South Dakota news editor navigates editing’s changing world
By Elias Youngquist
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Whether it’s grammar guru, layout mastermind or headline honcho, editors wear various hats. In an interview with Tim Lyford, the news editor for the Argus Leader, in Sioux Falls, S.D., talked about losing one of his editing hats and his life as an editor amid journalism’s changing landscape.
As the Argus Leader’s city editor, Lyford’s duties include editing stories for grammar and libel issues, deciding what photos to run, writing headlines, choosing stories for particular pages and until early November, laying out or designing pages.
Now design at the Argus Leader is handled by a centralized design desk at the Des Moines Register, one of the Argus Leader’s sister newspapers owned by Gannett Co. Gannett recently shifted design duties at all of its 80-plus newspapers to five design centers around the country.
“The company says it’s to improve the overall design quality of newspapers,” Lyford said, but he misses the local control he had when pages were designed in his newsroom.
And, as with any computer change, bugs have to be worked out.
“We’re three weeks into our new system and we’re still figuring out how to do things,” he said. “Things we used to do unconsciously with our old system now require five minutes with technical stuff.”
In part, it’s the choices editors get to make in designing pages that attracted Lyford to a career as an editor. After listening to an editor from the another paper talk about editing, Lyford was sold.
“He described his work hours and the process of being an editor and for me the light bulb went on, it sounded like a cool career,” Lyford said. “I enjoy the role of polishing a story. I enjoy writing headlines. I enjoy reading the news and sometimes picking the best of the news from news wires. I enjoy every day I’m here.”
His work day might be considered odd by most, but Lyford enjoys and even thrives in the irregular hours.
“I work from about 2:30 p.m. until about midnight,” he said. “I enjoy working the evening hours. It’s not for everybody, but I enjoy it.”
The adrenaline rush from living constantly on a deadline is something that Lyford appreciates.
“You have got to enjoy it (living on a deadline) to live as an editor,” he said. “You’ve got to thrive under pressure, have lucid thinking. I enjoy working under deadline. If I didn’t I would’ve moved on to something else a long time ago.”
For future editors, Lyford offered advice:
“A, work at the school paper and B, line up some internships,” he said. “It’s any newspaper, if that’s writing for a small weekly, fine, if it’s writing a church newsletter, fine, all that experience builds on each other.”
Lyford said he’s learned a lot through trial and error.
“You have to have the desire to learn. You’re not going to know everything, especially out of college,” he said. “Hopefully you’ll be at a place where there are experienced people there who can give you advice on how to succeed with what you’re doing. Learn from mistakes. You will make mistakes and when you make them, know why you made them so you won’t make them again.”
When it comes to copy editing, he said, everything is important but grammar and writing well come to the forefront.
“Just master grammar, you don’t need to be the world’s greatest speller. Know AP style and simply write well You need to be able to write well in order to edit well. And it also helps to have a well-rounded knowledge and interest in things in the world.”
Lyford also weighed in on the precarious future of print journalism.
“Our survival is tenuous right now, certainly newspapers are under unprecedented pressure,” Lyford “Right now I’m married to the print side of things and I don’t feel very strongly about doing what I’m doing 10 years from now.
“I think the big thing is our ad revenue. We have fewer subscriptions now than when I started, that’s no secret, that’s across the world,” he said. “So at what point does it become a product that isn’t worth printing? We’re not there yet but in the long term, will readers want the printed edition? Will advertisers want to advertise in the print edition? I don’t think anyone has answers for that.”