Spinner to headline NNA annual convention

Kate Decker

Mar 1, 2019

Jackie Spinner recently produced a documentary film in Arabic. This might not be unusual, but Spinner’s day job is as an editor and journalism educator.

Spinner, who is headlining this year’s National Newspaper Association’s Annual Convention and Trade Show, started her life in Decatur, a small city in central Illinois. Her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism launched her international career that included serving as The Washington Post’s Baghdad bureau chief and then as a journalism educator in Iraq, first at the American University of Iraq at Sulaimani and then Sultan Qaboos University in Masqat, Oman.

She now calls Chicago home, where she is an associate professor of journalism at Columbia College Chicago, an editor for Gateway Journalism Review and an advocate for community journalism.

“In this environment, to own a newspaper and support local journalism is an extraordinary effort,” Spinner said. “And we spend a lot of time talking about the big publishers with billions of dollars. I believe that community journalism is really at the front lines of literacy in our country, and it's hardest to do it when it's on the smaller scale.

“It doesn't really matter where people engage with a newspaper, whether it's in print or it's by email or it's on Twitter or Facebook. The importance is the engagement, and that requires a commitment to technology. Some of that is financial, and some of that is simply philosophical. It's finding a way to recruit young journalists who are digital natives and who have good skills and strong ideas about how to distribute information to their peers.”

Spinner followed that approach with her recent venture into filmmaking, where she led a team of various specialists, videographers, translators and technicians as executive producer of the documentary, “Don’t Forget Me.”

The film — inspired by Samir and Rafi, her two autistic sons adopted from Morocco — spreads awareness of autism in Morocco, where children with disabilities do not have the right to attend school. The documentary is in Arabic with English and Amazigh subtitles.

“I ultimately settled on a film as a way to tell the story I wanted to tell,” Spinner said. “Doing a documentary gave me great control, and it also allowed me to tell the story in a more intimate and organic way."
Spinner is looking forward to spending time with community newspaper owners and publishers in Milwaukee at NNA’s 133rd Annual Convention & Trade Show.

“[Recently] my documentary film was [shown] at the Big Muddy Film Festival in Carbondale, [Illinois], and two of the people who came out to support me and support the film were southern Illinois local newspaper publishers, one from Pinckneyville and one from O'Fallon. It was … they're my people.”

In her keynote message, Spinner will talk about the “extraordinary effort” of community journalists and how community news organizations can utilize technology to engage audiences.