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Graphic designer, editor says experience and fact-checking is key

By Shelby Wade
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Debbie Behne, graphic designer at Hain Publishing, holds her grandson Alex at a basketball game.

Debbie Behne had no idea what she was getting herself into as she walked into her University of Nebraska-Lincoln freshman journalism class.  A graduate of East Butler High School, Behne picked her major with no journalism experience. But she had a love of grammar and writing.

“I’m glad I did it,” Behne said in a phone interview. “I enjoyed it all along, but if you have no background in it, you find out a lot that you either do it right or you do it wrong.”

Not only did Behne do things right, she discovered she had a knack for editing.  As graphic designer for Hain Publishing in Bee, Neb., for the past 15 years, her responsibilities include editing and designing three magazines — including Green Magazine — books and calendars.  Everyday starting at 8:30 a.m., Behne designs page layouts, handles advertisement layouts and edits stories and photographs.

“I like the variety of it,” Behne said.  “I think if I had to do just one thing, I would have to like it a lot to do it all the time.”

Before her job at Hain Publishing, Behne worked in several newspaper jobs.  Her first editing job was at the Fremont Tribune, where she got her first experiences in story editing, headline writing and proofing.  After a year at the Tribune, she took a job at the North Bend Eagle, where she worked for 10 years.  Behne said that she chose the job because of its awards and acclamations from the Nebraska Press Association. The job certainly had its lessons.

“At a small newspaper you write, edit, do headlines, proofreading — you do a lot,” she said.  “You cover city council, and you cover the person who has the potato that is a weird shape.  You do it all.”

From there, Behne went back to her writing roots by freelancing while raising her children.  Even today, she continues to write articles for the magazine Toy Farmer.  Behne said that she misses the personal contact she received through reporting, but she enjoys being able to start off with a blank page and design the whole layout.

Having experience in both newspapers and magazines, Behne said that the main difference between the two is deadlines.  With magazine editing and graphic designing, she works on a monthly deadline. With newspaper editing, her deadline was either daily or weekly.

“You do things faster, you have to make decisions faster, and you hope you make a right decision about what you’re editing,” Behne said.  “Even at a weekly newspaper, you can make dumb mistakes if you don’t check things one more time.”

While editors check for mistakes, Behne is quick to admit that they are not without faults themselves.  Serving as editor at a newspaper, she said the newspaper once reported the wrong man as deceased.  While the man was understanding of the mix-up, it left Behne with a lesson she’ll never forget.

“That’s what I’m talking about checking things one more time,” Behne said, “but you are under that pressure of time and you think you can’t take 10 minutes to call and if they don’t answer it takes more time.  That was a decision that if I could go back, I would do a little more checking.”

As for the digitization of journalism, Behne said that it is “an exciting time and a scary time.”  Even her current publication is thinking of producing an online version because of its popular advertisement section.  She said her publishers have resisted because they want readers to buy subscriptions to the magazine.  However, Behne believes if they do produce an online version of the magazine, that its 32,000-person subscription base will remain strong.

“In a way I’m glad I got out of newspapers when I did,” she said.  “I think people need to be experienced in various media, not just print anymore.”

For future journalists and editors, Behne stressed the basics:  good spelling, grammar and sentence structure, as well as common sense and questioning skills.

“You have to be checking things all the time,” she said.  “Check yourself, check the person writing the story, check every fact that’s in it.”

One other piece of advice Behne has for future journalists: Be open to new experiences.

“Always keep your mind open to new experiences, because I think journalism to a certain degree is based on an open mind,” she said.  “You have to go into each story with no bias.  And I think that all of our experiences shape the kind of person we are.  The more experiences you have, I think that makes you a better journalist.”

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