Managing editor tells journalists: ‘Don’t be boring, talk to people’
By Jourdyn Kaarre
University of Nebraska- Lincoln
If you are boring, choose a career other than journalism.
That’s Patrick Lalley’s advice to students. Lalley is managing editor of the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D. In an interview, he talked about his experiences and his take on the future of journalism.
Lalley’s journalism career began during his last year in college at the University of South Dakota when he joined the school newspaper. After moving around the Midwest a bit after graduation, Lalley began working at the Sioux City Journal. During his time as a reporter for the paper, he covered three legislative sessions and interviewed numerous politicians.
By 1998, Lalley was ready to move back to Sioux Falls, S.D., where he grew up. He hoped to work for the Argus Leader, a paper he had delivered as a child. He was hired as a copy editor. Four years later, he is now managing editor. In between, he held a variety of editing positions.
“I moved up really fast because I was willing to work really hard,” he said. “Being a copy editor is an amazing experience. As a reporter you don’t have any idea what it takes to make a newspaper. If you want to ultimately be in the job I have, you have to know how everything works.”
And Lalley definitely knows how everything in a newsroom works. He likes to push the envelope and encourages his employees to be well-rounded too.
“There is no room for compartmentalization,” he said. “Say, ‘I can’t do this or I can’t do that. I only do this or I only do that.’ Everybody has skills and strengths, but you also need to try. And that’s all I ever ask is for you to take a shot. If you fail, you fail. No big deal. We’ll do it again tomorrow.”
Lalley wants his journalists to push themselves. He hopes they share his excitement about a great project or story. But he also hopes they share his disappointment when things don’t go well.
Part of doing the job well, Lalley believes, is to be interesting. To be a journalist, he said, you have to have intellect, skill and a strong knowledge base.
“Go talk to people,” he said. “Go live. Go read. Go be an interested and interesting person. If you are a boring person, you’re going to write boring stories.”
Aside from encouraging his staff to be well-rounded and interesting, Lalley also has to look at how the Argus Leader will keep up with the changes in journalism.
The Argus Leader still produces daily newspapers. However, the company has increased its digital presence to keep up with the times. The online version of the newspaper has a paywall that can be incorporated into subscriptions. It allows only a certain number of articles to be viewed online by someone without a subscription.
Lalley has faith in journalism and the traditional newspaper.
“We’re not dead,” he said. “We’re not even close to dead. We’re so not dead that we’re living, breathing, feeling pretty good about ourselves.”
Journalism’s next generation needs to understand that. He offers future journalists this advice:
“Don’t worry so much, stop gazing at your navel and start looking at the world,” he said. “The world is a wonderful, amazing, fabulous, incredibly interesting, complex, mind-boggling place. If you sit around and talk about the future of journalism all the time, you’re going to miss it. Don’t worry. Go find stories. Go protect people’s individual rights. Go be the watchdog of government. That’s what we do. And I don’t care where you do it.
“People want the story. They need information about what’s going on around them to properly participate in the democracy. If we quit doing that, then our little experiment is over. And that’s more important than all this other crap that people get caught up in.”