For Detroit News deputy news editor, job is ‘mad rush to deadline’
By Paige Cornwell
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Dawn Needham will admit she isn’t a great reporter. Even at her first job working at a newspaper in Norway, Maine, Needham knew that reporting wasn’t for her. She just didn’t know what other kind of journalism job she could do.
That changed when she filled in for a copy editor during a shift. “It became obvious that editing was better for me,” Needham said in a phone interview.
Now the deputy news editor at The Detroit News, Needham is responsible for developing the front page, editing copy and making sure reporters meet their deadlines. Her job requires flexible hours and working against a clock, but she said she enjoys never knowing what the next hour will bring.
Needham comes into work in the early afternoon. After an editors’ meeting, she assigns copy editors to stories and works on developing the front page, all while making sure reporters are on track to meet deadlines. The front page lineup is solidified around 3:30 p.m.
“It takes a lot of networking with other departments,” Needham said.
She jumps “right into work,” editing stories and headlines and making sure there is a proper allocation of space for each story.
“You don’t want to be planning for a story that’s 12 inches and have the reporter turn in a 30-inch story,” Needham said.
The final editors’ meeting is at 5:45 p.m.. Designers present the front page and editors give it final approval. Then, it’s a “mad rush” to the first press room deadline at 8:45 p.m. (The Detroit News has several editions each night).
“Everybody pushes until the last minute,” Needham said. “It’s a very active pace, but a very organized pace.” She leaves around 9 or 10 p.m. For those looking for a job with regular hours, Needham said, “editing isn’t for them.”
The most difficult part of her job is convincing reporters to get their stories in on time, she said. Reporters often want to hold on to their stories until the very last second. “We can’t invent or extend time, so we really have to push people for their stories,” Needham said.
As the journalism industry moves more toward online publication, Needham’s job has changed. She now has to be more responsive to the immediacy of online stories. “We don’t want to just get the story out first, but get the story right,” Needham said. “We still have to make sure the tenants of journalism are met.”
Her advice to those who want to be editors: Start as reporters first.”There’s no substitute for experience,” Needham said. “If you learn the job from the bottom up, it gives you credibility with the other reporters. They know you’ve done the job.”
She has one other piece of advice: Read.
“Read, read, read,” she said. “You don’t want to get stuck in a rut.”