Editor of small town paper stresses importance of community
By Kaci Hixson
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
For Kurt Johnson, the newspaper business is practically in his genes.
Johnson, editor of the Aurora News-Register in Aurora, Neb., grew up in a newspaper family.
In a phone interview, Johnson shared how passion, vision, and family history led to his success as an editor.
A graduate of Chase County High School in Imperial, Neb., Johnson was involved in newspapers at a very young age. Because his family owned four weekly papers in western Nebraska and eastern Colorado, Johnson understood all the hard work that goes into each issue.
He followed the example of his father, Loral. The elder Johnson worked his way up from the very bottom and eventually became a decorated editor and newspaper owner.
“Dad would let me go out and take pictures and sell ads,” Johnson said. “It became more of a realization than an expectation that someday I wanted to be an editor and owner of a weekly paper.”
Kurt Johnson attended Kearney State University (now University of Nebraska at Kearney) and majored in journalism and business. With his experience and knowledge of the business, he was able to test out of introductory courses and gain advanced experiences early in his college career.
After college, Johnson jumped right in to the business. He decided to get out of Nebraska to make a name for himself. He bought a paper north of San Francisco. While he enjoyed the different experiences he was able to have, he realized he enjoyed the Midwest the best and that’s where he wanted to be. He worked at daily papers in Missouri, Kansas City, South Dakota, and Fremont, Neb. He and his wife, Paula, eventually ended up in Aurora, Neb., and are co-owners of the Aurora News Register. Johnson is editor and publisher of the paper.
When asked what a typical day is like, Johnson said: “I really like that there is no typical day in this business.”
As the editor and publisher, he controls all print, Web, mobile and social media content. He also writes the editorials.
Being an editor in a town of roughly 4,500 can be challenging.
“Some publishers focus on just getting the paper out,”he said. “I feel it’s important to be a part of the community.”
Johnson serves on many community committees so he can better understand the inner-workings of the community he serves. He also considers the impact what he publishes can have on the people in the community. “It makes me a better publisher knowing that the people I’m influencing are people I see every day.”
Prioritizing tasks is a must when working in a smaller paper. “When all we did was publish a print paper, we knew what our focus was,” he said. “Now with Web, mobile and social media, our focuses were forced to change.” Johnson put himself in charge of the Aurora News-Register website, Twitter account and Facebook page.
Although he is forced to juggle many tasks, being influential in a small community is something Johnson enjoys most about the job.
“Writing a story or editorial that touches someone or has an impact on a community debate is what is really special about this job,” Johnson said. “It’s not so much a selfish thing, but very much being a part of something bigger than yourself.”
He stressed the importance of newspapers in communities, where covering the school and local events provides information citizens can’t get anywhere else.
“It’s a misconception in the country that newspapers are dying,” he said. “If you are doing a good job there will always be a place for community journalism.”
Johnson also offered advice for journalism students. It’s important, he said, to embrace change.
“There will always be a need for people with core ability to tell a story,” he said. “Whether it’s a unique hobby about someone who loves flower gardens or something more technical in nature, be ready to expand horizons, listen and tell a story to any size market using any medium.”