Denver Post editor reflects on an evolving profession
By Faiz Siddiqui
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Jeff Domingues intended to become a sportswriter.
It was his passion, after all. He was a sports reporter at Fresno State, where he attended college, before eventually climbing the ranks to become sports editor. After graduating in 1983, he went on to work at a number of area papers, as a reporter and eventually as assistant sports editor of the Fresno Bee in 1991.
Ten years later, Domingues — a lifetime sports journalist — received an opportunity to edit news at The Denver Post. Open-mindedness, he said, carried him the rest of the way.
In this phone interview, Domingues, assistant news editor at The Denver Post, highlighted the ins-and-outs of editing, the changing nature of the profession and the tools modern journalists need to evolve with the industry.
Q: Where did you get your start in editing?
A: I was a sports editor at my college paper for at least a year. Every job, even when I was a reporter working at smaller papers — there was some element of editing to it.
Q: Why did you pick editing instead of reporting or some other aspect of journalism?
A: It was something I was always involved with. When I got out of school, I intended to become a sportswriter, and there was always editing that was part of it. I enjoyed the aspect of being able to influence the broad product rather than just the one story I was working on. And so that kind of put me toward doing it full-time.
Q: You mentioned wanting to becoming a sportswriter. A lot of people will go in thinking they’re going to be, say, a sportswriter, and end up taking, say, a news internship. How does going in open-mindedly help?
A: You should always be open-minded about what you do. There are so many different aspects to journalism. I think it serves you well to try other things. I’ve done photography. What I’m doing now is a lot of page layout and being involved in the story placement process. I’ve also previously been a line editor where I’m getting the first read of a story with a reporter before it goes to the copy desk. There’s a lot of different jobs that have to be done, and I think the more you expose yourself to that the more well-rounded journalist you become.
Q: You mentioned previous roles, what does your current job entail?
A: The first thing I do when I get in is I’m looking at story budgets and consulting with the editors of the sections to determine ‘what are their priorities, what do they see as the big story today, what do the want to put the most focus on?,’ and so I’m going to design a section that reflects that. If I’m doing world and national pages, I’m consulting with the wire editor and seeing what their stories are. I’ll get an idea of what stories they want to use. I’ll try to get a read on every story so I know what to look for in terms of photos, graphics – if there’s any cool quote done in the stories I’ll try to play that up, pop that out…. Once I get pages laid out, then I’m kind of overseeing the production process, the headline writing and the copy editing and making sure the pages get done on time. And then you do it all over again the next day.
Q: You talked about how some stories are mundane, well what are some of the ‘cooler’ stories you’ve worked with?
A: There was a little thing back in 2003 called the invasion of Iraq. I happened to be working on the front page on that day. That was a challenge, especially in Denver. We also had a huge major snowstorm that same day and so it was a constant juggling act all day long…I’m not sure we ever got the exact right balance, but we tried to treat both fairly equally on the front page.
Q: Was one of them featured more prominently?
A: Yeah, eventually we had to recognize that going to war was a pretty historic event.
Q: We’ve discussed editorial challenges you’ve faced. What are some of the challenges that come with the (editing) profession?
A: Just keep a fresh set of eyes. Look at things as though you’re seeing them for the first time. When you keep in that mindset and you’re surprised by something — ‘Dick Clark died, that’s a surprise’ — the reader’s going to be surprised whether they’re looking at your paper online that afternoon or they’re picking it up for the first time tomorrow morning. You want to give them something they don’t know. Try to keep that mindset as you’re going about your work.
Q: Now, with the emergence of Web journalism, what challenges are modern editors facing that past editors didn’t?
A: That’s definitely a huge challenge that we’re all learning how to deal with: The immediacy of things. More often than not, readers are going to know that Dick Clark died, or they’re going to know that the president said something – anything out there – the score of the ballgame. What journalists today have to do, as I’m sure you’re learning, is try to find an angle for a story, a way to present it being more analytical, or how’s and why’s and what…. That’s going to be a challenge that everybody faces as things evolve.
Q: You mentioned evolving, how do you see the Post, or newspaper journalism evolving?
A: It’s going to have to find its niche – to not necessarily be the first source of news. More and more people are going to find that immediacy online, they’re going to find it on television. You’ll find that a lot of people are still with the mindset of ‘if we have it in print first, we’re still out front’ and depending on what the story is, that may or may not be true. You’ve got to recognize that your readers may or may not know the whole story, but they’ll know pieces of it. They’ll get the gist of things before you make it into print and you need to keep that in mind.
Q: What advice would you offer to student journalists?
A: The same advice that some very wise people gave me a long time ago. Always be curious, always ask questions, always look at the world as though you’re seeing things first the first time. When you do that, then you’re going to be asking yourself questions that readers will ask when they read your stuff. Never assume that you know everything and always be willing to ask one more question. I think that will serve you well.