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Journal Star copy editor used to late nights, tough deadlines

By Sara Hinds
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Do not call Julie Koch before 10 a.m.

And do not call Koch after 9 p.m.

That’s just part of life as a night shift copy editor.

Koch is a night owl. She has to be. After all, she has worked as a sports copy editor at the Lincoln Journal Star since 1980.

She had a brief two-and-a-half year break from sports when she worked in news, but it’s been late nights at the building at 9th and P streets for Koch since college.  She started working part time as a sports clerk during her third year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Part time turned into 40 hours a week her senior year.

“It was killer,” Koch said.

Back then, she wouldn’t leave the newspaper until 1 a.m. Nowadays, her schedule is about the same.  Except now Koch can sleep in rather than attend an 8 a.m. class.

In sports, final deadline on weekdays is 12:15 a.m.  Fridays, it’s 12:45 a.m.  And Saturdays, it’s midnight.  After work, Koch said, it takes her awhile to calm her mind from the pressure before going to bed.

But, she wouldn’t want a normal day job.

“That would make it hard, you know, doing this for 30 years, trying to go back and go to a day job because my whole life and my body cycle and everything is all set up for working nights,” Koch said.

As an editor for more than three decades, Koch has seen editing methods evolve with technology.  So far, she said,  the changes have been positive.

“I check the Internet, usually when I get up and before I have lunch I’ll check the Journal Star website and I’ll call in and say, ‘Oh, I see you got a typo on a headline or maybe clarify this’ or whatever,”  Koch said.  “You know it’s like I never had that before.  Always before it was you see a newspaper.  Boom, now it’s 24/7.”

Koch said the 24/7 aspect of news in a digital world can be a tool for journalists if used right. Social media can be a great way to find information and to use as a “starting point” for a story, but it must be used with caution because everything on the Internet is not always true.

Technology, however, has aided copy editing.  Years ago when Koch and other editors designed a page, the type had to be literally  “cut and pasted” with knives and grids.  Today’s  technology requires only the click of a mouse for layouts to be sent to the plate room where etched images of a page are transferred to plates that are mounted on presses.  “I can save it as a PDF and then I just push a button and it’s sent electronically across the street to the plate room,” Koch said. This allows more time for reporters to work on stories and for copy editors to edit them.

Koch edits around 15 stories every night.  On Husker football game days, Koch said the newspaper might have 15 stories just on the football game.  After her shift begins at 4 or 5 p.m., she only has a few hours to edit all the stories.  Time management is crucial.

“One good thing you really need to do both as an editor and as a design person is to be able to budget your time,” she said.  “Cause if you get behind, like if you’re designing pages and you’re getting behind and all of a sudden all hell breaks loose and you know something you weren’t expecting happens, then you have to start over.  And that’s sorta hard catching up.”

With so little time, Koch has learned to forget about trying to make things perfect, a common goal of new editors.

When she first started, Koch said, she wanted to be a perfectionist.  “You have to get to the point where’s it’s like OK, if something goes wrong, you get past it because you have the next, next day you have to do the paper again.

“So you can’t let it fester if you screw up….  In a lot of other jobs you can worry about things.  This one, it’s boom, boom boom.  The pressure just stacks up again the next time, starts all over.”

And starting each night _ each newspaper _ fresh is exactly  what Koch has done for 32 years.

Besides editing copy, Koch designs pages. Here are a few examples:

Julie Koch shows off one of her horses. Koch works as an editor from 4 p.m. until midnight. She spends her mornings and early afternoon taking care of her horses.

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