Omaha magazine editor does it all, from start to finish
By Kylie Morrison-Sloat
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Linda Persigehl, managing editor of Omaha Publications, doesn’t work in a typical newsroom.
In fact, she has never even seen some of the reporters she manages.
When it comes to the publications she’s in charge of, Persigehl does it all — including managing freelance writers.
Persigehl’s path to her current position was circuitous. She graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism from UNL, but thanks to the well-rounded requirements of the university she took “a little bit of everything,” including news-editorial classes.
“When I got out of school I had a tough time finding something in broadcast, so like most people I just took a job doing something else, but I always kept my options open,” Persigehl said in a phone interview.
She eventually was hired as a full-time staff writer for the Midlands Business Journal in Omaha. She used her news-editorial skills and got her foot in the door.
Her next job was one no college degree could prepare her for — being a mother. After being a full-time mom for a year, she started writing for the Midlands Business Journal from home as a freelancer. Her editor eventually asked her to take on more responsibilities, including coming up with and researching story ideas for other freelance writers.
After a few years, Persigehl went back to work outside the home and eventually ended up working as an editorial assistant for Omaha Publications (which includes Omaha Magazine and several other publications). She was promoted to assistant editor and eventually became managing editor.
Persigehl oversees six magazines, a staff of 10 to 15 people and many freelance writers.
“I can’t think of a better desk job,” Persigehl said. “I’m always interested in what I’m reading and what I’m looking at. It’s always something new… I feel like I’m living more of a worldly life than I probably really am.”
A publication cycle starts with an editorial meeting of the small staff, which Persigehl runs. It involves thrashing out story ideas that suit each magazine’s demographic. For example, Omaha Magazine’s readership is primarily women over 40.
“It’s my job to weed through all the ideas and decide which ones we’re going to pursue for the next issue,” Persigehl said. “I find the sources that would be best to talk to for the story and I choose from a batch of freelance writers and assign those stories.”
Next, she works with the art department to decide how to best use pictures or graphs to illustrate the story. She then communicates that with the photographer.
“Once those stories go out I kind of just problem-solve for a couple weeks,” Persigehl said. “If something falls through or a source doesn’t call back I’ll try and find an alternate or a replacement story.”
When the stories come back, she edits them in three phases.
“I read everything through once just for content and see if the story’s what we’re looking for. Did they answer all of the primary questions?” Persigehl said. “I’ll also read through the story for flow and just understandability. Does it read nicely? Is the reader engaged? Will they be interested in finishing the story?”
The third step it to read it through a final time for spelling, punctuation and grammar errors.
After all of the stories are completed, she works with the art director on what the magazine should look like, including writing all the headlines and cutlines. The process is finished with Persigehl reading through the printed magazine two to three final times for errors.
“It’s a long process,” she said. “It’s a small staff… We pretty much have to do it all.”
Persigehl also writes as many as three stories per publication, like articles about women athletes or the latest dieting craze for Her Living, a magazine Omaha Publications publishes for women. The perk is she gets to assign herself stories she is interested in. She also takes her writers’ interests into account on assignments.
“I’ll specifically assign particular stories to the writers who I know have an interest… They’ll have more fun with it and they’ll do a better job on it,” Persigehl said.
Working with freelance writers has its problems. Persigehl does not meet in person with the writers. Communicating mainly over email can cause miscommunications. Once, a writer she had assigned a story to stopped returning calls and disappeared.
“Some of the writers I’ve worked with over four years, I’ve never met in person, but I feel like I know them just because of emails that go back and forth,” Persigehl said.
Persigehl said all the hard work pays off in the end.
“It’s awesome when it comes together and comes back from the printer and you see it all come to life, all the ideas you see in your head right there on paper.”
She acknowledges there are pros and cons to both being an editor and being a reporter, but she is better suited to editing.
“I consider myself an average writer,” Persigehl said, “I enjoy reading the really high quality stuff some of our writers do and I think I do a good job of making it better and catching the mistakes.”
She said every editor should have these qualities:
- Love to read. “If you don’t enjoy reading and learning things, it’s going to get old really fast.”
- “Know your English language really well.”
- Focus. “When you are coming up on a deadline things can get really intense. You have to be able to focus and not be easily distracted.”
- Work well under pressure. “Once something is in print, people take it really seriously.”
- Persistence. “A lot of the stories that are worth it take a long time to put together and you have to keep trying.”