Sports editor wants to be part of reporter’s best work
By Gage Peake
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Gary Schwab’s job, in his own words, is an “experiment.” He is the sports editor for two major newspapers in North Carolina.
He works the majority of the time in Charlotte, where he lives with his wife and daughter, but travels to Raleigh every two weeks or so to work with the staff at the News & Observer.
His daily tasks include dealing with the budgets of both newspapers and helping prep journalists for upcoming columns.
Schwab said the thing he loves the most is working with and developing people.
“As an editor what I believe in,” he said, “is I want to be part of the best work a reporter ever does.”
Schwab talked about journalism and its future in a telephone interview.
Q: How did you get into journalism?
A:Well I majored in journalism at The Ohio State University and I then went to a weekly newspaper and worked there for six years in Cleveland. When I was in a class, an entry-level class at Ohio State, the professor asked us to write down why we were in journalism and I wrote down what most people wrote down … ‘I want to change the world.’ I was there at a time in the 1970s where people wanted to make a change, not that they don’t want to now but we certainly did then.
Q: How did you become an editor?
A: In Cleveland I was a one-person sports staff for two weekly newspapers. It was a chain of newspapers, and I had about 11 high schools I covered. And it was a situation where I did everything. So it was a great opportunity to get your hands on everything and so I was able to that. My first job after that was in North Carolina at the Gastonia Gazette, which is right outside of Charlotte and I was the sports editor of a four-person staff. I have always been someone that has been somewhat of an organizer. I played point guard and shortstop in sports so I was kind of the person that tried to see the big picture. I love to write, but I also love to be a person who is able to deal with the big picture and get a lot of things done at a lot of different times. So that is how I became an editor.
Q: How did you end up in Charlotte and Raleigh?
A: I came to the Charlotte Observer and became the assistant sports editor and then became the main sports editor in 1986. I worked from 1986 to 2000 as Charlotte’s executive sports editor. Then I spent seven years as the investigation editor of the Charlotte Observer. Then the Raleigh newspaper, which was owned by McClatchy’s Newspapers, bought the company that owned the Charlotte Observer. So I became one of the first ‘experiments’ in which they had decided that they would put me in-charge of two newspaper staffs because the proximity is so close.
Q: How do you manage your time / travel between the newspapers?
A: We have really good sports editors in Charlotte and really good sports editors in Raleigh so I started out going to Raleigh every week, and I would stay a night or two at a time. I did that mostly just to get familiar with the staff in Raleigh. I have since begun just going to Raleigh once every two weeks or even once every third week. It has been interesting; they are newspapers that care about the same things but do things just a little bit differently so it’s kind of like if the Nebraska and Oklahoma journalism programs tried working together, there would be some differences (laughs).
Q: What are your daily responsibilities being an editor?
A: Daily, overall I really have good people that work with me to kind of set guidelines and get things done. I obviously do a lot of things with the newspaper(s), but I do other things like the budgets for the newspapers and fill job openings. I’m also involved with some of the Sunday stories that are normally the bigger stories we run in editing and developing the writers and things like that. The things I love the most are working with — to develop people. As an editor ,what I believe in is I want to be part of the best work a reporter ever does. So what I do is really try to encourage reporters while they are covering their beat to look for stories that can be great and can do things such as ‘change the world.’ So we want to both entertain and talk about all the details, but we also want to look for compelling stories or investigative pieces.
Q: How do you manage front page stories in both college and professional sports towns?
A: Well as an editor what you are doing is often weighing a lot of things. One of the really good editors I worked for years ago said, ‘editing wasn’t brain surgery — it’s more difficult than brain surgery,’ and his point was that in a lot of professions there are guide books or rule books and things that you can look up that have answers or a defined workers option. I think for us it would have to depend on how the (Carolina) Hurricanes are doing and how big of a game it was along with all of the colleges we have here. We really try to weigh things every day and give points to the value of the story. Is it unique to us? Is this big news for the team? Or did the team win the game? That is kind of what we do here.
Q: Do you have any advice for journalism students and where do you see journalism in 10 to 20 years?
A: I think that storytelling is going to always be important and developing exclusive content. So I think that the people will continue to be available to get exclusive content so there will always be a place for journalism. We are getting ready to have to be able to shift to tell stories on tablets, which is going to open some amazing doors for people. I think that storytellers have always adapted. First there was radio, and then there was the TV, and now there is the mobile technology. I think you can relate it to a sports team trying to rebuild and see where their talent is. In journalism, it is where are the tools I have? And how can I best use them? The most important thing for journalists is to be creative and being able to critically think because a lot of times that is a skill that is underdeveloped. Ultimately for me, the will and want to, to break through walls to get information and tell the unique stories in a compelling way. If someone has the will to do that, that to me goes much farther than overall talent level.