Heather Cherone was a high school senior when she first appeared on WTTW. A student at Hyde Park’s Kenwood Academy, she was the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper and the managing editor of a publication by and for Chicago Public School students. In an episode of Chicago Tonight about whether CPS students should be required to wear uniforms, she was the only non-adult on a panel moderated by WTTW’s John Callaway. “I think that it’s incredibly important that we train our youth to become role models, to become critical thinkers, to become active in the community,” she told Callaway.
Now, Cherone is back at WTTW, as a Digital News Reporter covering City Hall for WTTW News, beginning April 13. Not that she has been an unfamiliar face in those intervening years: she has been a frequent guest on The Week in Review while working as a reporter covering politics for DNAinfo Chicago and The Daily Line. But there’s still something she has yet to do on WTTW: be featured somewhere out in the city saying, “You’re watching WTTW.”
“I often joke that I would take a pay cut if I got to say that on WTTW,” she says, laughing. A Chicago native who grew up in Edgewater (“I could probably act out the Super Bowl Shuffle at a moment’s notice,” she says), she grew up watching WTTW. “My father joked that he was disappointed when my brother and I discovered that there were channels other than Channel 11,” she says.
Cherone always wanted to be a journalist. “It’s cheesy, but I grew up watching and admiring Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson and John Callaway,” she says. “My goal was always to cover City Hall—and I figured Daley would still be mayor!” She attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, just down Sheridan Road from where she grew up. When it came time for internships, she decided to finally leave northern Chicagoland and go as far away as she could in the country: Orange County.
She later stayed in California for several years, covering politics in Los Angeles and then Oakland. “[Democratic presidential candidate and two-time California governor] Jerry Brown was mayor, so that was an education in itself,” Cherone says.
But eventually Chicago called her back. She covered politics in Downers Grove and Hinsdale for the Chicago Tribune’s TribLocal suburban initiative, then helped launch the hyper-local DNAinfo Chicago, covering the far northwest side before moving on to City Hall. After DNAinfo’s sudden, ignominious demise, she eventually came to The Daily Line, where was until joining WTTW News.
“Chicago politics is a blood sport,” she says. “That’s another cheesy cliché. But in Oakland, people did care about politics, but for a lot of Chicagoans, this is life or death: they know their aldermen, how long they’ve been in office, exactly what they’re doing right or wrong.” (Cherone likewise thinks of the city in political terms: when she shares that her favorite location in Chicago is Ardmore Beach, she identifies its location by ward rather than neighborhood.)
“There’s a deep desire in people to be well-informed and knowledgeable, so our job as journalists is to communicate what’s important in whatever medium people want,” she says—whether that’s online through public media, as part of a scrappy digital operation, in print, or through broadcast. “I’m excited to join such an outstanding politics team at WTTW and make it that much better, to be on top of breaking news and offer smart analysis that connects the dots.”
It’s not that far from what she told John Callaway as a high school senior all those years ago.