Knox Senior Lands Journalism Internship and Front-Page Story

Matt McKinney '13 reports, writes about immigration and other topics

June 29, 2012

Matt McKinney at Chicago Sun-Times

Less than a week into his summer reporting internship with the Chicago Sun-Times, Knox College senior Matt McKinney teamed up with a couple of veteran journalists to produce a front-page story.

The Saturday, June 16 article in the Sun-Times focused on how students and elected officials were reacting to a change in federal immigration policy. A day earlier, President Barack Obama's administration had announced that many younger undocumented immigrants, who entered the country illegally as children, would be protected from deportation.

McKinney, a creative writing major from Springfield, Illinois, got to work on the story because he speaks Spanish. He honed his Spanish-language skills while participating in one of the study-abroad opportunities available to Knox students: the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) Costa Rica program.

Sun-Times editors sent McKinney and a photography intern on a "man-on-the-street" assignment, meaning their job was to find and interview young undocumented immigrants to ask what they thought about the Obama administration's policy shift.

"That was my second day -- kind of an intimidating task," he said.

Being able to speak Spanish with people during interviews obviously was a big plus.Matt McKinney at Chicago Sun-Times

"But I think the bigger thing that Costa Rica helped me with on that assignment was learning how to deal with adversity, learning how to kind of get 'knocked down' again and again and again, and to understand that if you make it through that adversity, there's usually good stuff on the other side," McKinney said.

"On that assignment, it was a 90-something-degree day, and I'm in khakis and a dress shirt, and I hadn't eaten all day. (We were) just walking up and down, up and down the streets, soliciting strangers going into neighborhood organizations, trying to talk to people and get them to open up."

"You obviously get a lot of 'no's' in that situation, so the key becomes to fight through it," he added. "I think, too, if you approach people with good intentions and respect and understanding, people generally respond well to that."

As McKinney tracked down and interviewed young immigrants, other Sun-Times reporters pursued different aspects of the story. One of them was McKinney's father, Dave McKinney, longtime chief of the Sun-Times bureau in Springfield, Illinois. Both of Matt McKinney's parents are professional journalists.Matt McKinney at Chicago Sun-Times

The published article carried a double byline, "By Matt McKinney and Dave McKinney, Staff Reporters." Matt McKinney said another reporter who worked on the story recognized that Father's Day was that weekend, so he "knocked himself off the byline and put me there, which was a really nice thing to do."

Every day in the Sun-Times newsroom is different, said McKinney, who believes the internship will help him decide "whether print media is the right career path for me."

He has been reporting and writing stories about a wide range of subjects for the Sun-Times. Some of his other articles so far have dealt with the near-record-breaking heat, a missing autistic teen who was found safe, and a silverback gorilla named JoJo.

Juggling a variety of assignments "functions a lot like a liberal arts education does," he said. "As a student at Knox, you're expected to know how supply-and-demand works, but you're also expected to maybe speak a little German, too."

"I think Knox gives students the latitude to find the right fit."

(Photo at top: Front page of June 16, 2012 Chicago Sun-Times. Photos upper right: Article about reaction to the Obama administration's immigration policy change, written by Matt McKinney and his father. Photo below: Matt McKinney in Costa Rica.)

Matt McKinney in Costa Rica