Steven M. Sipple may be one of the most recognizable sports writers in Nebraska, but one of his first jobs was as a copy editor.
Sipple, who covers Husker football, basketball and baseball for the Lincoln Journal Star, started off at the Journal Star as a copy editor in 1991 and what he learned has stayed with him.
Even though his first job at the Journal Star wasn’t what he really wanted, he knew he had to start somewhere.
“The editing position taught me quite a bit in those first initial months,” said Sipple, adding that it did not pay very well.
Sipple, a native of Columbus, Nebraska, knew he wanted to write since the first grade. He decided to continue on that path and graduated from the University of Nebraska with a degree in journalism in 1990.
He took a job at the Grand Island Independent shortly before graduation. At the Independent, he covered just about every sport one could imagine.
“I remember there was one day when I went from covering junior high softball to Husker football, if that puts anything in perspective,” Sipple said. “It was a four-man staff and we were all editors. We had to be.”
In 1991, after six months at the Independent, he went to work at the Lincoln Journal Star as a copy editor.
After a start in a small town, he was ecstatic to transition to one of the biggest papers in the state.
Sipple later became a reporter and covered everything from bowling to volleyball to high school sports before settling on the Huskers beat in 1995, which he has today.
Sipple said working in sports journalism can involve a lot of work and long hours.
“When going into this you have to realize that it’s long, odd hours. If someone isn’t ready for the profession, it’ll show in the first week. When you’re out covering sports, be prepared to work at some times, from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.,” Sipple said.
He said it would be difficult to be successful at his job and work a standard 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift.
“It’s a life decision you have to make as a writer,” Sipple said. “On the other hand if you want to work the copy desk you can just work set hours if you so choose. The good news is you can be thoroughly involved either way. This job is a certain kind of lifestyle that you have to embrace if you want to go into it.”
It has been more than two decades since Sipple came on to the Journal Star staff and he said he treats each position almost the opposite as when he first started.
“At first I didn’t have a whole lot of desire to become an editor, but once I held that position, even for a little while, it made me learn a lot,” Sipple said. “It helps your writing, grounds you and you can learn everything about anything because I was reading anything and everything.”
Over time, Sipple’s duties have changed quite a bit.
Sipple took his experiences from his humble beginnings and translated them into his writing. He writes about three to four columns a week, which don’t include his articles on HuskerExtra.
“It’s different now with the Internet. I write blogs now about as often as I write my columns. Everything that I write will appear online or in print though, so I’m almost writing six out of the seven days,” he said.
By Landon Caldwell
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
As J.J. Perry was growing up, he did not know he was going to become an editor.
Now that he is executive editor of The American News in Aberdeen, South Dakota, and has years of editing and reporting experience under his belt, he has some advice for journalists and aspiring editors.
“Use social media every day to interact with the outside world and see what’s happening in your community,” said Perry, 43, during a phone interview. “Practice reading, writing and taking notes every day. Take every opportunity you get to grow and become better at what you aspire to do in life.”
As executive editor, Perry has a lot of responsibility.
“I’m the department head of the newsroom,” said Perry. “All my staff members report to me.”
Perry spends a lot of time talking to the readers of The American News. Sometimes the paper is criticized for running a certain story, but he has learned from the mistakes. Also, Perry talks with the editors from each department and decides what should go in that day’s newspaper.
Perry has a team mentality when it comes to the newsroom.
“I want my coworkers to be innovative and give people room to succeed in their work. It’s a team effort from everyone,” said Perry.
Perry’s relationship with The American News publisher, Cory Bollinger, is crucial to succeed in the newsroom, he said. He relies on Bollinger for counsel.
“He counts on people on a high-degree so you try your best to not get him involved in problems you run into,” Perry said. “I consider Cory to be a good friend of mine. He is a very good publisher and loves what he does.”
Perry grew up in South Bend, Indiana. He went to Indiana University Bloomington, graduating with a degree in journalism and a minor in folklore in 1995. He worked at the college newspaper as he studied news and how to report it.
Then, he got a part-time job as a writer at The Herald-Times in Bloomington in 1997, where he wrote about youth sports.
While working at The Herald-Times, he had a mentor who helped him realize what he wanted to do.
