Chip Mitchell, 2012 Studs Terkel Community Media Award Winner

Chip Mitchell
WBEZ Chicago Public Radio

Chip Mitchell started his journalism career in the late 1980s writing columns for the Daily Cardinal, a student paper at the University of Wisconsin. It was around then that he also first got to hear Studs Terkel, whose daily radio show aired on Madison’s community station, WORT.

“He sounded like a regular person who was engaged with the world and who cared about regular people,” Mitchell said. “Studs Terkel, like no one else, found and amplified the voices of people without wealth or political assets—people who had been silenced. His books and broadcasts gave them a voice.”

Mitchell went on in 1992 to co-found two daily news shows that have aired ever since on WORT. Twenty years later, his voice is being recognized with the Studs Terkel Award for work at WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station.

“It’s an incredible privilege to get paid to report news—to try to uncover truths that listeners maybe haven’t heard before,” Mitchell said, pointing out that the number of full-time journalists keeps shrinking. “It’s vital for our democracy and the local community’s wellbeing that we figure out a way for more reporters to have time to develop sources, build up investigative expertise, and gain knowledge about politics, the economy, neighborhoods—about who’s too comfortable and who’s suffering as a result.”

Mitchell reports out of a WBEZ bureau in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. He usually focuses on the city’s West Side though stories sometimes take him elsewhere. The topics include housing, immigration, labor, policing, politics, public health and schools.

His WBEZ reporting has earned awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated, the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club.

Before joining WBEZ in 2006, Mitchell’s base for three years was Bogotá, the Colombian capital. He reported from several Latin American countries for Public Radio International’s “The World,” National Public Radio, the BBC, the Dallas Morning News, the Christian Science Monitor, the Committee to Protect Journalists and others.

From 1995 to 2003, Chip focused on immigration and the U.S. role in Latin America as editor of Connection to the Americas, winner of Utne Reader’s 2003 award for general excellence among newsletters nationwide. In 1995, the Milwaukee Press Club named a story he authored for Madison’s Isthmus the year’s best investigative report in Wisconsin.

Mitchell, who was born and raised in the Minneapolis–St. Paul area, said receiving this honor means more to him than the other awards.

“Studs remains an excellent model of engaging the community with your mind and heart,” Mitchell said. “Journalists have to give every side a fair shake, but that’s no excuse for intellectual laziness, for clinging to tired old storylines, for sucking up. Our most important role is scrutinizing the folks with the power.”