Editor moves from newsroom to public relations job
By Josi Orsi
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Tom Giitter is a public relations specialist at Bozell in Omaha, Neb. During an interview at the advertising agency, Giitter talked about his career.
Giitter graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 1968. Writing was always his strength, he said.
With more than 35 years of experience, Giitter understands writing, reporting, editing and public relations. At Bozell, he is working on public relations proposals, a media kit for Market to Market Relay and preparing for the upcoming College World Series.
Q. When did you first have interest in journalism?
A. Actually in high school. I didn’t know that I wanted to become a journalist, but I did know that I liked to write; I got my best grades in writing. When I got to UNO, I gravitated toward writing and communication classes. I worked at Gateway, which is the student newspaper. I got to know a lot of the reporters and photographers and they seemed like a fun group to be around. By my senior year I was pretty much committed to be a journalist.
Q. What was your first job in the field of journalism?
A. One of my teachers was Warren Francke and he was a columnist for the Sun Newspapers of Omaha; it was a chain of weekly newspapers that had neighborhood editions all over the city. Francke knew that they were looking for an editor and at the same time I was looking at newspapers for job opportunities and saw that Sun Newspapers was looking for an editor. They were looking for a managing editor, but I was just out of school with no experience. They invited me to come in and interview. I was interviewed by Sam Lipsey, publisher, who told me I needed a little more experience to be a managing editor but that they did have a neighborhood job open. Francke told Lipsey that I liked to write and was a good writer and that I would probably make a good neighborhood editor. I got hired.
Q. What led you to a job at Bozell?
A. After working several years as a neighborhood editor, I got some experience and became a senior editor at the Sun Newspapers. The last four or five years that I was there I was the managing editor. At the same time, the Sun was sold by Warren Buffet to a publisher in Chicago and newspapers were starting to go away. There wasn’t enough advertising to support two newspapers (Omaha World-Herald and Sun Newspapers) in a town. The new publisher filed an antitrust suit against the World-Herald…. The World-Herald settled out of court with the Chicago publisher but part of the settlement was that the Sun would go out of business. I heard about a job a Bozell and Jacobs in the ag division; it was agricultural advertising. Chemicals, farm equipment — just everything you can imagine. We were the No. 1 largest ag agency in the nation. It was coincidence that at the same time the Sun was going out of business that I heard of this job. Bozell was looking for a public relations director; it sounded like it would be an interesting challenge. I interviewed and got it around 1983. The president of the ag division was Chuck Frasier, and he was a terrific boss and wonderful guy to work with.
Q. What are some of the biggest challenges you faced as an editor?
A. Balancing the story. Some of the reporters that were working with me were right out of school and there seemed to be a tendency for a lot of writers to get half of the story but not balance it. Reporters would turn in stories that would present one point-of-view and said they tried to reach so and so, but they didn’t answer. I would sit in my office and call them and more than half of the time they would answer the phone. I would tell them who I am and explain the story wanting a statement to get the other balanced side. I wouldn’t scream at the reporter, I would say I think we need to include his perspective and the reporter would take it all in and agree. Going through those exercises made the reporters better and the stories more balanced and fair.
Factual errors are also the worse thing I would catch as an editor. I would find a lot of factual errors when the stories came to my desk: company name, people’s name and street names. That was the No. 1 thing that I would catch. `
Q. What has been your favorite aspect of journalism?
A. The variety of assignments every day. When I was a reporter, I carried a camera, I covered high school games and I covered political stories.
Q. Do you have any tips for young copy editors?
A. To read a lot. There’s so much software now to help you with the style and grammar. I have AP Style software on my computer that automatically checks everything word for word, and it’s right on my screen. It highlights what’s wrong and calls up the AP rule. I still read a lot: books, magazines, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Omaha World-Herald. I read a lot for content to see how certain writers approach stories. One of my heroes was a columnist in Chicago, Mike Royko. I don’t try to copy but try to learn from them and learn from the way that they approach stories. I would encourage any journalist to read.
Q. What has your biggest accomplishment been as a reporter and editor?
A. We’ve won a lot of awards, but that’s more of the staff’s accomplishment. The whole time that I was a senior and managing editor we were never taken to court for reporting libel or for any kind of illegal action. I guess what that says to me is that we were pretty accurate and balanced in our reporting, and to me that is an accomplishment.