Prominent Chicago Journalist Speaks at NEIU’s Meet the Media Night


Angelica Sanchez

Jen Sabella with Travis Truitt at NEIU’s Meet the Media Night in Sept. 6

Nicole F. Anderson, News and Co-Managing Editor

Prominent Chicago journalist Jen Sabella was the guest speaker at NEIU’s annual “Meet the Media Night” on Sept. 6. Sabella told memories of her student media experience and shared wisdom on her career in journalism.

This was the ninth Meet the Media night at NEIU. The student media organizations (the Independent, WZRD, Seeds and Que Ondee Sola) spoke to the NEIU community on student media importance and why they should join.

All of the student media organizations on campus are completely student-run. The Independent is the bi-weekly newspaper, WZRD the free-form radio station, Seeds is the literary and visual arts journal and Que Ondee Sola is the Puerto Rican and Latinx quarterly magazine.

Following the student media organizations, NEIU Media Adviser Travis Truitt introduced the guest speaker Jen Sabella.

Sabella has roots in several Chicago news organizations, starting at the Columbia Chronicle, Columbia College Chicago’s student-run newspaper. After graduating, Sabella freelanced on the side and waitressed to pay the bills.

Not too long after, Sabella was hired at the Sun Times as a breaking news crime reporter. She explained that before the Sun Times, she wanted to be a music writer but after covering the crime beat, she was hooked and never looked back.

After the Sun Times, Sabella heard about a position at the Chicago branch of the Huffington Post covering Illinois politics, which she applied for and landed the job. At Huffington Post she learned about aggregation and using technology with journalism. She said, “At the time, it was a great experience for me and I learned a lot.”

Sabella went on to explain the importance of networking during her college student-media days, “I got a call and it was this guy, who I kind of knew, his wife taught at Columbia. Again, the networking; it’s ridiculous from school media.”

“But he was like, ‘Hey, so we’re starting a hyper-local news operation and it’s called DNAinfo’ and I was just like, ‘Goodbye, I’m not leaving my job at the Huffington Post to work for some stupidly named hyperlocal website, while Patch is like going up in flames,’” Sabella said.

She continued, “I was like, ‘No,’ and then he told me how much it would pay, and I was like, ‘Yup, yup, I’m in.’ It was like, yeah, you people in New York don’t know what how much people in Chicago get paid.”

Sabella was at DNAInfo Chicago, a hyperlocal news organization that had reporters “embedded” into the neighborhoods, until their owner Joe Ricketts decided to shut down DNAinfo and the Gothamist networks because it wasn’t generating enough income.

Ricketts wrote in a Nov. 2017 statement, “DNAinfo is, at the end of the day, a business, and businesses need to be economically successful if they are to endure.”

When I left the Columbia Chronicle, I was like ‘I’m never going to have this again. This is my family, these are my people. We all go out together, we do everything together, we live and breathe this news and DNAinfo was even more so like that.

“I would I always say like we’re a cult. We all were so obsessed with the work and so obsessed with each other and so supportive of each other and coming from these other newsrooms, it was something that I never experienced. And I do think that was part of building something from nothing that made it that special,” Sabella said.

However, DNAinfo Chicago wasn’t the end of Sabella’s hyperlocal news writing, it was only the beginning. Three months after DNAinfo was shut down, a new hyperlocal nonprofit news site arose from the ashes: Block Club Chicago.

Sabella, along with former DNAinfo editors Shamus Toomey and Stephanie Lulay announced they were going to launch Block Club Chicago, a similar concept to DNAinfo.

“As soon as DNA shut down, all these people started coming out of the woodwork wanting to help put it back together… “People realized pretty quickly how much of a void there was after we left,” Sabella said to Heidi Stevens a Chicago Tribune reporter on Feb. 6.

She explained during Meet the Media that Block Club Chicago is a team effort, “I have a title, but we all do everything.”

In addition to Block Club Chicago, Sabella also co-hosts a monthly show with Erika Wozniak called “The Girl Talk.” The show is every fourth Tuesday of the month at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia.

Sabella and Wozniak have a new guest or panel of guests every month. They have interviewed women such as Martha Scott, Toni Preckwinkle, Kim Foxx and Lori Lightfoot. They also have a podcast, which right now, according to Sabella is “really raw,” but they have plans to expand it.

Afterward Sabella gave the audience chance to ask questions. Several students asked about how to put themselves out there, how to pitch an editor, inquired about internships and asked for journalism tips.

Sabella then explained that sometime in the future, Block Club Chicago will have internships available for college students but they need to have their ducks in a row first.

NEIU student Tee Murray said Meet the Media Night can help students “know what’s out there.”

“It was a great way of introducing the students [to student media] to help them figure out,” Murray said. “Maybe they didn’t know how to go about it.”

The Independent newspaper meets every Tuesday from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. in E-049. The Independent’s main email is [email protected].

Que Ondee Sola’s office hours are from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays. QOS’s email is [email protected].

WZRD doesn’t have set meeting times but ask students to email the Program Director Katie Versteegh via at email at [email protected].

SEEDS have monthly meetings. For more information about SEEDS, please email them at: [email protected].