Chronicle, Columbia alum Chris Coates awarded Editor of the Year in Illinois

By Myer Lee, Staff Reporter

Alum Chris Coates expressed deep gratitude for his time at Columbia and working with the Chronicle. Courtesy Chris Coates.

Late one Friday night a few months ago at the Herald & Review, Chris Coates worked until midnight to prepare stories for the weekend.

Coates, the Central Illinois news editor for Lee Enterprises, and his coworker Allison Petty, local news editor at the The Pantagraph, were the last people in the office. They were listening to the police scanner for stories but did not hear anything newsworthy, so they decided it was time to go home.

On her way home, Petty’s phone rang.

“[Coates] calls me and says, ‘Hey, I’m at a fire. Can you post something? I’m going to send you pictures,’” Petty said.

Shocked, she asked him how he found the fire. Coates told her he saw the firetruck and followed it.

“I chase a lot of firetrucks,” Coates said. “You see news, you go chase news.”

It is this dedication to journalism that led the Illinois Press Association to award Coates the 2019 Editor of the Year award. The Illinois Press Association recognizes outstanding journalism at its convention each spring, but due to the pandemic, the event was held virtually this year.

The organization issued awards for work done in 2019, and this is the first year they honored an Editor of the Year, for which Petty said Coates deserved recognition.

“He is extremely dedicated and very passionate about journalism, storytelling and communities,” Petty said.

Coates said attending Columbia and working at The Columbia Chronicle are the main reasons behind his success. He graduated in 2004 with a degree in journalism with a concentration in broadcast journalism and has since worked at publications in California, Delaware, Illinois and Iowa.

He became the Central Illinois editor in 2018 and oversees four publications in Illinois: The Pantagraph in Bloomington-Normal, the Herald & Review in Decatur, the Journal Gazette/Times-Courier in Mattoon and the Woodford County Journal in Eureka.

His journey started at the Chronicle, which he said offered him experience as a copy editor, arts and entertainment editor, campus editor and ultimately editor-in-chief. He said the experience taught him the importance of reporting on local communities.

Everything that the Chronicle represents to me is [it] taught me how to work hard,” Coates said.

Analisa Trofimuk, government reporter for Lee Enterprises, said Coates is inspiring. He is her editor, and she said he usually works long days and is constantly helping reporters improve their stories.

“It doesn’t take long to recognize how much he cares about creating meaningful journalism,” Trofimuk said. “He just never stops working.”

Petty said Coates is dedicated to working with young journalists and often provides them with professional development opportunities to help them grow and progress in their career.

He likes engaging with readers to address criticism about stories and is consistently generating new story ideas, Petty said.

“He is energized by how much he loves journalism and stories,” she said. “When he finds a new story, he gets very excited.”

Coates said creating ideas to tell people’s stories in an interesting way is what is most important in journalism. His innovative, ambitious spirit as a journalist came from working at the Chronicle, he said.

Coates said he remembers working late on production nights and feeling a sense of camaraderie with his coworkers, which he said prepared him for the work he is doing today.

He is still working late nights, writing interesting stories and doing whatever is necessary to fulfill his duties as journalist—even if that means chasing firetrucks.

“There is no greater gift than this responsibility we have—which is chronicling this first draft of history as it’s happening,” Coates said. “I can’t think of any higher cause than that.”