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World-Herald editor stresses journalism education

By Jaime Melton

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Fundamentals are important to be successful.

Connie White, State Government Editor for the Omaha World-Herald.

Connie White, State Government Editor for the Omaha World-Herald.

Connie White, state government editor for the Omaha World-Herald, believes the key to being a successful journalist is to work hard and focus on those fundamentals. She also says that students, by taking some classes they may not enjoy, might become well-rounded job candidates and future journalists.

White always knew she wanted to be a journalist.

She said it started back in high school in Grand Island, Neb., when she joined her high school journalism and yearbook club. After high school she attended the University of Nebraska-Kearney and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in political science.

White has worked for the World-Herald for 12 years. She attributes her rise there as an editor to “taking every opportunity that presented itself.” She started off as a reporter, but whenever a position opened up, she snatched the opportunity.

Eventually that led to her becoming the state government editor. Her job requires her to work closely with reporters who cover the governor’s office and the state legislature. Mainly, she said, she focuses on making sure the reporters get their facts right.

A typical day for White consists of “keeping a flexible schedule.”  No day is the same as the one before at the World-Herald. She said she always has to plan on staying late or going to an unexpected meeting, which can get in the way of editing at times. She said that by having a flexible schedule she is able to finish all of her work efficiently.

White has witnessed firsthand the changes that have come to journalism over the years. When she first joined the World-Herald as a reporter, the only journalism reporters and editors really worried about was print. As the Internet became more important and with the rise of social media, the World-Herald had to switch some tactics to get information out to readers more quickly. The newspaper added a website and set up a Twitter account. White confessed in a phone interview that she doesn’t use her Twitter account like she should, but she’s getting better and “trying to tweet at least once a day.”

White’s biggest story − and memory − at the World-Herald is a somber one.

On Dec. 5, 2007, a 19-year-old gunman killed eight people and wounded four others before taking his own life in a shooting at the Von Maur store at Omaha’s Westroads Mall, Nebraska’s deadliest shooting since 1958. White, herself an Omaha resident who had frequently shopped at that store, said the newsroom was abuzz because it was such a huge and important story. But she remembers there was eeriness to the work because everyone knew the victims were Omaha residents and felt personally tied to the tragedy in many ways. The public’s need for information was so great − never had the staff seen such an urge to get the news − that the World-Herald’s website eventually crashed.

At home, White loves spending time with her two children and husband, and she is also an avid runner. “Journalists need hobbies outside of the newsrooms to slow down and stay sane,” she said. After a busy day at work, she said, coming home and having some time to relax and chill with her family helps keep her focused for the next day at work.

White’s advice to journalism students is to focus on the fundamentals. Those interested in going into the editing business need to recognize that editors are the gatekeepers, she said. They need to catch any and all errors in a story before letting it go public to prevent legal issues with the business and the public.

She believes journalism students needs to take as many journalism classes as possible to become well-rounded candidates. Newsrooms love it, she said, when they hire a reporter who also has other skills.

“If you work hard in this business,” she said finally, “you will do well.”

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