Small-town newspaper editors face different challenges
By Matt Palu
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Major metropolitan publications differ from small-town newspapers in more than just circulation size.
Bruce Crosby, editor of
small-town Nebraska’s McCook Daily Gazette talked about the roles and responsibilities of editors in a phone interview. In small towns, the editors and newspaper are much more accessible to people in the community, a factor editors must keep in mind as they do their jobs.
Crosby answered questions about his career and his outlook on today’s newspaper business.
Q: First things first, could you please break down a typical day at the office?
A: I’ve got the luxury of looking at things first. I come in at about six o’ clock. I go through email for about half an hour. And we’re fortunately an afternoon paper, so we have the luxury of working civilized hours. So after emails I try to get an idea for the editorial. Not all papers do editorial everyday, and that’s one of the things that we do. And then I try to put together the best news package for the front page. It’s rare that we would have a national or state story on the front page. We’re the only ones that can devote as much time and space as we do to local news and events in the community. Working with that news package, I basically oversee the newsroom. We (go to) press at 12:30 p.m. and then start all over again.
Q: When did you first get involved with journalism?
A: I always enjoyed current events when I was in high school, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. My high school didn’t have a paper. But I went to Mid-Plains college in North Platte and took my general studies there. After that, I took my major courses at Kearney. After that I got a job at a weekly in Ainsworth. I worked there for seven years. I then came to McCook in 1984.
Q: Could you run through your responsibilities at the Gazette?
A: Well, I’m the editor in charge of news content. I work with advertising. I work with the publisher and other department heads, which is seven other people, full and part time. They’re pretty experienced people. I rely on their ideas and their creativity a lot. I have a sports editor that’s pretty independent. I have an associate editor that organizes the inside page and I have a special projects editor.
Q: How much has the Internet age changed your job, and how has it changed the paper itself?
A: Well, we’re a trade center for this corner of the state. There are 25,000 people in the area spread over eight or 10 counties. We have a circulation of 4,000 – 5,000 now with a lot of circulation outside of the actual town. We used to have a circulation of 10,000. Some of that change is age and population. A lot of that is exodus from the rural counties. A lot of little towns have lost populations. One-third of of our readers are online now. We’re trying to get more and more paid subscribers and bolster our online product.
Q: Is there a difference between your print product and what goes online?
A: There needs to be a difference. Right now, we pretty much just put our print edition online. But now we’re starting to put more video online. We’re also trying to put more links online…. It’s hard trying to do both _ print and online. Though, it is an advantage a small-town paper has over big-town papers. Advertisers still like to have a printed copy of advertisements. And a city has a lot more electronic competition. But we obviously want to keep them both viable.
Q: You just mentioned an advantage a smaller paper has over a big paper. What are some of the disadvantages you may face?
A: We’re actually pretty well-staffed, but we don’t have people that can devote hours and hours to one story like a larger paper can. Here, it’s a luxury to have more than a few hours on one story. So here, everybody has to be a jack-of-all-trades.
Q: You’ve spoken to some of the differences between bigger and smaller papers. With that, what are some misconceptions you believe people may have about editors of small-town papers or small-town papers in general?
A: It’s great that we can get so much feedback online because we get to hear from so many readers. And we’ve noticed that we have some that don’t differentiate between the city council, the chamber of commerce and the editors of the newspaper. Since it’s such a small town they think we’re all in cahoots. People tend to see the newspaper as part of the establishment in town. And it is, sort-of, because you’re working in certain ways with local advertisers and we want their advertisements. But we provide checks and balances. We try to work on behalf of the public and the reader.
Q: Lastly, what advice would you give to a young journalist who may want a career in print?
A: Print is struggling right now because of the electronic element. Even still, it gets back to basics. Can you tell a story? Can you get your facts straight? And can you deliver an accurate balanced message? Get those basics and you should be fine.