A look at sports editing with an Omaha World-Herald editor
By Connor Schuessler
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Nick Piastowski, originally from Milwaukee, Wis., is a deputy sports editor at the Omaha World-Herald. Piastowski started out as a reporter and worked his way up to become deputy sports editor. In an interview, he talked about his career in sports journalism.
Q: What’s life like outside of work for a deputy sports editor? Do you have a wife, kids?
A: I am married, but no kids right now. Actually my wife is an editor in the newsroom too. She does more or less what I do except for the local news section. She’s the deputy news editor.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: I went to Marquette in Milwaukee. I graduated in ’99. I’m actually originally from Milwaukee. I worked at the student newspaper there for a little bit. I also worked as a part-time employee at the Milwaukee newspaper, answering phone calls and did some high school things. I wrote maybe five stories just to kind of get my foot in the door.
Q: Did you always want to get into editing?
A: When I started I wanted to get into reporting but I kept an open mind just to see what I liked. When I first started at the Omaha World-Herald, I was hired as an editor. Over time I realized I liked the editing side of it and working with reporters. I also like the fact that the hours are a little bit more set. Reporters kind of have to be on call and a lot of their work schedule is based on when news happens. I just like the little bit of stability. I know when I start and I generally know when I finish. My advice is to just keep it open and kind of feel what you like.
Q: So what does the the role of deputy sports editor entail?
A: I’m the sports editor at night. I work with our different reporters, editors, photographers and designers. I pretty much just take what our sports editor does during the day, which is getting the ball rolling with what is being reported on that day and the different assignments for the day. I, for lack of a better term, take the baton from him and make sure that we hit our deadlines, that stories are copy edited and basically control our quality. Once the stories are filed later at night and the sports editor is gone, I’m the one who does the editing on those stories and I make sure all the pieces are there, looking at design and looking at corresponding pictures for stories. We also need to monitor the online websites to make sure design and content is taken care of along with making sure breaking news is up as fast as possible. So I’m kind of working with all different people and all the different pieces, kind of like a traffic cop.
Q: So at night, you’re the main guy? You’re the boss?
A: A lot of responsibility falls on me. And one thing that people don’t think about in terms of newspapers, is I do manage people. So I do have to make sure people are happy and make sure people are working to deadlines. So it’s a lot of responsibility but I still have a lot of fun seeing the paper the next morning knowing all the effort all these people have put into it.
Q: So in a more specific sense, what’s in a typical day for you?
A: Well, I can describe what I did last night. We came in at about 3:30 p.m. and took a look at the budget that our daily sports editor puts together in order to plan that out section so it has a decent presentation to it. So when he gets that together I, more or less, get a list of stories. So when I get those stories, I plot them out, hopefully so we’ll have five good cover stories. For the inside pages, I’ll plan where a football page goes, where a basketball page goes and where a high school part could be. Once I have that plan, I also play the role of page designer, so I have to address that as well. So I get that layout process going and create a headline spec. I then send it to the copy editor where they write headlines and captions. After that, someone will read it and check our work and I’ll process it from there, updating the page. Pretty much, we send it to the press from there and it’s ready to go. Some nights can be busier than others and sometimes that can be a good thing because those hectic nights you look up and the night is over just like that.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you face on a daily basis?
A: Definitely deadlines and working with reporters can be a challenge. An editor will be looking for certain things and you want to make sure a story flows well and that it makes sense. At the same time you’re working with a reporter who might have had a different thought in their head. So sometimes that can be a challenge to come up with the best possible product. The way I try to combat that a little bit is letting them know that we all work for the same team and that no egos should be involved. Another challenge is getting everything to fit in a section. We cover a lot of sports and getting it all to fit in a six-page section and making sure it doesn’t all look smashed together is definitely a challenge.
Q: You mentioned your relationship with the reporters, could you elaborate on that aspect?
A: It’s a pretty good relationship. It helps me that I’ve written before and being able to know where they are coming from. In college that’s really all I did. Knowing what works in stories and how they should flow really helps with my job. When working with reporters you need to be clear in what you’re saying and be confident in what you’re telling them. They can sometimes talk you out of something, but at the end of the day the editor has the final say.
Q:Has the job changed at all since you have gotten into editing?
A: Since I started in ’99, we’ve gone from having a website that just posted stories that you’d see in a newspaper to now we’re not just a newspaper that has a website but we’re both a website and a newspaper. We’re two news entities. We have realized that our newspaper reader isn’t the same as our website reader, and that’s something that we look at and focus on. Using that we have tried to enhance things like blogs, Twitter feeds, different presentations and videos that we put online.
Q: What did you think about the rift between Dirk Chatelain and Nebraska football head coach Bo Pelini following the article written by Chatelain regarding sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez?
A: Column writing is different from what the basic news story is and to have a really good column is to support it with facts and to write creatively and to get people fired up about it. When you write a column like that you really want to get what the fans are thinking and to question things. I think Dirk did a very good job of looking at what the hot topic was at that point.
Q: Did you think it would get such a response from the head coach?
A: I guess you never really know that and that’s another side of it. I think both people can be right and you just have to be prepared that a person isn’t just going to say thank you if you are being critical of them. Just to know that there will be reaction to it. It shows how powerful your voice can be. When you write it you’re just looking at you computer screen and you need to realize that 190,000 newspaper readers and millions more online are out there. You’re not going to please everybody though and our reporters understand that and I think we do a pretty good job questioning things.
Q:Whose idea was the apology column?
A: I should probably not say anything about that. There were a lot opinions that night. It was a very tricky situation.
Q: What kind of editing skills should all journalism students possess?
A: One of the things that I would think would be to read and read a lot. You should read in two different ways. Read things that you really like — writers that you like, publications that you like, Internet sites you like. Then come to challenge yourself with stories or writers that you don’t like. From that you start to realize what works in a story, what doesn’t work in a story and you can work in those skills to improve yourself whether you’re an editor or a reporter. It also helps to know lots of word meanings and to be creative with headlines. Some of our best headline writers are our reporters because they have such a vast vocabulary. That’s the best editing advice I could give you beside learning your style, basic grammar and correct punctuation. As an editor or even a reporter, you should always remember that if something doesn’t look right to look it up. A very smart person once told me that you should be looking at your dictionary or stylebook at least five times a night, and if you’re not you probably missed something. Getting involved is also huge. To work maybe part time at a publication or to work at your school newspaper will go a long way to learning how the business works and to experience deadline pressure and to be able to work with all kinds of people.