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Lincoln Journal Star assistant city editor juggles many decisions

Rebecca Carr
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

For Shelly Kulhanek, editing means coming up with answers.

As one of three assistant city editors at the Lincoln Journal Star, she supervises a team of government reporters.

“I am always thinking about the big picture,” Kulhanek said. “I literally make hundreds of decisions every day.”

Each of the reporters she supervises covers a government beat such as city hall, the state house, county and federal government.

“I … need to know what each of the reporters is doing,” she said. “I am sometimes assigning stories. Another part of my job is coming up with story ideas and deciding whether or not to do certain stories.”

She edits stories, asking the reporters questions about them. She works with copy editors, who give stories a final edit and also design pages. She also works with photographers and artists to discuss photos . Every day, she sits down with other editors to make decisions about the next day’s paper.

Newspaper editors face many challenges. Kulhanek, for instance, recently had to decide whether to publish the name of a 16-year-old who was charged with sexual assault. She explains that some decisions like this one are weighed more heavily than others.

“Some people don’t always agree with what we do as journalists,” she said, “We don’t try to embarrass or humiliate people.”

The hardest part of her job is dealing with many different personalities. “Any manager would say that working with people is the hardest part,” she said. “While I have really great reporters, they are all people and have flaws.”

Some reporters may not communicate well. Others might not be as collaborative as they need to be.

Kulhanek brings years of experience to the challenge. After beginning her career as a reporter in western Nebraska and later moving to Lincoln, she has become an expert in telling stories as well as editing them.

She has been at the Lincoln Journal Star for 15 years. She began as a wire editor on the copy desk. There, she helped pick out national and international news stories for the next day’s paper. After a couple years, she became the regional and online editor.

Kulhanek earned a bachelor’s degree in news-editorial and advertising/public relations from the University of Nebraska-Kearney in 1988. She began her career as a reporter at the North Platte Telegraph, where she covered county government news, specifically cops and court stories. At smaller papers, Kulhanek said, reporters have a chance to work with editors and often help them make decisions. She worked with copy editors who also laid out pages.

Kulhanek said her job has changed since she has been at the Lincoln Journal Star.

“Boy, has the Internet changed things,” she said. A dozen years ago, the newspaper’s goal was to update one story on the Internet by noon each day.
“We didn’t have the whole picture when we put it on the Web,” she said.

Now, the website is constantly updated. Readers have high expectations and want their news quickly.

“This gives us a much greater sense of urgency,” she said. “We literally time ourselves and know we were 30 seconds ahead of putting a story up on the website before the Omaha World-Herald.”

For Kulhanek, the best part of being an editor is being surrounded with great people. “We have really smart people who are interested in the world around them.”

She said there are accountants who are math-oriented and introverted, and the people in the newsroom can be political hounds with a wide spectrum of interests. That leads to fascinating discussions. And they all care deeply about journalism.

“Most of us have a passion, and really want to do this and work really hard,”she said. “I like knowing things, and always knowing what is going on. People recognize journalists as knowing a little bit about everything, and that’s kind of cool.”

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