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Teacher’s advice leads to career in sports journalism

By James Voboril
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Not everyone knows exactly what they want to do with their lives in high school. In fact, most people don’t. Sometimes, all it takes is a nudge in the right direction.

That’s how Brian Norton found his career in journalism.

“One of my teachers noticed that I was good at writing and interested in sports,” Norton said in a phone interview. “I joined the student newspaper and that’s when I knew I wanted to go into journalism.”

That nudge led Norton to a job at the Omaha World-Herald straight out of college and only 22 years old.

“I started out answering phones for our high school basketball coverage for two years,” Norton said.

Hard work paid off. Today, at 27, Norton is the online sports editor. Being an editor at a young age can come with challenges, but Norton has managed well.

“It can be difficult,” he said, ” It was awkward telling older writers what to do, but if you listen to the writers it’s easier.”

Now that Norton is an editor he contends with the challenges of social media and its role in journalism. Norton has an active Twitter account and also speaks at area schools about journalism. When it comes to social media, he tells students to be willing to try anything even if it doesn’t end up working.

“At the World-Herald we started a Google + account and even though it didn’t take off, it was helpful to see how it worked, just to have a base of knowledge.”

One of the issues facing editors today is the demand for immediate information, which can sometimes lead to mistakes.

“It is always important to be as accurate as possible,” he said, “but you have to balance that with speed. You need to be quick and accurate.”

One of the most glaring examples this past year was the Manti Te’o story. For Norton, that story reinforced the need for fact-checking.

“That was more of an example of assuming it was true instead of looking into the actual situation,” Norton said. “Everyone kind of took Manti at his word.”

Although Norton is still young, he already has advice for the next generation of editors.

“Listen to everyone you can,” he said.  “The same mistakes will pop up all the time, it is easier to catch them if you talk to people with more experience who may have a few tricks they know to catch those things.”

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