IOP Fellow Profile: Political Reporter Heather Cherone

From Fellow to Reporter, Cherone embraces the role of an educator in journalism.


Courtesy of the Institute of Politics

Heather Cherone is a political reporter at WTTW, Chicago’s Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) station.

By Nicole Roesler and Arjun Mazumdar

For the seventh and final installment of a multi-part series profiling each of the Institute of Politics’ (IOP) Pritzker Fellows for the winter and spring quarters, The Maroon spoke with Heather Cherone, a political reporter at WTTW, Chicago’s Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) station, about her experiences navigating the changing media industry. Cherone highlighted the importance of remaining flexible and tenacious in a rapidly evolving industry with an uncertain future but undying importance.

Cherone wanted to be a journalist since she was a child. “I quickly realized growing up, reading the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, and watching news on television, that somebody had to sort of put all that together,” Cherone said. “I thought, well that is just the best job ever, because I was always a nosy kid.”

Cherone attributes her success as a journalist to her inquisitive nature. “The thing that I share with every other good reporter is that we are all just insatiably curious, and we all want to know why,” she said.

Cherone attended Northwestern University, completing her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in journalism in 2000. She worked in California for several years before returning to her hometown of Chicago in 2007 to join the Chicago Tribuneand WTTW in 2020. She also served as adjunct professor of journalism at DePaul University from 2012 to 2015.

Embracing the evolving nature of the media industry, Cherone has weathered numerous challenges that have reshaped journalism. “I’ve experienced and survived at least two major industry-wide cataclysms,” Cherone said. “I survived the bust of the dot com boom and then survived the ‘Facebookization’ of news.”

The shift to digital news and movement away from print media required Cherone to adapt to new mediums of storytelling. “I was flexible enough to transition from newspaper to digital journalism, and then from digital journalist to the on-air role that I’m in now,” she said.

Whether she’s writing 2,000-word articles, compiling newsletters, or appearing at the 10 o’clock WTTW evening news, Cherone maintains that her mission as a journalist remains the same.

“Journalism is journalism, whether you’re doing it online, on the air, on the radio, or in print,” she said. “My job is to give people the information they need to be active participants in our democracy.”

In an age of social media, Cherone tries to focus on her writing over curating a certain image. “I’m not interested in getting a lot of likes or retweets on Twitter,” she said. “I’m not interested in being somebody who is known for anything other than the quality of her work.”

She credits PBS’s public funding for allowing her to focus on her writing more than generating attention. “I work for a news agency that is not beholden to ratings, page views, or clicks,” she said. This allows Cherone to direct her attention to what she thinks really matters.

“Rather than a weird notion of popularity, I’m much more concerned about whether my work is serving the people,” Cherone said. “Is it helping the people be more knowledgeable?”

Over the course of her career, Cherone developed a deep sense of journalistic integrity through valuing the quality and accuracy of her work. Sometimes, this means sacrificing certain aspects of public expression that others take for granted. For instance, she keeps her social media profiles free from partisan opinions.

“I voluntarily give up some of the public expressions of political views that all citizens are entitled to simply because I don’t want to reveal a bias,” Cherone said. “I want it to look like I’m a serious person doing serious work.”

However, Cherone finds value in being vulnerable and open, especially when eliciting trust during interviews. “A lot of times as journalists we’re dealing with people on the worst day of their lives. I’ve found that it helps to smooth that interaction if you’re willing to reveal a little bit about [yourself].”

Cherone is currently serving as a Pritzker Fellow at the IOP, where she leads weekly seminars and hosts office hours, walking students through the history and future of Chicago city politics. “I was very glad to explain what’s going on in the mayoral election and the city council election to people who don’t live and breathe it as I do.” Cherone finds that she learns as much from her students as they do from her. “I don’t spend a lot of time talking to people who don’t know who the Alderperson of the sixth ward is. It’s a reminder that there’s a whole big world out there with lots of people who don’t obsessively cover politics the way I do.”

She finds similarities between her role as a journalist and as a fellow. “Doing seminars, meeting one on one with students, it’s not that much different than being part of our weekly politics panel,” she said. “My job is to say, ‘Here are the facts, here are how those facts intersect, here’s the context that those facts live in.’”

Cherone finds her role at the IOP important for helping to inspire the next generation of political journalists, following behind innovative female journalists who paved the way for her. “There were certainly people like Pam Zekman, Fran Spielman and Carol Marin who blazed that trail in the 1980s and 1990s,” she said. “I have had to deal with less sexism and misogyny because of what they were able to do. So I certainly have felt an obligation to those coming behind me to make their paths a little bit easier than mine was.”

For students aspiring to pursue a career in journalism, Cherone strongly emphasizes how challenging it is due to public scrutiny and the demanding nature of the profession. With the constantly changing landscape of news consumption and the pressure of reporting on sensitive and complex topics, she highlights the significance of being flexible and having a genuine passion for serving others.

“Nobody is quite sure how journalism will work as a business. You have to be able to be flexible and roll with the punches,” Cherone said, acknowledging the uncertain nature of the profession. “It is a very demanding path, it is not especially well paid, and it asks a lot from you in terms of your personal life and your peace of mind.” Despite these complications, Cherone considers journalism the best way to serve one’s community. “There is no better way to be an active participant in the democracy and in the civil life of whatever city you are covering.”

Regardless of the challenges, Cherone maintains the importance of journalism. “If this is your path, then we need you, because we need good journalists and we need that part of democracy to function.”