Vicky Baftiri, ’03, MA ’05, has always been passionate about finding the truth. She and her three siblings were raised by a pragmatic father in search of the truth.
“He emphasized the importance of honesty,” she said.
With only one TV in his house, Baftiri’s father always watched the news, especially world news. Although she was just a small child, Baftiri began to develop a great interest in current affairs.
“Television was the only medium that allowed him to feel connected to what was happening internationally,” she said.
The daughter of Albanian immigrants from North Macedonia, Baftiri was born on Long Island, New York, before moving to Morris, Illinois, a small town about 65 miles southwest of Chicago. During the 1990s, as the war in Bosnia unfolded, she recalls her family being glued to their TVs hoping to learn what was going on in her parents’ homeland.
“I used to spend childhood nights watching the news with my dad. I remember thinking, ‘I want to do what journalists do, tell the public about important events,'” she said.
Growing up, Baftiri enjoyed listening to great storytellers, like his father and great-uncle, who told fascinating stories about World War II, their life in Yugoslavia, and folklore.
“One of my favorite memories of visiting my parents’ homeland was listening to Albanian folklore,” she said. “There were stories of wisdom, courage and legends. These are stories that are told from generation to generation. Stories of loyalty and bravery, lessons of honesty and wisdom, and legends of faith.
In high school, she began to develop a passion for creative writing, and her teacher noticed her skills and gave her the confidence she needed to keep writing. When she visited her older sisters at NIU in the late 1990s, she fell in love with the campus.
“I researched their media studies and journalism curriculum, and thought it was the perfect fit,” she said. “I knew I would benefit from renowned teachers and advisors. At that time, the campus television channel, the student newspaper, and the variety of courses all offered great learning opportunities.
As a first-generation student, Baftiri knew the value of education. His parents had only four years of schooling each, having grown up in very poor villages in what is now called North Macedonia, part of the former Yugoslavia.
“They finished 4th grade and then they worked in the fields,” she said. “My father was a shepherd when he was nine years old, after his father died. He and his siblings had to work and take care of the family. Growing up, my father always told my siblings and me: “Education gives you eyes. What he meant is that knowledge gives you the freedom to become what you want to be. It’s a window of possibilities. It gives you a path to a better life, to be respected and to make a difference.
What a difference it made.
Baftiri was fortunate to have exceptional teachers. Her courses in journalism and media writing taught her many of the skills she still relies on today, such as writing television scripts. The rigorous approach to education at NIU motivated her to be a critical and creative thinker, and this educational approach propelled her career.
“I got so attached to NIU that I wanted to pursue my master’s degree in media studies there,” she said. “It says a lot about the student experience and the many aspects of intellectual and academic development that I gained.”
During her graduate studies, Baftiri had to do an internship in journalism and she lined up an apprenticeship at WGN-TV.
“If it wasn’t for this requirement to get an internship, I don’t think I would be in my current role,” she said. “I didn’t know anyone in the industry, but I applied anyway after my NIU advisor told me about the opportunity. To my surprise, I received a call a few days later from the deputy news director. He asked me to come in the next few days, do several interviews and take a writing test. I stayed up all day and night practicing turning newspaper copy into TV scripts. I couldn’t afford to fail this test or bomb the interviews. It was my only shot. I couldn’t mess it all up.
On the day of the interview, Baftiri entered the iconic WGN building on Chicago’s North Side, where drawings of Bozo and legendary TV reporters adorned the hallways. It was a pinch me moment she will never forget.
“Here I am, an immigrant girl, English as a second language, trying to be a journalist in Chicago?!” Baftiri remembered it. “I couldn’t believe it.”
The next day, when she received the call informing her that she was hired for a paid writing internship, it was one of the best moments of her life.
“All my life I’ve felt like an outsider and was about to write for WGN, the local Chicago news station with a national audience at the time. My hard work in college has finally paid off,” she said.
