The Reader, Omaha’s alternative weekly, tells stories others miss
By Cara Wilwerding
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
John Heaston is an innovator. As publisher and editor of The Reader in Omaha, Neb., he knows it’s not his job to cover hard news events. That’s why Heaston and his colleagues at the alternative weekly write about Omaha’s culture in a whole different way.
“We find the stories that the mainstream media misses,” Heaston said in a phone interview. “I love the stories. I love being able to talk about something that people don’t know about or something people are interested in.”
The Reader started in 1994 when Heaston recognized Omaha’s need for an alternative weekly newspaper. After acting as an editor and reporter during The Reader’s first five years, Heaston realized the importance of strong narrative writing.
Nearly 100 freelance writers contribute to the art, music, theater, culture and style sections, but Heaston said only 25 of these writers produce about 80 percent of the content. He attributed the newspaper’s greatest strength to the depth and diversity of this writing team.
“When we started out, we had a lot of writers full of opinions,” Heaston said. “I came to appreciate reporting and getting to the story behind the story. We help people tell their own stories and find ways to engage people who are out there covering issues.”
Because most of the Reader’s writers are fairly seasoned in their work, Heaston doesn’t have to focus too much time on copy editing. From time to time he finds a name misspelled in a headline. Heaston said although these kinds of mistakes have never led to a lawsuit, he regrets them greatly.
With the changing face of journalism in the digital age, Heaston hopes to dedicate more time to The Reader’s website. He said he’d love to review every show in town and put these reviews online because there’s not room in the print newspaper.
“I’m trying to time out our content over the course of a week so every time you go to the website there’s something new,” Heaston said. “Just kind of streamlining all this new digital stuff is going to keep us pretty busy.”
Employees at The Reader have begun to manage a media convergence, which includes audio podcasts and videos, along with an extensive online archive. The Reader entered online journalism late in the game and has a lot left to learn, Heaston said.
But Heaston’s comfortable with the idea that journalism will continue to change. The people who change with it will have the highest value. And that’s why, in his view, aspiring journalists should learn how to do everything.
“Get in the game, and get good at doing it on a lot of different platforms,” Heaston said. “If it’s what you love to do, do it. You’ll find a way to make a living out of it.”