2005 Communicator of Achievement Janell Cole

NDPC selects Janell Cole as 2005 COALong-time member Janell Cole has been selected as the 2005 NDPC Communicator of Achievement. As the North Dakota State Capitol Reporter in The Forum’s Bismarck office, she puts 30 years of newspaper experience to work every day. 

After growing up in Page, N.D., Janell had plans to join the U.S. Air Force. When that didn’t work out because of her hearing challenges, she ventured to the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, graduating with a two-year degree in journalism and printing in 1974.

The world of journalism awaits
After graduation, Janell stayed in Wahpeton for a summer job with the Wahpeton Daily News, where she worked on a special Richland County history issue.  This job was her first newspaper experience and her first introduction to North Dakota Press Women, now NDPC, as some co-workers at the Daily News won awards that spring.

Janell had always intended to get a four-year degree so the successes and compliments on her writing led her to Moorhead State University (MSU), where she earned a mass communications degree with an emphasis in newspaper journalism. 

While at MSU, Janell jumped at the opportunity to write obituaries and weather for The Forum, where she stayed until graduating in 1975. 

Headed westJanell’s first post-MSU journalism job was at the Dickinson Press as a wire editor.  She also worked at other assorted jobs during and after her stint at thePress, including working at a charcoal briquette plant, serving as a police auxiliary officer and running a women’s shelter.

After leaving the Dickinson Press, Janell spent some time writing for theWilliston Herald’s Williston Basin Oil Reporter. In 1984, she was hired as a copy editor and reporter for the Bismarck Tribune. After three years, she moved on to the Tribune’s police and courthouse beat and continued in that position until joining The Forum in early 1999. 

Janell came well prepared for The Forum’s Capitol Bureau after covering theTribune’s police and courthouse beat for 12 years and the 1995 and 1997 North Dakota Legislative sessions. She had also done a number of investigative pieces at the Tribune. One significant story was on Judge Dennis Schneider, whose multiple sclerosis symptoms were causing performance issues and were being noticed by others in the legal community. 

 “I spent weeks putting together all kinds of documentation to confirm all kinds of rumors about the judge’s performance and, through sources, I was able to track down virtually everything I had heard about and put it all together into a Sunday story that really told the public what was going on,” states Janell.

She is especially proud of that work because it was “real public responsibility reporting. No one else was telling the citizenry what was going on.”

Another story Janell exposed was about a repeat sex offender and the lack of laws to protect the public from him. The story helped to get the state law on Civil Commitment of Sexually Dangerous Persons passed into law during the 1997 Legislative session. 

Heidi Heitkamp, former North Dakota Attorney General, said, "I doubt that we would have successfully passed the civil commitment law for sexual predators if not for Janell's determined reporting. She stayed with the story for two years and, as a result, North Dakota citizens are safer today."

Janell says she’s also particularly proud of publishing one of the first major stories warning the public about methamphetamine in 1996. 

Capitol reporter role suits JanellHer move to The Forum was a bit of a fluke.  A call to a Fargo Associated Press writer to point out an error in a story of his prompted him to mention that The Forum was having a hard time filling its Capitol reporter position.

Janell decided to call Forum Managing Editor Terry Devine to inquire about the position.  And, the rest is history. 

Terry says, “Janell is a hard-nosed, no-nonsense reporter. She is not intimidated by news sources, stands her ground and asks the kinds of questions that make politicians squirm in their chairs, shift uneasily and gaze all around a room, sometimes for the explicit purpose of avoiding eye contact with her.” 

He continues, “Nevertheless, Janell is fair in her reporting, always striving for balance in her stories and is respected by those she covers on both sides of the political spectrum.”

Of Janell’s importance to The Forum, Terry says, “I can’t overstate the significance of having someone with Janell’s experience and moxie keeping an eye on state government and the Legislature. The beneficiaries of her fine reporting are the people of North Dakota. Because of her, they have a 24/7 window on the world of state government. The fact that she’s a small-town North Dakota girl from Page, who has never forgotten her roots and cares deeply about her state, is simply a bonus for all of us.”

Awards galore
Janell’s career has been one of ups and downs, but one she can definitely be proud of.  Her thought-provoking, insightful writing has brought her many awards and much recognition and respect. Her NDPC communications contest awards run into the hundreds, with over 30 first-place rankings on the state level and 11 first-place and five second-place rankings on the national level.

Janell says she is very proud to have helped NDPC, through those awards, to take the sweepstakes at national, thus bringing North Dakota respect on the national level.

Besides being proud of her career, Janell values the opportunities she has had to serve NDPC as secretary for two terms, as second vice-president and as scholarship chairperson. She has also attended five national conventions.

Serious about community service

Active in volunteerism, Janell is very proud of the many community projects she has participated in. Some of those include working on seven Habitat for Humanity houses in Mandan. A homeowner since she was 23 years old, Janell has developed a love of home maintenance chores, such as painting, fixing and improving things in and around her home. 

In 1992, Janell was a founding member of the Central Dakota P-FLAG, a local chapter of the national support organization for parents, families and friends of lesbians and gays.  She continues to serve on the local board.

Another important facet of Janell’s life is her involvement in the Bismarck-Mandan Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, a lay-led congregation. She has served four terms as congregation president, was on the program committee and has taken her turn leading and presenting Sunday programs.

What does Janell have to say about her 29-year membership in NDPC and its value to her career?  She says the key benefit is networking opportunities. Janell has obtained most of her newspaper jobs through networking with other NDPC members.  She also touts the learning experiences of attending national conventions and the chance to visit new places.

“I take seriously the role that journalists have of informing the public about what their governments and public servants are doing.  We talk to officials and go to meetings and dig through records so our readers don’t have to,” said Janell.

Though Janell missed the courthouse and police beat at first, she also realized that, after 14 and a half years, she needed some new challenges. Throughout the past five years she has found them with The Forum.  Janell says the Capitol is “the place to be.”

From her office in the Capitol press room, Janell monitors ongoing developments, talks to sources and attends hearings.  Things really hop during the Legislative session, and she sometimes monitors the simultaneous floor sessions of the House and Senate from her office by listening to the House sound system in an earphone in her left ear and the Senate in her right ear.  That’s the level of dedication and commitment Janell gives to her public and toThe Forum.

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