By Martin Xavi Macias, Journalism graduate student (’16)
Ellyn Fortino got a reporting job right out of college that placed her in the same room with the journalists she looked up to.
Fortino, a reporter at Progress Illinois, has reported from City Hall and other venues where she rubs shoulders with longtime political reporters Carol Marin (Chicago Sun-Times, and WTTW) and Fran Spielman (Chicago Sun-Times).
“I’ve been lucky enough to be in the same room” with them, Fortino said.
Fortino has been a reporter and blogger for the progressive media outlet since 2012 when she graduated. She had previously freelanced for them and was later offered a full-time position around the time she completed her M.A. in journalism from Columbia College Chicago. She reports primarily on local issues but also writes stories that have a national focus.
“Do as much as you can outside of school,” Fortino said, encouraging students to get extra experience in the field. “Even the work you’re doing in school can be pitched to outlets.”
As a graduate student, Fortino worked as editor and contributor for Austin Talks, a hyper-local community news site for the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s west side. Fortino, who grew up in the leafy suburb of Carol Stream, called it an “eye opening” experience.
“It made me want to start reporting on people and places that are not incorporated in media as much as they should be,” she said.
She counted Suzanne McBride, interim chair of Columbia College’s Journalism Department and publisher of Austin Talks, as one her most important mentors.
“She helped me grow so much as a journalist,” Fortino said. “I learned so much about the city reporting in Austin.”
Fortino said her most interesting experience as a professional reporter was covering the closure of 50 public schools by the Chicago Board of Education in May 2013.
“It was very intense covering the board meetings, the protests, speaking to families impacted by the closings,” Fortino said. “That collection of stories stands out for me.”