Valentino’s magazine thrives on positive news

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Photo by Drew Jensen

Neighbors magazine, published out of Melrose Park in suburban Chicago, recently celebrated its 21st year with a rare business model in the media landscape: a focus on positive news.

That is largely the work of founder Tina Valentino, who juggles the roles of publisher, executive editor and contributor. She oversees all aspects of the business, including content, layout and design, printing and even circulation.

“Circulation might actually be my favorite part,” Valentino says. “Walking into a drop location with a bundle of magazines and having someone ask for a copy ‘hot off the press’ is extremely gratifying.”

Over the years, Valentino says, readers have made it clear they appreciate the free publication’s endeavor to promote the themes of kindness and generosity.

“Emails, social media posts and, best of all, the occasional handwritten letter are proof that we’ve been doing something right over the last two decades,” she says. “Our readers have made anonymous donations, sent me cards and even cash in the hope that I will pay it forward to someone who can really use it.”

The magazine works hard to ensure “mom and pop” businesses get as much exposure as possible, and the response from advertisers has been equally rewarding, she says. The magazine’s first advertiser was Gioacchino’s Ristorante in Bellwood, whose owner Nella Curatolo has never missed an issue, she adds.

A lifelong resident of Melrose Park, Valentino studied writing at Rosary College, now Dominican University, in River Forest. Her first job out of college was editor of Melrose Park’s former Star-Sentinel newspaper, also known as the “good news” newspaper, which featured honor rolls, birth announcements, and recognition for school and work achievements.

“There is tremendous satisfaction that comes from giving ordinary people the accolades they deserve, even if it’s just a mention in a hometown publication,” she says. “There’s more than enough controversy, crime and chaos in the world, but a little good news goes a long way.”

Valentino worked for the newspaper for 10 years, until it was sold, and then pivoted to freelance work, including producing newsletters for municipalities in the western suburbs. She eventually decided to launch Neighbors as she watched the number of local media outlets shrink, she said.

“It seemed only logical,” she says, “to provide a vehicle for area residents that not only offered an affordable platform for local businesses to advertise and get their message out to the community, but to partner those ads with great stories, information and events, bringing everyone together where there was once a huge void.”

Calling herself a “proud Italian American,” Valentino shares that her family, on both sides, has strong ties to the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. “We never spoke Italian at home,” she recalls, “but enjoyed many of the Italian traditions, including having pizzelle in my lunch bag!”

A cause close to her heart is the canonization of Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, founder of the Dominicans Sisters of Sinsinawa, who taught her in college and were “some of the most brilliant women in academia,” she says.

After the sisters retired to Sinsinawa Mound Center in Wisconsin, Valentino visited them as much as possible. There, she met more sisters and visited the Mazzuchelli exhibit, and also read the book “Samuel Mazzuchelli: American Dominican” by Sister Mary Nona McGreal, which she described as “hard to put down.”

“His canonization is a must, and I will continue to spearhead any efforts possible that will lead to that end,” Valentino says.

A major highlight of Valentino’s career came in 2004, when Neighbors magazine won a Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism in the non-daily column or essay category from the Chicago Headline Club chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

“I almost didn’t attend the dinner,” she recalls. “Hearing my name called for the story ‘Etched in Stone” on Hillside Mayor Joseph Tamburino’s annual cemetery tour was a moment I will never forget.”

Nowadays, Valentino is focusing on navigating the financial challenge posted by increased paper costs, which likely will prompt a minimal increase in advertising rates, she says. Her goal has always been to make advertising affordable for local businesses like restaurants, realtors, funeral homes and floral shops, she adds.

“The fact that I am very hands-on helps keep costs down,” she says. “It wouldn’t be possible to have a huge staff in this economy.”

About Elena Ferrarin

Elena Ferrarin is a native of Rome who has worked as a journalist in the United States since 2002. She has been a correspondent for Fra Noi for more than a decade. She previously worked as a reporter for The Daily Herald in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, The Regional News in Palos Heights and as a reporter/assistant editor for Reflejos, a Spanish-English newspaper in Arlington Heights. She has a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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