L Magazine editor’s career reassures soon-to-be journalism graduate
By Kayla Stauffer
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Like many soon-to-be college graduates, I’m terrified.
What happens next?
After interviewing Mark Schwaninger, the editor of Lincoln’s L Magazine via email, I was able to gain a better understanding of what my life might someday look like as a journalism graduate. His answers cast my uncertainties aside, and, in turn, my anxiety.
Bottom line: Love words and respect their power.
I could do that.
Q. I read that you recently became the editor for L Magazine and that you also oversee StarCityHealth.com and help write and edit for Star City Sports and Neighborhood Extra. Has the transition been difficult, and how do you balance so many different responsibilities at once?
A. I started working at the Lincoln Journal Star on Jan. 12, 2004, as the editor of a printed publication called Star City Health. That publication was discontinued in June 2008, and my position became staff writer and copy editor for niche publications, which included L Magazine, Star City Sports, Neighborhood Extra, and two Omaha publications that have been discontinued ONE Magazine (similar to L but about Omaha) and West Metro Sports (youth sports in the Millard area). As a result, I wrote and did copy editing for several different publications. So becoming the editor of L Magazine has been an easy transition because I wrote and did copy editing for L from June 2008 until my promotion in March 2011. I already had the contacts and was doing most of the copy editing anyway because the previous L editor, John Mabry, was spending a lot of his time going back and forth between Lincoln and Omaha to coordinate the Omaha publications. If anything, my life is simpler now because I do more work for L Magazine and StarCityHealth.com (which started just before my promotion), and less work for the other niche publications. I do also put together two Lincoln Journal Star inserts each year: Discover Lincoln, which makes people aware of some of Lincoln’s highlights; and Pride of the Heartland, which includes stories about people in our community going over and above to help other people.
Q. Since you are both a writer and an editor, which do you prefer and why?
That’s a tough question, because I like them both. If I had to choose, I probably prefer editing, because I love working with words and editing allows me to have a greater impact on the final product. Being an editor also gives me more choices in which stories we cover and who writes them, so I like being able to make those decisions. If I had to edit all the time, though, I would probably go crazy because it involves sitting at my computer for long periods by myself. I need to get out and talk to people, too, and I like the creative process involved in interviewing people and writing stories. Time goes by amazingly fast when I am writing a story because I get so involved in the process.
Q. Did you always know you wanted to be an editor?
A. Actually, no. I changed my major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln five times because I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do with my life. I finally realized that in my free time I was writing a lot of poetry and short stories for enjoyment, so I figured I might as well try to make a living as a writer and eventually as an editor. I changed my major to journalism with an editorial emphasis, and it has worked out well. I didn’t realize at the time that a degree in journalism could lead me in so many directions. After writing for a daily newspaper my first year and then writing and editing for a weekly newspaper my second year after graduation, I was hired as an editor in public relations at Lincoln General Hospital in 1986. I continued in that capacity after Lincoln General merged with Bryan Memorial Hospital in 1997. By 2003 I was ready to try something different, so I worked as a communications and development specialist, which included a lot of editing, at Heartland Family Service in Omaha. Then I received a call from the Journal Star asking if I’d be interested in becoming the editor of a new health publication called Star City Health, and I accepted that job in 2004. I’ve been here ever since.
Q. Describe your job. What does your typical day look like?
A. It depends on what stage I am at in the publication process, but on a typical day I come in and go through my emails and answer voice mail messages. Then I check my calendar for meetings and plan my day around those. I probably spend 80 percent of my time in my office either writing, editing or posting stories and photos on two websites. The rest of the time I’m out of the office interviewing people for stories, shooting photos of newsworthy events for L Magazine or meeting with people about story ideas.
Q. What do you like best about your job?
A. I like being able to plan and see production of L Magazine all the way through from start to finish every month. I enjoy working with the writers and photographers, and I also enjoy getting out into the community, meeting people who make things happen and learning about what they do and the people they are connected with. Lincoln is a great community, and learning something new about it all the time is exciting to me.
Q. What is the hardest decision that you’ve had to make as an editor?
A. As the editor of a weekly newspaper back in 1985 or 1986, the newspaper’s publisher asked me to interview a teenager who was accusing the local police chief of pushing him around in a parking lot. The publisher said this was not the first time someone had complained about the police chief being abusive, and he wanted me to get the details from the youth and write a story about it. I suggested waiting until the kid actually filed a charge against the police chief, but the publisher insisted on me writing a story about the situation. I felt like quitting my job on the spot, because I knew I shouldn’t be writing about an alleged assault before any charge was filed. But the publisher signed my paychecks, so I interviewed the kid about what happened and about several run-ins he and his family had with the police chief in the past. I wrote the story, and as it turned out the teenager never filed any charges. He was satisfied having the police chief’s name smeared in the local newspaper. Soon afterward I found another job as editor in public relations at Lincoln General Hospital.
Q. In what ways has your job changed now that news has gone more digital?
A. I spend a lot more time updating websites now. We also have Facebook pages for those publications. Since we have a limited staff, I update the websites and Facebook page tie-ins whenever I have time, so some days they are updated often and others not so much, depending on what I have going on with the printed publications. Although the Journal Star and its publications want an online presence, the Journal Star’s current policy is still to emphasize the printed publications before the online versions. A lot of that has to do with advertisers not buying in to online ads and preferring printed ads instead.
Q. Do you think social networking groups such as Facebook and Twitter are helping or hurting news organizations? Why?
A. I see social networking groups as an asset, because they call attention to individual stories, and once the readers are on the websites, they are connected with the entire website in addition to links to other publications produced by the Journal Star. This allows “cross-selling” all of the publications with electronic links. I regularly link stories from L Magazine and StarCitySports.com to our Facebook pages and my personal Facebook account. It’s a great free promotional tool.
Q. What is the best advice you have ever gotten?
A. While working in Omaha at Heartland Family Service, I had a supervisor who believed in doing everything online listing meetings on a shared electronic calendar, scheduling publications and stories electronically, storing them electronically, etc. As a result, I have been much more organized and able to keep track of multiple tasks, which has improved my efficiency. By keeping track of things electronically, information is literally available at the push of a button on the keyboard.