UNL graduate finds his true love: both reporting and editing
By Erika Kime
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
In nearly 12 years as a writer and editor, Andrew Norman has worked for small town newspapers, magazines and websites.
He remembers wanting to be a reporter even as a little kid. What he didn’t expect was to fall in love with editing too. But he has.
Norman is co-founder, director and editor of Hear Nebraska and a copy writer and producer at Thought District . He also has a blog he occasionally updates with interviews and stories about music, politics and anything else he finds interesting.
Norman started out writing for a small-town newspaper during college and worked his way through editing and writing jobs at various newspapers in Omaha, an internship in Washington and a magazine at Michigan State University.
He graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2003 with a journalism degree and worked in Omaha until fall of 2008 when he enrolled at Michigan State University for a master’s degree in journalism. After two years in Michigan, Norman and his wife, Angie, moved back to Nebraska to start Hear Nebraska, a nonprofit devoted to Nebraska’s music and arts community. “By providing resources and a voice for bands, artists and members of Nebraska’s creative class — as well as the businesses that support them — Hear Nebraska strives to make the state a globally recognized cultural destination,” according to its website.
In a phone interview, Norman talked about his experiences as a journalism student and how he fell in love with editing.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to get into editing?
A: Um, no. I always wanted to be a writer. I just kind of fell into editing; it wasn’t even a goal of mine. I hadn’t thought that far into it, I just knew I wanted to write.
Q: When did you first know that you wanted to get into journalism?
A: Even as a little kid I was always going around interviewing people. I wanted to be like Geraldo Rivera, which is funny because I don’t really like Geraldo Rivera. There was something in me, I think, even as a kid that sort of enjoyed the idea of interviewing people. But it was probably high school. I started working for the high school newspaper when I sort of just fell in love with the idea of surprising people with news or stories and making them think about things they hadn’t been. And then I went to UNL and got my journalism degree there.
Q: What do you enjoy most about being an editor? Least?
A: The thing I enjoy most is working with writers and trying to make them better. What I enjoy least is probably diving into a story that I know is a big mess. You know, the kind that takes a lot of work to get into shape. It’s hard to get yourself to just hop into it, but once you do, it’s a hell of an experience.
Q: So would you say that’s the most challenging aspect of being an editor? Or would you say it’s something else?
A: I think making judgment calls is most challenging because editing isn’t black and white and style isn’t black and white. And it’s tough because I know the kind of writing that I like, but I think the challenge is making sure that you are not turning a story into yours — making sure that the writer’s voice is maintained when you’re editing it.
Q: What is the worst decision you have made as an editor?
A: Wow, I have no idea. That’s a good question. I can tell you that it wasn’t anything grammar or style-related. That stuff becomes pretty automatic. Editing is about making decisions — quick ones — about story direction and staff management. I’ve made decisions about those areas before, which I’m sure I’ve regretted. But you can’t dwell on them. You have to move on and make better decisions next time.
Q: With your diverse experiences as an editor and a writer, would you say you prefer one over the other?
A: I don’t know. I really love both of them, you know? I wanted to be a writer, never thought about being an editor. And then I fell in love with editing. I love how much you can direct a story and shape it. And educating young writers is something that I’m passionate about, so I love that part of editing. I love knowing that somebody on our staff has a really kick-ass byline and story that I contributed on. So I really enjoy that part. There’s also nothing like telling a story. There’s nothing like, you know, weaving a nice narrative, creating the story arc and grabbing people with a lead, then destroying them with a kicker at the end. That, I’ll never get over. So I would say I couldn’t choose between the two.
Q: You said that you graduated from UNL. Do you have any unique memories from the J-school, memorable advice from a professor or a great class you would recommend to current students?
A: Well, I graduated in 2003, so I’m not sure. I really loved advanced reporting. Mary Kay Quinlan was my teacher. I took it over the summer and we went to Seward. We kind of had an internship of sorts, working for that small newspaper. During that time, we were stationed in the attic of the building. So it’s a really old building on that kind-of Main Street area. In the summer it’s just kind of, like, dead hot. And there was no air conditioning upstairs. There were four women students and me, and five or six iMacs. Like those big, old, green plastic ones. And it was just hot as all hell in there. So what they did was they brought in a block of ice, and they put it in a tub and set a fan on it. And they blew the sort of cold air at us. That sounds like something that would’ve happened, like, 30 years ago, but it was only about 10. So that was an interesting experience. One piece of advice I got from Mike Stricklin, who is no longer a professor there, that I’ll never forget, which is, ‘Make friends with the best editors and make friends with the best writers.’ And it’s so true! I mean, make friends with the people that are more talented than you because you learn from them. You end up with your class, sort of trading opportunities. I’ve hired a lot of my former classmates and I’ve been hired by my former classmates. It’s just such a cool, kind of close-knit group that you might not know while you’re in school, but these are the people that you’re going to be working with and against probably for the rest of your career. That was good advice. Also, the other tip I got from, again, Mike Stricklin that I’ll never forget was that he said, ‘The best writers are also the best editors.’ And I’ve found that generally to be true as well.
Q: I read that you were a columnist and reporter at the Daily Nebraskan. What other things did you do in college, aside from classes, to prepare for your career in journalism?
A: Unfortunately, I didn’t do as much as I wish. I was sort of an underachieving student, and I didn’t take full advantage of what I think the J-school offers. I had a lot of fun, and I made a lot of friends. And that sounds like kind of an obvious thing, but I recommend networking with the other journalism students. The people I met in college pop back into my life at different times in weird ways. So I guess I just met a wide variety of people. And it’s funny because it’s interesting to see what they do now. So, the rule in life is be nice to everybody because you might need them sometime.
Q: What would you say are the most important skills journalism students pursuing editing should leave college with?
A: To know that you don’t know much yet and that you still need to learn. And I’d say the most important skill is a backbone. You need to take really tough edits because they’re going to make you better, and you can’t get all hurt when someone just destroys your story with red ink. The other thing is, when you are lucky enough to finally have an editor who cares enough to destroy your story and to teach you what you did wrong, pay close attention to those notes. Make sure you understand every single one of them, and if you don’t, ask. And if you disagree, challenge it. That’s how you become better.