“He was fantastic. He was the model of a great guy and a great newsman. I knew I came to the right place at the right time,” Perry said.
After working at The Herald-Times for a while, he moved to the digital department. He sold advertisements and worked on the page design of the newspaper. Perry has also worked as a reporter covering breaking news, sports and weather.
Perry initially didn’t want to leave The Herald-Times when he was offered the job at The American News.
“I didn’t know I would get this opportunity to work as the executive editor of a newspaper. It was tough moving from paper to paper, but it’s great to gain a lot of experience,” he said.
He decided to make the more than 1,000-mile journey to Aberdeen to start fresh as an executive editor. He has been executive editor since October 2010.
Perry said The American News takes news judgment decisions seriously.
“It’s pretty tough as we always ask ourselves ‘What can we do to lessen harm to people, families and communities?’ Telling the truth is the best way to go even though we don’t always get it right,” said Perry.
Another challenge is the the 24/7 news cycle, which has changed journalism on a whole new level, he said.
“People right now are more engaged in news … than ever before,” said Perry. “People are sharing news links and videos they saw that interested them. There is just a lot of information being passed around.”
Perry thinks it’s not so much that the news cycle is changing, but the way the audience views the news.
Perry uses Twitter to tell readers about breaking news.
He pre-writes tweets to make sure he doesn’t miss any important information and uses hashtags.
Communication, especially on social media, is key to building trust between a newspaper and its readers, he said. Perry said using social media is imperative, but people need motivation to get on social media.
“I use social media, at the very least, a couple times a day,” Perry said. “It depends on the day and what is going on in our community.”
The executive editor for the Coloradoan in Fort Collins, Colorado, loves her city.
Lauren Gustus has only been the executive editor there for a little more than a year, but she already knows that she’s found the place where she belongs.
“Every day there’s an opportunity for me, for everyone in this room, to learn something new, and, oh by the way, we get to take home a paycheck at the end of the day for doing that. It’s just awesome,” Gustus said in an interview in her office.
As the executive editor, Gustus, 34, makes judgment calls every day in the Coloradoan’s newsroom. As the only community newspaper in Fort Collins, Gustus believes that they are responsible for highlighting not only the beauty and fun in their city, but also where it needs to improve and what is happening politically. She and her coworkers make their decisions to help keep their content balanced and responsible. Each story that they decide to focus their time and attention on needs to have the right voices and adequately reflect the many sides of that story, she said.
While she doesn’t write as much as she used to as a reporter, Gustus still occasionally writes columns. In the spring of 2015, she wrote one on the growth dynamic in Fort Collins. In the past she’s also written about the tone of a conversation about the mayor’s race and about the Coloradoan’s new social issues reporter.
Other than that, she leaves the writing to the rest of the staff in the newsroom.
One big focus in the newsroom is the Coloradoan’s mobile and online presence. Gustus said that she’s been on a “mobile crusade” lately. She believes that since people spend an average of three or four hours on their phones daily, it’s a platform that’s just itching to be utilized.
Along with the Coloradoan’s app, website, Twitter account and Facebook page, Gustus oversees the experimentation with new mobile apps that they might use in the future. She has recently experimented with Meerkat—a live video streaming app. Staff filmed a train going by an intersection and people watched it, indicating to her that it has potential.
Gustus is passionate about the online presence of the Coloradoan. Every story they post is augmented with headlines written for search engine optimization. For example, online a story’s headline will contain “Colorado State” as opposed to “CSU” for the keywords to be recognized by a search engine and the story to appear near the top of a search page. That doesn’t mean that every headline is a conglomeration of keywords with no creativity, she said.
“You could be as dry as toast or you could use a little more flexibility in your headline to develop something that’s more engaging,” she said.
A more creative, but still optimized, headline will be more engaging to readers, drawing them in to click on the content and take the time to read further. Gustus also advocates linking within online stories. Linking to relevant content on other sites as well as other relevant content on your own site, increases credibility.
The life of an online story is not a short one, she said. Posting a story is just the beginning. After it’s published the story is put on social media, optimized, pushed and shared. Finally, it’s revisited and the questions of those who have read it are considered, she said. All of this happens on mobile.
Gustus said, “If we don’t pay attention to mobile we’re dead in the water.”
