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After 10 years in journalism, Va. editor knows when to move on

Crystal Owens, assistant editor of the Loudoun Times-Mirror

Crystal Owens, assistant editor of the Loudoun Times-Mirror.

By Emily Rust

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Crystal Owens is used to moving

She’s worked as a journalist all over the East Coast, and she’s learned to know when it’s time to pack up and move again.

“When I felt like I just wasn’t moving up anymore, wasn’t learning anything new, I moved on,” Owens said in a phone interview.

Now the assistant editor of the Loudoun Times-Mirror, a weekly paper in Loudoun County, Va., Owens has covered about every beat. After graduating with a degree in mass communications from the University of North Florida, she worked as a government reporter at a Pennsylvania daily. Owens then moved on to the Item in South Carolina, followed by the Athens Banner-Herald in Georgia. In 2009, Owens came to the Times-Mirror as a political reporter. She’s been the assistant editor for almost a year.

But don’t let the title fool you, she’s still writing.

Owens was hesitant to take the editing job, sad to give up writing. However, with the Times-Mirror’s small staff, Owens is able to do both.

“At a small weekly like this, you have a lot of jobs.  So you could be taking photos one day, shooting video, you’re editing, you’re writing, pretty much doing everything,” Owens said.  “In a perfect world, I would just be doing editing, but we are short-staffed so I will pick up some of the slack with the staff we have.”

Although it may seem easier to work at a weekly than a daily, the culmination of a week’s work on a Tuesday night makes for long days for Times-Mirror staffers.

For Owens, Tuesdays can last 10 to 12 hours. On other days, she may leave her job earlier, but she never leaves her work at the office.

“With journalism, it’s one of those fields where it’s all consuming,” Owens said.  “You’re constantly thinking of what would be a good story.”

Having a busy schedule sometimes leaves Owens little time to spend with her 3-year-old son. She often returns home after he has gone to bed.

Balancing family and work is a constant struggle for Owens, but she has found a way to have a healthy combination of the two.

“When you’re home, you need to be home,” Owens said. “Turn off your phone, unless you’re on call for some reason, turn off your devices and try to find something that’s yours and not worked related. “

Back in the office, Owens is responsible for editing stories daily for the Times-Mirror’s website. Even though the paper is only printed weekly, with the public’s need to have news instantly, the Times-Mirror is always updating online. Sometimes this consists of only putting up a few paragraphs, just to beat the competition.

When Owens started working in journalism, the push for instant news wasn’t there. Instead, reporters spent more time fact-checking, not worried about having to beat the competition online.

Speed wasn’t the only difference in journalism a decade ago.

The trust level for reporters has diminished for readers for some reason over the last 10 years, Owens said. “They don’t look at us as trustworthy anymore for some reason.”

With the lack of trust, Owens says it’s important to be thick-skinned, something that’s often a challenge when working in Loudoun County.

“One thing I’ve noticed in Loudoun County that I didn’t necessarily get in a lot of other papers I worked at, people are very quick here to ridicule the reporters,” Owens said.

Despite the criticism, Owens enjoys working and living in Loudoun County. The northwestern suburb of Washington, D.C., is the first place where Owens has “planted roots,” something she never thought she would do.

With the proximity to the nation’s capital, Owens and her husband have more job opportunities than ever before. Still, living close to the political hub of the nation does present its own challenges.

“Loudoun County is absolutely the biggest political county I’ve ever worked in,” Owens said. “So the downside here is that everybody is very into politics and they’re very in tune.”

Loudoun readers are keen on pointing out bias in stories, Owens said. She tries to stay neutral and says it’s her job for them to not “figure out which way I lean.”

Her job may be difficult at times, but it’s the stories that keep Owens going. She recently did a series on mental health for which she received a lot of praise for bringing a serious issue to light.

“It’s those times that makes it kind of worth the effort and worth all the long hours and stress when you realize you are making a difference in somebody’s life,” Owens said.

She’s always loved writing, she said, but it’s the realization that her writing could have an impact on people that made her decide to be a journalist.

Now Owens is able to take those skills and coach reporters in the Times-Mirror newsroom, something that requires a lot of patience, especially when not everyone has the same amount of experience.

Owens has learned to “turn the situation into a teaching approach instead of just getting mad and fixing the problem yourself.”

As assistant editor, the Times-Mirror will be home for Owens for a while, something scary for her, as she’s never stayed in one place for more than three years.

It’s just not time for her to move on yet.

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