If it were up to Sarah Jindra, every city in America would have a hub for good news—a place dedicated to churning out uplifting stories of good people working to change the world. A traffic reporter for WGN by day, Sarah’s content bringing her brand of good news to just Chicago for now through her website, INSPIREme Chicago
. When she isn’t appearing on our television screens to help us navigate through the city, Sarah’s out there among us—video camera in hand—working to uncover the untold stories in Chicago. Over a cup of coffee, we sat down with her recently to do a little digging of our own. Care to be inspired? Read on as Sarah tells us about INSPIREme Chicago and how the stories she tells fuel her grateful outlook on the world.
Q: Can you tell us how INSPIREme Chicago began?
I moved to Chicago after being a news reporter. I did general assignment news in Champaign for about two and a half years, about two hours south of here. I really liked it, but after a while, didn’t like doing the bad news stories…which is a lot of news these days. You’re going to houses, knocking on doors, and asking people whose children have just died to give comments, and then you’re going back to the station with nothing. It just wasn’t for me. When I moved to Chicago, I started looking for other jobs in the news industry. I got a position doing traffic and at the time, didn’t know much about it, but like any job, you learn.
I quickly missed being out in the community and meeting people and telling their stories. That’s why I decided to start INSPIREme Chicago. It was a place to create the stories I really enjoyed—good news stories of people who are making a difference in their communities and changing lives. Just good people.
[INSPIREme] was a place to create the stories I really enjoyed—good news stories of people who are making a difference in their communities and changing lives.
Q: Can you tell us a bit more about being a general assignment reporter? What was that like, spending your days writing tragic stories?
The one specific example I remember was when a child was shot and I had to go to the family’s house. You just knock on doors and ask for comments with your photographer. I came back with nothing, nobody would comment. When I got back to the station, they told me to go back and find something. And that’s what it is—you need to have that sound on tape. It was really hard for me. I wasn’t that type of person to badger or be sitting outside of a funeral covering it. It wasn’t me. That being said, I respect the journalists who do this. There are incredible journalists producing really great work. But [this aspect] just wasn’t me.
Q: Where do your story ideas for INSPIREme come from?
I’ll search and look through newspapers, websites, and Facebook. Just the other day, a guy in the city posted a picture on Facebook and someone I knew shared it. It was literally just a picture of a bag he created with bananas and granola bars in it and the post said, “Gave this to the homeless this weekend.” So I followed up and wrote him a note. It turned out that he had done the same thing with ten more bags the next week and people donated items to him and gave him money to fill these bags. So you find one thing and follow up with it and see what’s happening. Other times people will write me. It’s a good mixture.
Q: We want to know all about your job at WGN. What can you tell us?
I technically work for a company called Radiate Media that contracts out traffic. I do traffic morning and noon for CLTV from 5 to 9 and 2-6 in the afternoon. Whenever WGN needs me in the mornings, I fill in. When that happens, I have to wake up at 2 a.m. because I have to be on the air at 4. You get used to it. My parents think it’s hilarious that I do this because they remember when they could never get me out of bed!
Q: What’s it like being on television every day?
You kind of forget about it. You forget that it’s TV and it’s just your job at that point. But then you remember when you bring friends in and they’re like, “Oh, this is so cool!” and it makes you think, yeah, this is pretty cool. I have to stop and think every once in a while that this is a very neat job and that I’m very lucky to have it.
Q: Was it a big jump from radio to television?
I was doing NBC on the weekends, so I was kind of used to TV. I guess the main difference is just showering and doing your makeup [laughs]! I could go in for radio in my sweatpants and no one would have a clue. It was great.
Q: So now are you more conscience of the clothes you wear?
Yes. And I hear about the choices I make! I remember this one time on WGN I wore a printed dress, and someone said on social media, “Someone tell that Partridge girl to get off the camera!” People are intense.
INSPIREme Chicago definitely reminds me to be grateful. Every day I wake up and kiss my husband—and I’m very thankful and happy for what I have.
Q: Now that you’ve been a traffic reporter for a few years, does it eliminate a good excuse for being late?
[Laughs] It does. I thought about it on my way over here thinking, “I’m cutting it so close! The traffic girl’s going to be late! It can’t happen.” But my husband and I are late to everything
. My family always says, “But you’re a traffic reporter. You should have this down by now.”
Q: Back to INSPIREme Chicago! What’s been your favorite piece you’ve worked on for the website?
I’d say one I did recently where I interviewed a girl maybe a year and a half ago. She’s a high school student and growing up, she wanted to be a gymnast. According to all accounts, she was on pace to possibly make it to the Olympics—she was that good. But she was diagnosed with a rare bone disorder when she was around 10 or 11 and she is now in a wheelchair. She’s 18 and her dream was crushed, what do you do?
So she is inspiring to me because she didn’t let her diagnosis stop her. Obviously, the dream had to change. She couldn’t do gymnastics anymore. She now has a nonprofit called Cards for Hospitalized Kids. She has card-making parties, celebrities and people from all over the country send her boxes and boxes of cards and then she delivers them to hospitals all across the country. When she was in the hospital, she said it was really neat to receive cards from people. I got a note from her the other day saying that she got into Georgetown, her dream school. She said the entire submissions team watched my story about her. That was so neat to hear and I’m so proud of her! It’s really cool to meet people like that and to make stories like hers come to life.
Q: Do you think there’s something particular about Chicago that just needs good news stories more so than other cities?
Well, we have the worst gas prices, the worst violence, all of our governors are in jail, and so on. We do have these stories on a much different scale, but I don’t think that means we need the good news any more than other cities. I think everyone could use it.
Q: What are some of your favorite stories to tell on INSPIREme?
Just people making a difference. Someone beating an obstacle or doing something out of the ordinary, or tackling some kind of crazy circumstance. Doing something positive—either for themselves or the community. There was one kid on the south side. No one was graduating from his school. He had the highest GPA and he got into the school he wanted. His dad was in jail. He overcame all of these obstacles. There are probably a hundred stories like his in a two block radius, but you never hear about them. You always hear the unfortunate stories of kids getting shot. There are so many amazing stories out there, but you just never hear them.
I always lived in the suburbs growing up and Chicago seemed so distant. I would see the Sears Tower from the top of the playground and think, oh, what is that?
Q: Are there ever moments in your life where you go back to the stories you’ve told for inspiration? Do you ever look back to the work you’ve done and the people you’ve profiled when you need to be uplifted?
With all the stories I do, I just feel very lucky. I feel very lucky to be in the situation I am, with a loving family, a job, a husband who I can wake up to every morning. Neither one of us is sick, or dealing with any kind of tragedy right now. Every time I do a story—and it is always about someone overcoming hardship—it hits me hard and I’m always reminded of how lucky I am. It’s a good reminder to be happy with where you are. You think about all the times you complain about being stuck in traffic or something so mundane, and there are people who are enduring a lot worse. I do think about that a lot. INSPIREme Chicago definitely reminds me to be grateful. Every day I wake up and kiss my husband—and I’m very thankful and happy for what I have.
Q: Speaking of gratitude, we like to ask this question of everyone: What do you love most about living in Chicago?
Anytime I see the skyline, I have to stop and just take it in. It’s so beautiful, the city’s so beautiful. When I’m driving, and I see the skyline I just think to myself how cool it is that I live in this city. You know, I always lived in the suburbs growing up and Chicago seemed so distant. I would see the Sears Tower from the top of the playground and think, oh, what is that?
[laughs] It’s really neat to be part of a great city like Chicago.