Gustus’ path to executive editor started with covering high school sports.
Gustus worked at her college paper at Pepperdine University in Southern California. Right out of school she took an internship with the Los Angeles Daily News, covering high school football and doing the scoreboard page for all of the major sports teams. In her time there, she worked her way up and covered everything from high school sports to professional tennis to the NBA finals. There she worked with a lot of other young reporters who were eager to prove themselves, creating a friendly and competitive atmosphere.
After that she worked in Salt Lake City as a reporter and assistant sports editor. From there she was hired to work in Reno, Nevada, at the Reno Gazette-Journal as a sports editor, but bounced around between sports, news and business. Her most memorable career moment was in Reno.
“It still gives me goosebumps to think about, but the story that probably impacted me the most was a school shooting,” she said.
Gustus was one of the first reporters on the scene in October 2013 after a 12-year-old boy shot two classmates, a teacher and then himself. He and the teacher both died. Gustus led coverage of the story in the ensuing days and weeks. The family gave them an intimate look at their lives following the shooting.
Gustus said: “It was heartbreaking to just see them come to terms with the fact that their child got ahold of their gun… That their child was gone.”
When asked about advice for aspiring editors and journalists Gustus had nothing but wise words.
“Get practice in a real-world newsroom,” she said. “There’s something to be said for having to work with people who are doing it for a community that doesn’t look like your community at your school.”
She also advised to be active online and make connections. Most passionate journalists want to talk about their jobs. She also said don’t be discouraged by negative talk about the field.
“There are a lot of great journalists doing really inspiring, life-changing work,” she said, “and I can’t think of a better place to come every day.”
Jon Greenberg trusts his editors.
He understands disagreements will occur and there is a time and place to bring up disagreements.
“I trust my editors. I always do, but you have to pick your battles,” Greenberg, an ESPN Chicago columnist, said in a phone interview.
Greenberg, an Ohio native, has been both an editor and a reporter during his journalism career.
He’s been in journalism since college, has worked for the Associated Press and is the past executive editor for Team Marketing Report. Greenberg started at ESPN Chicago in 2009.
As a Chicago columnist, Greenberg appears on talk radio shows and said it’s important to edit even while talking.
“You say stuff on the radio and you’ll hear from people, more than from what you write,” Greenberg said.
Like many journalists, Greenberg is active on Twitter.
While some reporters take a serious approach, he takes a humorous one.
“People are super serious on there, like word of God type stuff, and I like to have more fun on there,” Greenberg said.
While he likes to keep things light on Twitter, he still edits his tweets.
“At first I didn’t edit myself on Twitter and I got in trouble,” Greenberg said.
At Ohio University, Greenberg worked at the college paper, covering hockey and baseball. He later became assistant sports editor. His senior year he worked at the local newspaper covering sports.
“It was basically a part-time job,” Greenberg said.
He graduated in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. In 2007, he received a master’s degree in creative writing from The University of Chicago.
As a young editor in college, Greenberg had to do what all editors do – deal with a slew of younger reporters.
“People couldn’t write ledes well,” he said. “I probably did too much rewriting as an editor, but I had standards for our paper.”
Editors need to have confidence in themselves, he said. Without confidence, one won’t have the conviction to make the appropriate changes, he said.
“My staff loved me, for the most part. I was eager to talk to them about stories and what was wrong with things,” Greenberg said.
It’s important to have a good relationship with your staff as an editor, he said. The more everyone is on the same page the better. Greenberg enjoyed watching his staff of young reporters progress.
“It was fun to watch someone get better over the years,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg said it’s important to re-read your own work and be a self-editor.
“I used to hate re-reading my stuff until I had a professor just tell me you have to if this is what you want to do,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg has this advice for young editors: “You have to be able to do a lot of things to be a good editor. You have to be able to pay attention to everything.”
As a reporter, it’s important to be open to people pointing out your mistakes, he said. It is better to have someone point it out than never realize you made a mistake in the first place.
“Sometimes I’ll get an email from a reader saying, ‘Hey this is wrong.’ And I’m just like, ‘Shoot, thank you,'” Greenberg said. “I wish my editor would have caught that.”
By Victoria Klafter
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Unique goals present unique problems.
