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Editor takes collaborative approach in changing newsroom

R.J. Post is the assistant managing editor at the Grand Island Independent in Grand Island, Neb.

By Jacy Marmaduke
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

R.J. Post doesn’t know much about construction, but he considers himself a builder.

In his first job at the Dodge City Daily Globe in Dodge City, Kan., in 1985, he edited wire content and built newspaper pages, assembling planks of text, photos and advertisements to make a final product.

As a copy editor and education beat reporter at the Garden City Telegram in Garden City, Kan., he built articles from the bricks of quotes, transitions and facts.

As assistant managing editor of the Grand Island Independent in Grand Island, Neb., he oversees the building of a daily newspaper with a circulation of 20,500.

And after more than 27 years in the field of editing, the 1986 St. Mary of the Plains College graduate has built a career.

Every weekday morning at 9 a.m., Post and Managing Editor Jim Faddis meet with the Independent news staff of six and the day-shift photographer around a small table in Faddis’ office. Post runs the show, asking each staffer for updates on his or her stories, giving assignments and providing input.

Then it’s back to his desk, in the thicket of the newsroom, as he spends his day sorting through story ideas, acting as the paper’s liaison with the public and editing content.

If reporters need help, Post is their guy. He’ll stay late to edit an important news story, debate the ethics of a trial with the entire newsroom and ask probing questions of the intern seated across from him.

But don’t call him the leader of the newsroom.

“We’re not a top-down model,” he said. “In a lot of ways, the people out there working the beat are the ones who are really leading what winds up in the newspaper every day.”

An editor must collaborate to be effective, Post said. Otherwise, the newspaper lacks full perspective of what’s going on in the community.

So Post questions his reporters. But he also gives them his trust.

“The editor’s role is to be empowering,” he said. “The way a newspaper functions, the reporters are the storytellers; the photographers are the storytellers. How we all put it together in the paper — that’s all part of how we tell the story. But in a world like mine, it’s empowering them to do the best they can do.”

He said the storytelling aspect of journalism is an important one.

“I think we’re all born storytellers, don’t you?” he said. “It’s a cultural thing. It goes back to primitive man sitting around a campfire. Whether it’s telling the story of what happened to you that day or  passing down some kind of oral history. It all goes back to that.”

In nearly 19 years at the Grand island Independent, Post has empowered his reporters to tell thousands of stories. Like the arrest of Grand Island Mayor Jay Vavricek on charges of drunken driving. Like the first and last Keystone XL pipeline public hearing, which took place in Grand Island. Like the 2006 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids on Grand Island’s Swift & Co. meatpacking plant.

Throughout it all, he said he stressed that slow and steady wins the race, even as news shifted to online formats and broadcast stations like 10/11 News and KHAS-TV emerged as competitors.

“You try to get things up as quick as you can, but you only print what you know,” he said. “Even if that means you’re running less than the other guy. It’s easy for everyone to reprint the wrong information. So even if everyone is reporting it, if you haven’t confirmed it, you shouldn’t report it.”

To keep up with the quickening pace of news and cope with the journalism industry’s struggles, the Independent has adopted a few tactics: installing a paywall on its website, quickly posting content on the Web and establishing a presence on Twitter and Facebook.

That’s not really Post’s side of the job, though. He prefers to work hands-on with reporters and content. He’s always been that way.

In the ’90s, when he was working for the newspaper in Garden City, Kan., he remembers rifling through dozens of file folders of trash belonging to a charitable organization that the paper suspected of corruption.

Years after he left for the Independent, he heard the paper had proven its suspicions.

“It was nice,” he said, “to know, later on, that I didn’t pick through all that trash for nothing.”

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