INA, Ill. (Feb. 4, 2016) - Journalism is a field consistently in the spotlight, ever evolving and always scrutinized. It’s a field which can be both incredibly rewarding and, at the same time, unbelievably frustrating. Southern Illinois has a long history of quality journalism, and few know this better than Rend Lake College graduate and long-time print news fixture Doug Caldwell.
It was Caldwell’s love of baseball that first drew him to RLC. He was a walk-on to the RLC Warrior Baseball team. Mike McClure was the baseball coach at the time. The Warrior pitcher and future journalist also met RLC sports icons Jim Waugh and Wayne Arnold.
“I love baseball, and I pitched for them both my freshman and sophomore years. That love of athletics actually influenced my original academic plan. I actually intended on going into Physical Education. I wanted to coach baseball. But then, I made a career change. I couldn’t shake the ink in my blood,” Caldwell said.
The ink Caldwell refers to stems from his family’s legacy of newspaper printing in Southern Illinois. His mother and father owned a weekly newspaper in Christopher from 1973 to 1987. In total, the Caldwells ran six weekly papers. Doug entered the business selling advertising space during his freshman summer at RLC and fell in love with the industry, changing his academic plan to align with his new career aspirations.
Caldwell graduated from Rend Lake College in 1977. He transferred to SIU to pursue his degree in Marketing and Journalism, graduating in 1980.
Following his graduation, Caldwell returned home to work for his mom and dad at the Herrin Spokesman where he served as editor. Eventually he became general manager of the operations in Herrin and Christopher, assisting his mother with day-to-day operations after his father suffered a heart attack.
“Life throws some different curves at you. I had to step up at that point. I learned a lot under my mom and my dad. It was a great family and community setting to get those experiences in,” Caldwell expressed.
From there, his family sold the papers in 1987 to Hollinger / American Publishing who transferred the young reporter to his first daily paper, the DuQuoin Evening Call, where he spent the next four years. After a few years, he was promoted run the Marion Daily Republican. During this period, he became the youngest regional manager in American Publishing’s workforce, one of the fastest-growing newspaper groups in the nation at the time.
“It was a lot of experiences and growing for me very rapidly,” Caldwell said. “I spent time at Marion until American Publishing purchased some properties up in the North West Indiana area. So, I moved up that way and took over the Rennselaer Republican in Rennselaer, Ind., until 1996.”
During that year, properties once again changed hands and Caldwell once again was transferred, this time to Columbia City, Ind., to take over the City Post and Mail. After three years at that newspaper, he transitioned to Ottumwa, Iowa, to join the Ottumwa Courier. The next stop led him to the Somerset Daily American in Somerset, Pa., before finding himself in his current position and President and Publisher with Petoskey Media Group in Petosky, Mich.
Petoskey Media Group consists of a daily newspaper, a bi-weekly paper, a weekly paper, five phone directories, a digital operation and a commercial print operation.
“Not bad for a guy who came from his little, family-owned weekly newspaper in Christopher,” Caldwell joked.
“There are a lot of advantages to getting involved with a private company if you can find a good one. You have to find a top-quality company, but they are out there, and they do a great job of taking care of their readership. They invest into the enterprise to create a great product. They have to have a passion in journalism. I was really drawn to Schurz Communications because I saw that passion and the differences they were making in the communities they serve,” Caldwell stated.
He said those same qualities also translate well to aspiring journalists. Students determined to become reporters need to show their passion. He stressed the importance of getting experience, not only in print but also on the ever-increasing digital side of the field.
“If you are getting into that employment ladder, you are going to have a faster track of getting where you want to go if you prepare correctly and come in with the proper tools. It doesn’t matter if you want to be an editor someday or a publisher or a manager, learn as much as you can in these new digital communication tools and opportunities. Those are the skill sets that I’m looking for when I hire, regardless if it’s my reporters or my content producers over on the advertising side. I’m looking for individuals with a digital skillset,” Caldwell said.
For example, Caldwell explained that understanding how news is consumed in a mobile format is becoming vital in the industry.
“During the day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., probably half of the people that are on our websites are on mobile phones with the other half being on a traditional computer. But, when that clock goes past 5 p.m., you are looking at closer to a 75-percent mobile, 25-percent desktop split. That’s the tool and mode of communication for people now, and we see that in this industry.”
“The biggest takeaway for college graduates looking to get into journalism is that they have to do the homework. You need to know what’s going on in the field. You need to know about the companies that you are interviewing with. That’s the first and foremost lesson. You might not want to jump at that first option; there is a wide range of opportunities out there. Some of them are very good, but others can be detrimental. You have to do that due diligence.”
He also stressed that to find those opportunities, aspiring reporters might have to be willing to relocate to find the best fit for them. Many news outlets are looking for talented, driven young reporters. But, for that initial opportunity and climbing the professional ladder, a willingness to venture out might prove to be the difference between a decent opportunity and a great opportunity.
His connection to RLC goes much deeper than just former student. Caldwell’s mother was a long-standing member of the Rend Lake College Foundation Board, and his sister, Cindy Caldwell, is a RLC graduate and Mathematics Professor at the college.
His wife, Mary Ann Caldwell, is also a Rend Lake College alumnus, graduating from the nursing program in 1980.
The Caldwells sponsor an endowed scholarship through the RLC Foundation. In previous years, the scholarship was named the Clifton Caldwell Memorial Scholarship after the family’s patriarch. However, the award will undergo a name change to the Caldwell Family Scholarship to better reflect the entire family’s connection to RLC.
Awarded to students displaying financial need and majoring in the fields of Journalism, Math, Accounting or Business, the scholarship will provide students with assistance well into the future. Prospective students may apply for the Caldwell Family Scholarship, and others, by filling out the application at: https://www.rlc.edu/foundation.
“Rend Lake College was a great starter for me for not only my educational career, but also for providing me a great foundation with the experiences I was able to have as a student and member of the Warrior baseball team. I got to be part of the college during the early days. It’s always interesting when I come back and see how much the college has grown and changed.”