Mick Dumke, who came to ProPublica Illinois from the Chicago Sun-Times, is a self-described “political junkie” who likes to dig into unexplored stories. In the first of a series of Q&A’s with ProPublica Illinois staffers, Dumke talked with ProPublica Emerging Reporter Andrea Salcedo.
What inspired you to become a journalist?
I started my professional career a little later than a lot of my contemporaries, but I was very interested in journalism and writing from an early age. I used to make my own magazines and newspapers, even as a little kid.
In high school, I was the editor of my high school newspaper. I read “The Jungle” as a teenager, and I studied the old muckrakers and how they used their reporting and writing skills to highlight social injustice. Since that time, I’ve been interested in writing about politics and social issues.
What’s been the most rewarding experience you’ve had as a journalist?
The most rewarding experience that I continue to have is just the day-to-day work of being a reporter. I’m talking about being able to go out, meet people, hear their stories and dig through records to find out what’s really going on. That is always rewarding.
What are you interested in investigating with ProPublica Illinois?
I have a very wide range of interests, but I would boil it down to politics. I am a political junkie. I’m interested in the way politics at the city and state level impact policies that affect people’s lives. Specifically, a couple of ongoing interests are housing — public housing in particular — questions of civil liberties and the social safety net.
Who are some of your role models in journalism?
I admire people who are modern-day muckrakers, who are still doing stories about issues that affect people’s lives and holding powerful people accountable. I’m constantly looking for people who both turn over rocks and see what’s underneath, and who find a way to write stories that engage us.
What are some underreported stories in Illinois that you’d like to read more about?
As reporters, we all like to think that what we’re working on is a little bit underreported. That’s why we’re on it. But, in general, I would say stories about people who are low-income or out of power and stories that connect those who are seemingly forgotten with the rest of society.
What reporting and storytelling techniques do you wish to experiment with at ProPublica Illinois?
I’d like to write stories that my mom would like to read even if I weren’t her son. Stories that people read not just because they feel like they have to eat their vegetables, but because they find it interesting and important. We want stories that have power, but we also want stories people can’t put down.
What’s the biggest lesson journalism has taught you?
Be humble. In most cases, the stories we work on are not about us, but we’re interested in them for some reason. You have to be drawn by something inside you, but you also have to realize you’re a speck out there and you’re trying to report on a much bigger world than your own.