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Lincoln Journal Star editor: never a dull moment in the newsroom

By Flora Zempleni
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Margaret Ehlers Bohling said that it is her quirks and oddities that make her a good editor. “The bottom line for me is I’m a word nut,” she said, “I love language. I love the power of language. I love what I can convey and how beautiful it is when it’s used well, and you have to be a little bit anal to be a copy editor.”

These are traits that Bohling said she has had since childhood. She began editing as a child while reading Highlights magazine, doing the activities that required finding mistakes in pictures. Copy editing, she said, is finding those mistakes.

Margaret Ehlers Bohling is a copy editor at the Lincoln Journal Star. Courtesy of Bohling and the Lincoln Journal Star

Margaret Ehlers Bohling is a copy editor at the Lincoln Journal Star. Courtesy of Bohling and the Lincoln Journal Star

Bohling has been a copy editor at the Lincoln Journal Star, where she focused on editing local and sports news. After the Lincoln Journal Star eliminated the news editor position, Bohling said she became a page designer for the Regional Design Center, housed in the Journal Star building.

She goes to work at 4:30 p.m., attending meetings and editing copy for both print and online news. There, Bohling said, she touches a little bit of everything. While her primary focus is local news she edits other sections including opinion and features.

Although Bohling is passionate about her job, she has not always known that she wanted been an editor.

Bohling went to college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she planned to be a reporter. But after two weeks working at the UNL student newspaper, the Daily Nebraskan, she knew that she would rather be an editor.

Bohling became an editor until the 1990s, when she left her job for 11 years. But, Bohling said that when Hurricane Katerina hit she knew  she had to come back.

“There is no other job like news job,” she said. “There is no other office that will ever be like a newsroom. It’s just interesting in a way that nothing else will ever be interesting.” She said that the newsroom is where history is made.

One of the major changes Bohling said she has seen in the newsroom came with access to news on the Internet. As the Web gained importance, how the news was told changed as well.

“When I started out in journalism you measured your success with the competition by days and now you measure in hours and minutes,” Bohling said.

She said  this difference has created more change for reporters than editors. But the importance of getting the news out fast has posed difficulties for copy editors too.

“One concern I do have is that a lot of times the expediency of getting things on the Web as quick as we can,” Bohling said, “sometimes I see something [that has been published on the Web] and think has anybody read this? Or I’ll be editing a story during my shift and thinking ‘oh my gosh’ and looking at the time and thinking this has been online all day.” She said there’s a dual standard between getting news online quickly and making sure that it is all correct.

Bohling said one of the most common mistakes that she sees is when writers use one word when they really mean another. This is a common mistake, in part, because spell check will not catch it, she said. Bohling said that she “[uses] spell check for entertainment,” and does not rely on it for editing.

Bohling stressed it is also important to realize that “there’s no fight like a style fight.” A lot of ambiguous areas exist in style, she said, so there can be disagreements between editors about what is correct.  Editors have to realize there are some things not worth fighting over.

Bohling offered this advice to students who want to be editors:

  • Read as much as possible, as many different kinds of things as you can.
  • Write as much as you can.
  • Don’t just read news online, make sure to still read newspapers because online doesn’t have parameters or give context like print does.
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