Chance Solem-Pfeifer has discovered this as the managing editor of a small nonprofit publication with a specialized focus.
The publication is called Hear Nebraska and its mission statement declares that it “cultivates Nebraska’s vibrant, fertile music and arts community by providing resources and a voice for bands, artists and members of Nebraska’s creative class and the people and businesses that support them.”
It takes more than one breath to list Solem-Pfeifer’s job duties. He sets the editorial calendar, assigns all stories, publishes all stories on the website, edits, gives feedback to writers, photographers and videographers and manages Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. He also writes features and supplemental articles. Because Hear Nebraska is so small and functions as a nonprofit, managing editor has to be a “catch all” job, he said.
Solem-Pfeifer, 24, started working at Hear Nebraska immediately after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a bachelor’s degree in English in 2013. He was granted an internship with the possibility of a job down the road. “Down the road” turned out to be just around the corner as he was offered the position of staff writer within a month. He became the managing editor in February 2014, not even a year later.
Solem-Pfeifer, who is originally from Omaha, Nebraska, wasn’t new to covering music and arts. He had accumulated stacks of experience in the Arts and Entertainment section of UNL’s school newspaper, the Daily Nebraskan. He worked for the Daily Nebraskan for four years and served as editor of the Arts and Entertainment section for two and a half years.
Although he was a journalism major for only a year, he made many important connections through the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, where he hosted a radio show on the student-run station, KRNU-FM.
After his freshman year, Solem-Pfeifer switched to the College of Arts and Sciences and became an English major. He said that this major, with a creative writing emphasis, especially prepared him for his job at Hear Nebraska.
“It clarified how I feel dealing with other people’s work because you always have to know that it’s ultimately the writer’s story and you’re there to tell them what you think is working and what isn’t,” he said in a phone interview.
There’s always a ceiling on how good a piece of journalistic writing can be, he said, and an editor is just there to elevate it.
An editor also sometimes has to shoot down pieces if they don’t align with the publication’s mission. The promotional nature of Hear Nebraska’s mission sometimes presents different kinds of editorial decisions than what normal newspapers might face.
“Sometimes we’ve had a story idea or a feature idea—and even though it might be a decent news story—we’ve had to step back and say, ‘You know this doesn’t really support our mission,’” he said.
Therefore, he said, Hear Nebraska staff has to marry its goals as writers and its promotion of artists in a way that meets the overall goal of the publication.
This doesn’t mean they just publish fluff, though.
Solem-Pfeifer said there is definitely a place for negativity and he and the other editors often approve negative reviews.
“We also often say that it’s a can we don’t want to open,” he said with a laugh.
However, some “cans” should be opened eventually and Solem-Pfeifer and the other Hear Nebraska editorial staff chose to do just that with a recent interview and story. The interview was with the frontman for a well-known hardcore band from Nebraska and the story was intended to be about the band’s recent signing with a national record label.
It wasn’t so straight-forward in reality. The frontman carried a history of resentment against Hear Nebraska for its perceived neglect of genres outside indie rock.
This element cast a dark cloud over the actual news. In the end, the real story was significantly overshadowed by the tense dynamics of the relationship between Hear Nebraska and this musician and his band. Many people who also thought that Hear Nebraska neglects certain genres spoke out on social media with negative comments about the publication and its alleged lack of variety.
So, why would the editors of Hear Nebraska choose to publish that story?
They are “constantly aware” that they need to cover different types of music such as hardcore, which is a genre similar to screamo, electronic dance music, jazz and other genres that aren’t as “immediately visible” as indie rock, Solem-Pfeifer said in an email.
Solem-Pfeifer said that this deficiency can be attributed to several factors that are directly related to Hear Nebraska’s small size and none of which are malicious or purposefully negligent. This is a recognizable gap in Hear Nebraska’s coverage and he said it was important for them to be transparent about their inadequacies.
It’s these types of decisions that make editing a precarious balance between appreciation of art and awareness of reality.
Other editorial decisions that Solem-Pfeifer faces that are unique to Hear Nebraska—because of its exclusively Nebraska-focused mission—arise at national music and arts festivals.
Hear Nebraska recently covered South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. Thousands of musicians and bands from all over the nation perform at South by Southwest. Solem-Pfeifer’s main job is to focus his staff’s efforts on Nebraskan bands.
