Lester, 30, joins the AP from the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. She will join a four-person team covering state government and politics in Illinois that includes investigative reporter John O'Connor in Springfield and political reporters Sara Burnett and Sophia Tareen in Chicago.
The appointment was announced Wednesday by Central Region Editor David Scott and Illinois News Editor Hugh Dellios.
"There is no more important beat for the AP in our coverage of states than government and politics, and we've hired a reporter with a history and a habit of breaking news in Kerry," Scott said. "She'll become part of a team that's committed to telling AP's customers all they don't already know about what's going on in Springfield and Illinois state government."
Lester, a graduate of Villanova University in suburban Philadelphia and Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, joined the Daily Herald in 2006. While there, she scored an impressive run of scoops as a political reporter, including the first in-depth interview with U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk during his recovery from a stroke. This week she scooped her competition again, reporting first that Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady would resign following months of criticism over his position supporting gay marriage.
In 2012, Lester won a Lisagor Award from the Chicago Headline Club for a series about a student who inexplicably stabbed his favorite teacher. After three years of letter writing and other leg work, she persuaded the student to speak with her in his prison cell; her reporting led to a change in state law making it easier for school officials to inform police about problem students.
"Kerry will bring a fresh and dynamic approach to how the AP covers Springfield, and how we explain all the intrigues behind the politics and deal-making there," Dellios said. "She's relentless and ambitious, and great at source building, which is why she's so good at breaking news. We're excited about what she'll add to our report."