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NY editor urges journalists to ‘be curious’ and embrace technology

By Julia Benson
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Karen Magnuson

Karen Magnuson
editor
Democrat and Chronicle

For Karen Magnuson, no day is typical.

But that’s what she likes about being an editor: Every day is different.

Magnuson is the editor and vice president of news at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y. She works with journalists in the newsroom each day, but she also works with numerous other departments — advertising, circulation and production — to promote readership.

Her favorite part of the job, though, is   “coaching people,” and watching as journalists develop and blossom.

Magnuson discovered her niche for journalism in high school after writing for the school newspaper.  Pursuing her passion, she enrolled in Alma College, a liberal arts school in central Michigan, where her program emphasis was journalism.    Magnuson gained experience as the managing editor of the campus newspaper and through an internship at a local newspaper.

In a phone interview, she said internships are a great way for students to receive hands-on experience and apply real life to what they are learning.

After graduation, Magnuson’s first job was at the Sturgis Daily Journal in Michigan.  She has spent the past 12 years with the Democrat and Chronicle. Owned by the Gannett Co. Inc., the Democrat and Chronicle is Rochester’s most widely circulated daily newspaper with more than  170,000 subscribers.  Magnuson is also a member of the Associated Press Managing Editors and the American Society of News Editors,  organizations for top editors in the journalism industry.

Being a top editor comes with challenges too.  The biggest is budget cuts, which force you to figure out how to do more with less.  That’s happening in newsrooms across the country.  Magnuson was happy that she could recently add to her news team by hiring someone with digital skills,  proof that the Democrat and Chronicle is starting to rebuild.

Digital skills and new technology are important, she said, but so are traditional skills.

“I think there will always be a need for good journalists and good editors,” she said.  “People get too hung up on what the platform is.  If you know how to tell stories well, then you will always have a job in journalism.”

Today’s journalists, she believes, cannot focus solely on one delivery platform.  More people are getting news on the Internet and through mobile devices. That’s why social media is increasingly important.   Everyone is using it, and Magnuson stressed the need to incorporate it into the newspaper’s strategy.

In addition to its printed paper, the Democrat and Chronicle has a website that provides constant coverage, along with both a Facebook and Twitter account.  It also provides an app for tablets, a mobile site for phone users and an RSS feed. And it offers  free email and text alerts for readers.

Beyond learning technical skills, Magnuson suggested  students check out the Society of Professional Journalists.  The Society of Professional Journalists is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to promoting a free press,  that includes broadcast, print and online journalists, journalism educators and journalism students.  It’s a great resource for students, she said.

Her primary advice for students, though, is something she was told when she first started her career. It still holds true today.

“Be curious.,” she said. “If you are curious about the world around you, you will be able to see stories that others won’t.”

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