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Texas reporter-turned-editor says more responsibility suited her

By Emily Deck
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Mary Dearen is the managing editor at the Midland Reporter-Telegram in Midland, Texas, the heart of oil country. During a phone interview, she shared her experience and insights on editing since starting in the industry more than 30 years ago.

Mary Dearen, managing editor of the Midland Reporter-Telegram.

Q: Have you always worked at the Midland Reporter-Telegram?

A: No, I came here in 1981, and before I had worked at a newspaper in Colorado Springs.

Q: Was editing always what you were interested in?

A: I graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in journalism. I started at the Colorado Springs paper. I was a lifestyle writer and in editing. I got laid off there and then came to the Midland Reporter-Telegram on their copy desk. I was assistant city editor, special projects editor, lifestyle editor, and now I’m managing editor.

Q: Do you prefer editing to reporting?

A: Yes, I do. I don’t think I am aggressive enough to be a reporter.

Q: Was there a moment in your career when you thought you had made the right career decision?

A: I think when I became lifestyle editor. I had been in journalism since 1979. You always wonder if this is what I want to do for the rest of my life, and your life goes on. When I became lifestyle editor, I realized I am a better editor than reporter. It gave me more responsibilities and more flexibility to do what I wanted to do.

Q: What is a typical day of work like for you?

A: Monday through Wednesday, I work 8 until whenever. Then Friday, I come in at 1 because the city editor is off Thursdays and Fridays, so I am working for her. We check the budget, see what the lists of stories are for the next day’s paper, deal with phone calls from the public, letters from the editor and make sure those all are ready to go. Also, I’m assigning stories and working with the reporters.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you face as managing editor?

A: Making sure that we got enough copy in the paper and dealing with the public are challenges. We have to make sure they understand why we do the things we do. Dealing with the public is not a challenge in itself, but we get calls all the time. We just have to make sure our reader is satisfied with the product we put out.

Q: Are there ethical issues that you have to deal with?

A: The editor has to make those kinds of decisions. For example, we had a story a couple weeks ago, we had a police officer shooting back in May. We were finally able to get the reports from the police department, and video from the police officer’s cameras. We put it on our website. We had people complain. The dead person’s family complained that we did that, but we thought it was something that the public needed to know or should know. When the police department does something wrong, we let the public know that.

Q: What news is most dominant in Midland?

A: Anything dealing with oil is going to be on the front page. Most of the people here are in the oil business. With the price of oil, the economy is booming here unlike the rest of the country. Oil is always going to be No.1.

Q: How has your job changed since the industry has moved online?

A: We always have extra things to do. When I work Thursday and Friday nights, part of the city/night editor’s job is to make sure all the stuff is posted on the Web. It doesn’t really add to our job. It doesn’t take that long. It is just what the public wants.

Q: Are the stories changed for the Web?

A: We’ll put on breaking news or an earlier version on the Web, and then we will come back and expand it for the print product. But for the most part, stories are the same as they are in the newspaper.

Q: What kind of editing skills do you think editing students should know?

A: First and foremost, know AP style, read the paper and practice knowing AP style.  You should know grammar, AP style and always check your spelling. That is the most important thing.

Q: Do you have any advice for new reporters?

A: Get an internship, if you can. Have a portfolio to show for a job interview. We much prefer a student with a portfolio and a lot of experience to where he or she went to school. It is a lot more important.

Q: What is the best part of your job?

A: Just working with the staff. We have a great staff right now. The best part is interacting with them and making sure our copy is the best it can be.

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