Deputy Editor Steve Mills, who came to ProPublica Illinois from the Chicago Tribune, believes he can use editing as a constant learning experience and that, in this field, “there are always stories out there.” In the fourth of a series of Q&As with ProPublica Illinois staffers, Mills chatted with ProPublica Emerging Reporter Andrea Salcedo.
What inspired you to become a journalist and eventually an editor?
After college, I knocked around for several years and was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I did some truly awful jobs — loaded boats that serviced the oil rigs off the California coast, picked avocados. I also worked in restaurants. Journalism seemed to hold many of the things that I found interesting and enjoyed doing — writing, digging into complex issues and solving problems. So I went back to school to study journalism, then got jobs on two midsize newspapers before joining the Tribune.
I was lucky journalism turned out to be a perfect fit for me.
As for becoming an editor, that sort of happened accidentally. After reporting for 30 years or so, I started filling in when editors would go on vacation. I would fill in for a week or so, and I liked it. When I was asked at the Chicago Tribune to become an editor, but also to continue with my reporting, I saw it as an opportunity.
What has been your most rewarding experience as a journalist?
With my reporting partners, I’ve helped to reveal and explain some of the frailties in the criminal justice system, including the death penalty, police interrogations and crime labs. Some of that reporting has contributed to changes to laws and policies here in Illinois. That’s been very, very rewarding. It shows that our reporting can change policy and have a real-world impact on the lives of citizens.
What are some underreported stories in Illinois that you wish had more coverage?
We need to look more at stories about people who don’t have all the advantages that others have. There are stories about education, housing and environmental issues that affect low-income people that really could use more coverage. There are a lot of places to go. Hopefully, we’ll go there.
How do you hope the stories you oversee and edit at ProPublica Illinois will spark change?
I hope that we’ll find problems that are going unexamined, explain them to readers, and then help identify solutions for them. If we do that and lawmakers pay attention, there’ll be no alternative but to make change, to help people.
What reporting and/or storytelling techniques do you wish to experiment with at ProPublica Illinois?
ProPublica is great at dealing with data, and that’s an area where I can learn a lot. I really hope to learn from the great data reporters we have and, really, from all of our reporters. Everybody in our newsroom has some skill that I probably don’t have enough of — or have at all. I hope to learn from all of them.
What has been the biggest lesson journalism has taught you?
To never stop looking for stories. There are always stories out there that we can find if we just keep looking.