PAR program at UIS mentoring the new generation of journalists

The Public Affairs Reporting Masters Program (PAR) offered by the University of Illinois Springfield has been around 50 years. The main goal of the program is to improve the skills of young journalists and prepare them for the workforce.

Jason Piscia, the director of the program, said the program gives students an opportunity to learn new skills all throughout their time in the program.

“Our students spend their first four months in the program taking classes and taking courses related to those things and then the education becomes more practical starting in the spring semester,”  Piscia said.


According to Piscia, the classes help journalists improve their writing skills and get a better understanding of Illinois politics; then students get a chance to work with professional journalists in the spring semester.

Piscia said when he participated in the program in 1997, the program helped him break out of his shell and improve as a journalist.

“I’ve always been sort of a shy person I still am I think but PAR sort of […] forces that out of you whether you like it or not. You’re thrown into situations where you have to chase after a politician in the capital and try to get them to talk to you. You have the opportunity to ask questions of powerful political figures, including the governor,” Piscia said.

The program allows young journalists who are interested in the political side of journalism to communicate with lawmakers and other political heavy weights, Piscia said.

Danny Connolly, a graduate student participating in the program, said he decided to take part in the program to build on the skills he learned at the Daily Egyptian and River Region.

“While I was a very talented and skilled reporter, I just also wanted to learn more,” Connolly said. “There were certain stories that I didn’t quite nail as a river region reporter that would have been bad if I didn’t nail it as an actual reporter out in the world.”

Connolly said while the program has helped him improve on his journalism skills it was a struggle in the beginning to deal with the increased credit hours and the fast paced environment. 


Connolly said since interning at WCIA, a CBS affiliate news station located in Champaign IL, he has been able to see how professional journalists work in the industry and how larger media companies put together their news stories.

“WCIA is my first journalism internship so [I have] kind of been gaining what it’s like to be an actual reporter. I had all these good clips in real parts from SIU, but I didn’t know exactly how a corporate media station works versus a college one and I’ve been learning a lot of that, and I’ve been learning the expectations for it,” Connolly said.

Taylor Vidmar, another participant in the program, said the program has helped her in a variety of ways that will be beneficial to other students interested in joining. 

“Students will definitely gain confidence in their reporting and writing. They’ll learn how to apply criticism and feedback to improve their work,” Vidmar said. “They’ll make connections with seasoned reporters and mentors who can help guide them through the field.”

Vidmar said being a part of the program will allow students who want to make a career out of journalism a chance to make connections and build on their skills.

Vidmar said she has learned by working with other journalists and being able to work with a variety of professionals has moved her in the right direction.

“I’m already getting what I originally wanted out of this program, which was to become a better, sharper reporter,” Vidmar said. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot, but having the program and the bureau chiefs here to help guide us has made it worth it.”

Assistant to the Editor Janiyah Gaston can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @DEJaniyah. To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois news follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.