The apprenticeship lasted six months and took place very quickly. Many of Baftiri’s mentors didn’t want to discourage her, but they kindly suggested that after her internship was over, she should start in a small TV market to gain more experience. No one really starts working in the third TV market right out of college, they said.
“Many journalists scratch and scratch their entire careers hoping to get jobs in the top five markets,” Baftiri said. “But the late and great journalist, Allison Payne, took me under her wing and asked me to work with her on stories. I couldn’t believe it. She saw my passion, my drive, my dedication, and she talked to the superiors and the assistant news director offered me a freelance job.
Baftiri began working on special projects with Payne, doing bigger stories about then-Senator Dick Durbin. Barack Obama, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and more. Other presenters in the newsroom learned about Baftiri’s plans and asked to work with her. She began producing WWII stories and feature films like “Haunted Chicago,” as well as daily stories about mothers who lost children to gun violence and the months-long corruption trial of former Illinois Governor George Ryan.
“Allison Payne saved me. She changed the trajectory of my life. I credit my entire career to her,” Baftiri said. “I don’t know what my future would be like if she didn’t believe in me.”
After working at WGN for three years, Baftiri was recruited to be a segment producer for two national shows for NBC Universal—Open House, a show about real estate, renovation and design, and “1st Look”, a show about lifestyle aired after Saturday. Night Live featuring the best in entertainment, fashion and food. As a segment producer, she worked on Chicago segments that would later move to New York where an editor set up half-hour shows to include stories from Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. She also interviewed celebrities like Perry Farrell, Ivanka and Eric Trump, and famous designers like Vern Yip and Nate Berkus, and many more.
In 2010, Baftiri received an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Achievement for Informational Programs” for his work on “Open House”.
“It’s really a humbling feeling to be recognized for your hard work, dedication and creativity,” she said. “It’s a cut-throat field, and the competition is high. You wonder if all the sacrifices you are making are worth it. So that honor was something I’m very proud of.
While Baftiri says NBC was a “fun gig,” but quickly found it less fulfilling than his journalistic roots. “I wasn’t doing the stories that I thought made a difference,” she said.
Trying his luck on other opportunities, Baftiri began freelancing in advertising, then for CBS Chicago as a replacement supervising writer/producer. There she had the incredible opportunity to write and produce newscasts for two legendary broadcasters – Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson. Since 2017, Baftiri has returned to her roots at WGN, where she works as the supervising producer of her own show, the WGN Evening News at 6 p.m.
“The stories I post include investigative stories, crime stories, political stories, community stories, health stories, family stories, corruption stories, news stories and wellness stories,” he said. she declared. “It’s hard work, but work that I deeply enjoy. The daily deadlines and quick rush of a newsroom can be overwhelming, but I understand my duty, that my role is a public service, and that we have the power to shape people’s perspectives. It’s a huge responsibility that I don’t take lightly. We work day in and day out to provide factual coverage that does not perpetuate myths or stereotypes or spread misinformation.
Baftiri is involved in the entire editorial process, from story selection, narration and script checking, to ensuring that the video and graphics depict the story accurately.
“My team and I make sure there is a good balance between news and features. In a time of dire news, we really try to give a good variety of stories to our viewers,” a- “It really takes a whole village to deliver the news, and I’m lucky to have an amazing team helping me get there every day,” she said.
At a time when many people are becoming citizen journalists, it is difficult for readers and viewers to distinguish what is true from what is not. Baftiri works every day to reduce this noise.
“Ultimately, I do what I do, not for fame or money, but for the greater good of humanity. This work is a noble act,” she said. We hold those in power accountable for their actions, uncover fraud. We are constructive but never negligent. We are not afraid to ask tough questions to uncover the truth. Without great journalists, we would be left in the dark. goes back to what my dad used to say, that “education gives you eyes. I believe journalism gives eyes. Unbiased, factual stories open your eyes to see the world.