“We want to cover all Nebraska artists because our mission is to make Nebraska music known to people inside the state. So, when bands are out of state we want to champion those people,” he said.
Thus, he must be selective in what bands they’re covering while accurately portraying what the festival embodies as a whole.
Even though Solem-Pfeifer is officially a managing editor for an arts publication, his passion for the arts extends far beyond the boundaries of his job duties.
“My favorite thing about working for Hear Nebraska is the hope and the feeling that I—and we—have a place in a larger conversation about art,” he said. If people are interested in appreciating the beauty and intrigue of art, he said, they are more likely as a community to be socially progressive and conscientious.
Similarly, Solem-Pfeifer said that young journalists and writers need to be aware of their part in the larger discussion.
“Don’t write a review or do an interview without knowing as much as you can about what’s already been written or asked,” he said.
Knowing what has come before can open up new angles for stories and drives discovery in the industry, he said.
“Plus,” he said, “it’s a way to stay motivated.”
By Magdalena Cazarez
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Penelope Leon believes in using her position as editor to educate her community on important issues and current events.
As an editor, she said she has to to think about the greater good of all the people.
“There are causes that need to be told and we have the obligation to tell the community,” said Leon, a part-time copy editor at El Perico, a bilingual newspaper in Omaha.
The newspaper reaches about 25,000 Spanish-speaking residents monthly.
Leon, who has worked at El Perico since March 2014, said a controversial topic has been popular right now. El Perico has covered Legislative Bill 623, which would grant driver’s licenses to children in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“I am very confident that the bill will pass … not because it’s ‘the right thing to do’ or it is a ‘safety’ issue, but because it is an economical issue that will benefit the whole state,” said Leon during an interview in her Omaha office.
Leon said that editors have the power to inform people on important topics, such as LB 623, which affect the community. With that power, comes responsibility. Editors have to be careful with the way they introduce or focus a story, she said. Leon feels strongly about LB623, but as an editor it is her job to be objective.
Leon does not have favorite stories. She said there are too many. Her favorite types of stories are about people, such as a story in El Perico about the young people who would be affected by LB 623.
“We hear about celebrities and important icons on television, radio, everywhere, but when do you read about the local people? Regular people in the community have a story to tell too. They are the stories with emotion – the ones that make you (feel) something when you are reading it. Those are my favorite,” said Leon.
Leon is also the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Outreach Trainer for the Heartland Workers Center in Omaha, which advocates for civic participation, leadership development and voting. In her part-time position, she trains and educates employees who would work in the construction field.
Leon’s advice for beginning editors is to start as a reporter.
Although it was not her cup of tea, it was a position that taught her how to handle many things.
Learn the basics of journalism and execute your skills, she said.
Before she was offered a job with El Perico, Leon was a daily reader of the newspaper.
However, she noticed was something off. The Spanish content was translated perfectly – too perfectly. Leon said the content was awkward and too straightforward.
In the journalism field, she said content is supposed to be direct, but the problem was there was limited creativity and compelling story telling. She expressed her concerns to Editor John Heaston and was offered the editor position.
El Perico was founded in 1999. El Perico means The Parrot, known for receiving and repeating messages.
The newspaper has sections including auto, services, health, entertainment, real estate, employment, sports and social. The newspaper is written in Spanish and English to accommodate for the Latino population in South Omaha.
Leon received a bachelor’s degree in communications and journalism from the Universidad Iberoamerica in Mexico City. Leon began her career as a reporter by creating her own newspaper in Texas. She called the newspaper Supplement or La Voz de la Gente, which means The Voice of the People. Similar to El Perico, the newspaper focused on reporting local news. She gained much of her experience with Supplement in Spanish.
Although reporting was not her expertise, it was her way of putting herself on the other side of the newsroom.
Leon wore many hats. She was the designer, the editor and the reporter of Supplement in Spanish for years.
As technology has advanced, Leon’s daily tasks have become easier.
Advancement in technology allows her to edit her reporter’s stories from her office at Heartland Workers Center, a few blocks from El Perico headquarters. This allows for faster publication, she said.
Every newspaper should know how to communicate digitally in order to stay relevant, Leon said.
