Walking past the bustling office of Equality Illinois on N. Halsted Sreet’s Boystown strip, you may see him through the front window, eating a sandwich from 7-11 and dutifully checking Facebook.
With grey hair, medium timbre voice and benevolent presence, Mitchell Locin, who was named Communications Liaison for EQIL last month, can speak eloquently, but his true communication skills come in the form of an expansive career as a White House correspondent, reporter and editor for the Chicago Tribune.
Locin, 60, said that he went about seeking his new position like any reporter would.
“I researched it, as journalists often do,” said Locin. “Equality Illinois seemed to have the right stuff — with a breadth of commitment to LGBT issues, a professional staff, and wasn’t so big that I couldn’t at least make a little difference.”
Locin’s nearly 34-year career as a reporter is almost as storied as the politicians he covered, and now, he’s bringing his wealth of media experience to the state’s oldest and largest LGBT rights group. The plan, said EQIL CEO Bernard Cherkasov, is to take the organization’s digital media and social networking outreach to the next level.
“We have a number of priorities legislatively, educationally and politically for LGBT equality,” Cherkasov said. “What ties them together is the ability to articulate these messages to the community and our stakeholders, and Mitch brings a background as a correspondent and editor that will help us relay those messages.”
Although much of his career as a reporter was based in print journalism, he said he was progressive enough to welcome online media.
When the Chicago Tribune went digital, Locin was at the forefront of the movement to online publishing, assuring that instead of making a web-based reprint of the paper, the Tribune would develop a unique online presence. With the advent of the citizen journalist blogger growing in the late ’90s, Locin saw them, not as a threat, but as an asset for professional journalists looking for information.
Locin’s focus, now, is to expand the organization’s reach online.
“We have a Facebook and Twitter account and such, but we really need to step back and see how effectively we’re doing that and how we can build on that,” he said. “We need to make sure people know we are there for them and reach those who may not turn to traditional media anymore.”
A Chicago native, Locin grew up on the city’s North Side, going to LeMoyne Elementary in Lakeview before moving to Evanston. After graduating from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, he started as an intern at the Tribune and worked to become a prolific political correspondent, covering election campaigns and serving as a White House correspondent under the Clinton administration.
“Politics was my passion, is my passion still,” he said. “I could really never, as a reporter or editor, really get engaged with issues.”
Locin always felt that through his journalism he could be a political activist by delivering fair and balanced reporting. After retiring from the news business in 2008, he began to explore his more altruistic side, he said, by volunteering for a soup kitchen at Temple Sholom in East Lakeview. Later on, and no longer constrained by company policy, he began searching for an organization for which he could apply his skills. Equality Illinois fit the bill.
“I’m not coming into a stagnant area,” he said. “It’s about constantly educating community members, political leaders, religious leaders, and supporters about the issues the LGBT community face.”
Equality Illinois’s goal to improve media outreach and communications comes just after a string of citywide and statewide legislative measures, including the introduction of a marriage equality bill and gender identity protections amendment in the general assembly, and a transgender protections ordinance in the Chicago City council.
“We have a lot in our legislative agenda — marriage equality is just the start — we are not at the end,” said Cherkasov. “I have no doubt we will have marriage equality in Illinois, but in the meantime we need medical protection for couples that are same sex, protections for hate crimes and we need to assure that the Safe Schools Act provisions have teeth in enforcing those requirements.”