springfield – or even visited Springfield – and never bothered to have one.

“Maybe being gone will be healthier for my diet,” she reflected.

Contact Scott Faingold at sfaingold@illinoistimes.com

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