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Winter 2007 • Volume 13, Issue 1

A nationwide voice

Cheryl CorleyFrom the depths of a mining tunnel in Kentucky to the rooftops of homes built by prison inmates in Minnesota, Cheryl Corley ’76 keeps NPR (National Public Radio) listeners informed with news from the Midwest. She reports not only on events from her hometown of Chicago, but travels to small towns in South Dakota, larger cities in Ohio like Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati, and everywhere in between.

When Corley was recruited by the late George Armstrong, assistant professor of communication, to participate on Bradley’s speech team, she had no idea what her dream job would be. More than 30 years later, she has found a niche that allows her to use her speech skills, meet people from all walks of life, and gain nationwide recognition among NPR listeners.

Corley’s career in radio/TV began when she volunteered at WCBU while in college. After graduating, she worked in Peoria at both WCBU and WEEK-TV, then moved in 1984 to Chicago, first working at NPR affiliate WBEZ.

“It was a great time to be a reporter. Harold Washington was the city’s first African-American mayor, and I reported on city council action.” She remembers the power struggle when Washington died, as many people had a vested interest in who would be the next mayor. “The day the city council met to select a new mayor, people surrounded City Hall, protesting and waiting. WBEZ broadcast that meeting from 10 a.m. until 4:01 a.m. the next day, when the mayor was selected. It was a long day, but it was a great day to be part of Chicago history in such an interesting way.”

When Corley started at the NPR Chicago bureau, “It was a culture shock.” Instead of working at a Chicago station with a lot of people, she was working at the Midwest bureau with six people. “My job is to cover 12 states in the Midwest. I try to see what’s happening regionally that would merit being told on a national basis.”

Corley says, “The Midwest often gets overlooked, but there are a lot of interesting places. My job, in part, is to bring the Midwest into the consciousness of the rest of the country.”

Stories she has covered range from housing issues to floods in North Dakota to election coverage in Columbus, Ohio, to a story in Iowa about marriages between Iowans and Kenyans. Corley is among the NPR reporters who visit New Orleans on a recurring basis and she recently traveled there for a look at the city a year after Hurricane Katrina. “This big tragedy will resonate for the rest of our lives,” Corley says. “You really can’t understand it unless you go there. Many of the tourist areas are great. You wouldn’t know anything happened in the French Quarter. The city made a real effort to make sure areas that attract tourists are ready.”

Corley says, “As a journalist, I realize the responsibility I have to tell peoples’ stories, to let their voices be heard, and to report accurately.” Referring specifically to her coverage of those impacted by Hurricane Katrina, she adds, “Because people have let me into their lives as they struggle to rebuild and contact family members, it’s an honor to report from there.”

Corley says people profiles are among her favorite assignments. She says, “As a reporter, you see so much. You drop into people’s lives and then you’re gone. Sometimes, you wonder what happened.”

She concludes, “In many ways, I’m always going to school. Each story is a little research project, and I’m always learning.”

Visit npr.org for more information.