A small town Nebraska editor does a ‘little bit of everything’
By C.L. Sill
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
From the mailroom to the wire desk, Doug Barber’s career has been as diverse as any in the journalism world.
Barber, the general manager and editor for the Washington County Enterprise and Pilot-Tribune in Blair, Neb., began his career at the Daily Independent in Grand Island, Neb. He had worked in its mailroom during high school and took a job there as a sports reporter after earning an English degree at what is now the University of Sioux Falls. He moved up to an editing position about five years later.
Barber sat down for an interview to discuss the roles of an editor and the different places his career has taken him.
Q: Did you come straight to the Pilot-Tribune from your job in Grand Island?
A: No. I then moved to Omaha and worked for the Associated Press off and on for three years or so. After that I moved to a little town called Ord to be the editor of the newspaper there. My family is from that area. We had intentions that if the publisher ever decided to retire we might buy the newspaper, but that didn’t happen. Then we came here, and, well in September it will be 15 years I’ve been here.
Q: What does a normal day look like for you?
A: Well, I don’t know if we have normal days or not. It varies a lot depending on if it’s a day we print. I also work with the press department and the circulation department, kind of overseeing and making sure everything works there. So I do several different things. As far as the news side of it, let’s take a print day as an example. I usually come in and figure out how big the papers going to be and where everything’s going to go and distribute pages to people. I also write stories and editorials and things like that so usually there is some photography and some writing and some page layout. It’s just kind of a little bit of everything. That’s the thing about a small paper. I always say the good thing about a small paper is you get to do a little bit of everything and the bad thing is you have to do a little bit of everything.
Q: What are some of your pet peeves as an editor?
A: ‘It’s’ and ‘its’ is one of my big pet peeves. These are pretty picky, but also using ‘there’ incorrectly. A lot of people do that. And then of course passive voice — I’m always trying to get people not to use that. I also try to get people to use as many sources as possible. Sometimes you can only get one, but if possible you should always try to get more.
Q: How has this paper adjusted to the decline of newspapers that has been caused by the advancement of the Internet and social media?
A: There’s no doubt that, even since I’ve been here, that the circulation has declined, but actually the last year or so it has leveled off. We understand that the way people get their news is changing, and we have no control over that so we have to change with them. So we have a website and a Facebook page and those kinds of things. We haven’t actually gotten into more social media like Twitter and things like that yet though.
Q: Do you find yourself devoting more and more time to that continually as time goes on?
A: Yep. We actually just started an ‘E’ edition on our website where you can get PDFs of the actual paper that you can just read online.
Q: I read in one of my textbooks this semester that many smaller papers are actually fairing better than large papers following the decrease in circulation and things like that. What are your thoughts on that?
A: I think that’s true. Community papers are continuing to stay fairly strong. A lot of the decline is in daily papers, especially large daily papers that aren’t, I guess, as personal to people.
Q: As a smaller community paper, how do you attract potential reporters? More or less, what is your draw? What makes reporters want to come to a paper like this?
A: I think one of the things, from my experience, that’s good about coming to a smaller paper is you do get to learn how to do everything. You know, you could go to the World-Herald and be an intern for the summer and write obituaries. If you come to a paper like this to be an intern for the summer, we’re gonna put you to work. We actually had an intern three or four years ago and on his first day on the job he covered a bank robbery. I think it’s good experience because, like I said, you get to do a lot of different things. The more of that kind of experience you get the better off you are.
Q: What would be some tips you might have for people who want to go into editing in particular?
A: Read a lot would be one. Read all kinds of stuff. To me editing is two different things. It is analyzing stories for their content and what they have to say and trying to do that in the best possible way. It’s also the mechanical part of it, proofreading and typos and word usage and stuff like that. I just think you need to have a good grasp of those kinds of things. You have to be able to recognize the grammatical things we talked about, but you also have to be able to look at a story and improve it. I think the last thing you want to do as an editor is change a story in a way that doesn’t improve it. Of course that’s something that’s a matter of perception, especially with reporters.