Washington, Laura S. 1956(?)–
Laura S. Washington 1956(?)–
Laura S. Washington is the editor and publisher of the Chicago Reporter, a small Chicago monthly that covers race and poverty issues. But if the investigative stories the journal presents are limited to the metropolitan Chicago area, the concerns they address are important throughout the United States and its editor has become a wellrespected voice in the national media. Washington also regularly writes for the Chicago Tribune and frequently appears on Chicago radio and television. In 1997 she was named to Newsweek’s “Century Club,” a group of 100 people that the magazine identified as “personalities whose creativity or talent or brains or leadership will make a difference in the years ahead.” The magazine credited her for making the Chicago Reporter a “powerful … voice” despite its diminutive size.
Raised on Chicago’s South Side, Washington is the daughter of a mailman and a library aide. She and her brothers attended Catholic schools, and she went to high school at the Academy of Our Lady in southwestern Chicago. Described by her mother, Gwendolyn Washington, as a serious student from a young age, Laura was greatly influenced by the atmosphere of racial tension that existed at the Academy of Our Lady. “But the experience … gave me a determination to work to encourage, even force individuals of different races to understand each other and work together,” Washington was quoted in a Chicago Commission on Human Relations publication. Having aspired to work in the medical profession as a young girl, Washington decided to study at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
After graduating from Northwestern in 1980, Washington went to work at the Chicago Reporter writing education stories, and become assistant editor and managing editor before leaving in 1985. That year, she was hired as deputy press secretary for the first black mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington. According to her ex-boss Alton Miller in the Chicago Sun-Times, “Laura practically ran the mayor’s press office.… It was a real juggling act, and she did it with class and style.” Her work at City Hall was challenging; during the mayor’s term, he and the city council were at each other’s throats and the press office was often defending the mayor from political attacks. While Washington told the Chicago Sun-Times
Born c. 1956, in Chicago, IL; daughter of a mailman and Gwendolyn (a library aide) Washington. Education : Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University, B.A., 1978, M.A., 1980.
Career: Chicago Reporter, education reporter, assistant editor, and managing editor, 1980-85, editor, 1990-, and publisher, 1994-. Worked as deputy press secretary for the mayor of Chicago, 1985-87; investigative news producer, WBBM-Channel 2, Chicago, 1987-90.
Member: Chicago and National Associations of Black Journalists; board member. Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc.; chairperson, board of the Community Media Workshop.
Awards: American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, James P. McGuire Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Media, 1992; Women in Communications, Matrix Award for Outstanding Achievement in Communications, 1995; Illinois Ethnic Coalition, American Pluralism Award, 1993; YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago, Racial Justice Award, 1997; Medill School of Journalism Hall of Achievement, founding inductee, 1997; Chicago Commission on Human Relations, Bemadine C. Washington Communication Award, 1998. Also two Emmy Awards; Peter Lisagor and Jacob Scher Award for outstanding journalism; Ohio State Award for broadcast journalism; Journalism Fellowship in Urban and Minority Education from the Ford Foundation.
Addresses: Office — Chicago Reporter, 332 South Michigan Avenue, Suite 500, Chicago, IL 60604-4394. Email —[email protected]
Times that she saw the job as an “opportunity to make change socially and economically,” she decided that her switch from journalism to public relations was not a permanent career change. She left Washington’s administration before his death in 1987, taking a job at the CBS-owned television station WBBM-Channel 2, where she worked as a producer for the investigative news team.
In 1990, Washington returned to the Chicago Reporter as editor, and in 1994 she was named the monthly’s publisher. Her focus is now two-fold: directing coverage of racial and economic issues in metropolitan Chicago and to increase funding sources for the non-profit publication. Founded in 1972 and published by the Community Renewal Society, the Chicago Reporter has a circulation of about 5,000. The investigative journal was established during a time when Chicago’s dialogue on race centered on blacks and whites, but today the Chicago Reporter also addresses subjects important to the city’s growing Latino and Asian populations. Washington seeks to improve the journal’s funding by targeting national foundations for more money; she commented in Cram’s Chicago Business, “We have a strong reputation for doing good journalism. … It’s a great training ground for young people. We can sell that track record very well to media-and journalism-oriented foundations.”
Since returning to the Chicago Reporter, Washington has also made the journal’s name more recognizable, as she finds new outlets for its stories and as she appears elsewhere as its representative. Washington writes a monthly column for the Chicago Tribune, where she has addressed topics including the sale of the Chicago Defender, the largest black-owned daily newspaper in the United States; Chicago politics and the fading legacy of Harold Washington; and new federal regulations on deporting legal immigrants. The journalist is also a regular analyst on Chicago Public Television station WTTW, appearing on the public affairs program Chicago Tonight On the radio, Washington is a frequent contributor to The Mara Tapp Show on WBEZ-FM, a public radio station, and she hosts Citi; Voices on WNUA-FM. At the national level, Washington has been quoted numerous times in Time, Newsweek, and The New York Times, among other news publications.
Washington is battling a communications gap which she described while writing about the Chicago Defender: “While newsroom staffs are more integrated than ever, generally the mainstream media does not have enough talent or will to cover minority communities, at least beyond the negative and sensational stereotypes.” As head of the Chicago Reporter, she has targeted a variety of issues that may not have received much coverage elsewhere. A sampling of Chicago Reporter headlines under her direction have included “Sex Abuse Cases Decline, but Blacks Still Main Victims,” “White Right’ Taking Off in Chicago Suburbs,” and “Minorities Get Leftovers in No-Bid Bond Deals.” These kinds of stories have served to bolster the Chicago Reporter’s fine reputation; Washington’s journal was described in the Chicago Sun-Times as being “one of Chicago’s most respected vehicles for change.”
In the same Chicago Sun-Times interview, Washington described herself as rather hard-nosed: “I’m too quick to think the worst of anything and anybody.” But she also considers herself an idealist and integrationist who would like to live in a world where race is no longer at issue in human relationships. While the pragmatist in Washington said: “I think racism is a fact of life and a part of human nature,” she added, “I believe that in a perfect society, there shouldn’t be any conflict between the races. We should be color-blind.”
In addition to being recognized by Newsweek as an important figure, Washington has been honored by various other organizations. Honors given to Washington include the 1992 James P. McGuire Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Media from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, the 1995 Matrix Award for Outstanding Achievement in Communications from Women in Communications, and the 1998 Bernadine C. Washington Communications Award from the Chicago Human Relations Commission. In conjunction with this last award for “promoting good human relations,” the Commission noted that “Laura S. Washington’s experiences as both a print and a broadcast journalist have provided critical information to set the stage for common action on issues of race and poverty.” In future, an ever-widening audience will likely be turning to this honored journalist for information and opinion.
Crain’s Chicago Business, September 19, 1994, p. 23.
Chicago Sun-Times, May 25, 1997, p. 25.
Newsweek, April 21, 1997, p. 40.
Additional material for this sketch was taken from a Chicago Human Relations Commission brochure and other biographical information provided by the Chicago Reporter
—Paula Pyzik Scott
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