Much of the success from El Perico has been being active online, she said. Online journalism has given the newspaper the advantage to reach a wider audience and inform readers on issues affecting their community.
“There are many newspapers that have died out because they have not been able to successfully transition onto online journalism,” she said.
Alternative Press is a monthly music magazine in Cleveland. Editor-in-Chief Jason Pettigrew got his start at Alternative Press when at a concert he picked up a copy of the then-free magazine and saw that the founder, Mike Shea, wrote a review on musician Peter Murphy.
A few days after the show, Pettigrew called Shea asking him why he was disrespecting Murphy. Shea responded with: “Well you think you can do better?” Pettigrew then started work at Alternative Press doing freelance writing.
He did mostly album reviews and the occasional feature until 1992 when the senior editor left and Pettigrew was promoted to editor-in-chief.
In a phone interview, Pettigrew gave future journalists his advice and opinion on the future of Alternative Press.
Before Pettigrew worked at Alternative Press, he worked as a record store clerk. Although he went to school at the University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg and majored in English, he was always interested in music journalism.
“I’ve always been interested in how bands work, but I don’t play anything. There’s this saying: ‘Pettigrew should go learn an instrument and start a band, but the best thing he knows how to play is the phonograph,’” Pettigrew said.
In the ever-changing world of journalism, many things have changed at Alternative Press since Pettigrew became editor.
“There’s now a regular 24/7 news cycle, which has changed everything. You can’t break a lot of news anymore because the Internet is so immediate. Just saying ‘Band has new album’ isn’t a good story angle anymore. The album will leak and you’ll have to find something to talk about because readers won’t care about your opinion when they’ve already heard the album,” Pettigrew said.
There are some things that will never change in the magazine industry, he said.
“There’s still people who want to control every aspect of what you do whether it be a manager, record label, or even a band member trying to make everything pretty for themselves and ignoring when something bad or questionable or perceived as career-destroying happens. Control is always an issue that plagues this line of business and that won’t ever change,” Pettigrew said.
Social media has had a huge effect on how journalism has evolved since the invention of the Internet. Social media can be an important tool for journalists to help get an audience, get traffic to their website and promote their work.
“You’d be surprised at how many old-school newspaper reporters recoiled at the thought of getting a Twitter or Facebook account. It’s very important because a lot of writers and editors want to see their content. You want to get the word out on what you’re working on and get attention to it. You need to create a personality so people know where to go to,” Pettigrew said.
The 24/7 news cycle has changed the way that journalists work and has changed the way the newsrooms work.
“The 24/7 news cycle has made people exhausted. It requires constant updates because the stories aren’t set in stone. There’s constant updates and frequent updates, which makes a lot more room for error than ever before. You have to be on your toes more than ever before,” Pettigrew said.
With that 24/7 news cycle, there’s also been an effect on accuracy.
“Because of the Internet, there’s been a rise of citizen journalists. They’re just heavy on opinion and short on facts, but I guess it’s just the Internet. The Internet is a great democratizing thing where everyone can talk, but everyone talks at the same time and it’s just static. There needs to be some sort of voice of reason. I can’t think of anything more inept than a series of comments after a YouTube video,” Pettigrew said.
With many publications switching mainly to digital and having a harder time getting funding for print, one wonders if the future of Alternative Press is digital.
“We get a lot of subscribers that like the tangible thing. I think there’s people who collect the magazines and like the cool pictures. Magazines and comic books are still that type of thing that you want in your hands. There are those people that will scan all the pages to put up on the Internet for everyone to see. I think it will be interesting to see what will happen next. There is a possibility we could go exclusively digital, but I think there’s still the people that like the tangible thing. It’s a hard one to call,” Pettigrew said.
Pettigrew had this advice for future journalists and editors.
“Think about the level of commitment you want to give to what you do. Maybe you’re like, ‘Well, I want to give 50 or 20 percent of my life to this.’ Now think about the level of commitment you can manage if you gave twice that amount. The 24/7 news cycle now allows you to work 17 hours a day. If something happens at 3 a.m., you have to be ready to go,” Pettigrew said. “If you genuinely feel you can dedicate more than a normal job would allow you to then by all means do it, but be prepared because it is 24/7 now.”