Military journalist makes career out of editor position
By Heidi Krueger
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Maj. Kevin Hynes was initially hired to be the editor of Prairie Soldier, a full-time job in itself.
Today, he is responsible for the entire public affairs effort for the Nebraska National Guard.
Hynes’ military journalism career started when he was on active duty for the U.S. Army. He was primarily a photojournalist throughout his enlisted active duty service. After leaving active duty, Hynes worked on and off for the Prairie Soldier as a Nebraska National Guardsman. Hynes started as the temporary editor of the Prairie Solder in November 1992 while finishing his bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He became the permanent editor in July 1993 and has been editor since.
Hynes now is a U.S. Air Force major serving as public affairs officer for the Army and Air National Guard for Nebraska along as well as handling Prairie Soldier editing duties. He talked about his dual career in an interview.
Q: How did you end up as the editor?
A: I didn’t start out to be an editor. In fact, initially I didn’t want anything to do with editing. Mostly I wanted to be a print journalist. The military, however, does a great job of focusing a person into other positions to expand their skills and capabilities.
My biggest experience came in 1991 when I did some work for my hometown newspaper editor, Kevin Henseler of the Crofton Journal. He’s the one who really started forcing me to focus on the actual dynamics and rules of copy editing, layout design, running a staff of writers, etc. A lot of those rules that I was taught that summer I still use today.
I ended up at the Prairie Soldier after working for a number of summers and during the school years picking up assignments whenever I could. That also gave me the opportunity to work with Vicky Cerino, who had already won several Thomas Jefferson awards for the best newspaper in the Department of Defense. She also taught me a lot of skills about design, particular modular formats, but also about the need for flexibility to cover whatever stories we could come up with. When she took a job at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, she was the one who called me and asked if I would like to temporarily take over the newspaper. Even though I was still in college at UNL and it would mean basically having work and school take over my life for the next two years, I jumped at the opportunity.
Q: What are your day to day responsibilities?
A: It has changed quite a bit over the past four years or so. Looking from a straight-editorial aspect, it’s mostly about making sure that the production of the newspaper stays on track. I’m given a rough date when the newspaper will publish. From there, I start to look at what stories will be covered, what kind of photos we might have and who will be doing them. I also work on the assignments for our part-time journalists while also working on the assignment lists for the full-time staff. From there, we print up the dummy of the paper and begin penciling in which stories will go where. By doing this, we can hopefully create a logical progression through the paper in that certain types of stories will be grouped near stories of similar topics. We also work on making sure that the command staff and other column writers know their deadlines.
From there, it’s all about setting a pace in that stories are written, edited and laid out according to the schedule. The final portion is about the final editing, which typically takes about a week to accomplish. This is particularly important because, as things pop up, it may take time away from your ability to edit. You may also have to be prepared to make adjustments if certain major stories occur (this is one of the lessons learned at UNL and through experience with the two previously mentioned editors.) From there it’s about getting the contracts done, mailing lists prepared and finally down to the publisher’s for final edits and then publishing.
Q: How has your job changed from when you first started?
A: I was hired to just do the Prairie Soldier. But today, I’m responsible for the entire public affairs effort, so I’ve had to learn to delegate a lot more. Additionally, the subject we are covering has changed dramatically due to the war on terrorism and increasing deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq and other places due to the changing nature of the National Guard and how it is being used by the national command authority. In the past, our busiest months were during the summer camp season. Now, with the continuing mobilization schedule, it’s pretty much busy throughout the year.
Q: How has journalism changed since you first started?
A: Dramatically as far as how news is presented. There is much more reliance on utilizing the Internet and social media to tell our stories. However, from an actual standpoint of writing, photography, etc., it hasn’t changed as much. Well-written stories and good-looking photos are still important today. In fact, we now have an even greater ability to tell our stories by including additional information and photo via the Web than we had in the traditional printed versions.
Q: What’s your biggest challenge as the editor of the Prairie Soldier?
A: Time. Even though it’s a bi-monthly publication, we have a fairly small staff to put it together. So, maintaining an eye on time-management is crucial. Funding has also become a much larger issue as well as the federal government is looking for ways to decrease costs, which make digital publications much more attractive.
Q: What’s the toughest paper or story you have had to put together?
A: They’re all hard in their own unique ways because each newspaper is unique. Probably the toughest, however, are those dealing with potential controversial or emerging issues due to the fact that often, it’s hard to fully cover these types of events within a bi-monthly format.
Q: What’s your favorite part of working as the editor and public affairs officer for the Nebraska National Guard?
A: Getting to meet fascinating people, see amazing sites (Omaha Beach on the morning of the 50th Anniversary of the D-Day landings), being able to cover stories from the ground up, and just the opportunity to be able to tell the Guard’s story in an interesting and creative way keeps me interested. It’s definitely one of the most rewarding positions that the Guard has to offer.
Q: What editing skills should all journalism students have?
A: Curiosity and willingness to constantly learn by reading, digging into the style guides and research materials to find the correct answers to the everyday questions that pop up. This is one of those positions where you can get by simply doing good-enough work. However, to really do well, you have to have a sense of internal competitiveness in that you’re always striving to better yourself, to write a better story, take a better photo, design a better page, and produce a more interesting newspaper. That competitiveness, in my mind, is what sets apart “good” editors with exceptional editors.
Q: What advice do you have for journalism students?
A: Keep working at it. Keep looking at newspapers and magazines to define how the top publications do what they do. Keep reading. Practice editing. Learn people skills. Don’t settle for just being good enough.
The Prairie Soldier has won the top newspaper for the National Guard six out of the last seven years. Hynes has also won journalism and photo awards for the Army and Air Force though out his 26 years of being in the military. Here’s a link to one of the stories he wrote.