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Nebraska Cattleman editor experiments with guest editorials

January 8, 2014

By Jeanna Jenkins
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Mike Fitzgerald grew up on a diversified farming operation in northeast Iowa, where his father was involved in county politics. This led Fitzgerald to earn a degree in political science at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan.

Mike Fitzgerald

Mike Fitzgerald, editor of Nebraska Cattleman magazine (Photo from LinkedIn profile)

After working for AmeriCorps VISTA in St. Louis, Mo., for a couple of years, he decided that he wanted to pursue his love of writing and agriculture. He took classes in agricultural journalism at Kansas State University and soon moved to a position at the Pittsburg Morning Sun in Pittsburg, Kan. “You could see Oklahoma, Arkansas and Illinois from there.” He says. As the editor and curator of the farm section of that daily newspaper, he covered subjects such as crops, livestock and youth activities. His work there earned him a position at what was then known as the Drovers Journal in Kansas City, Kan., where he worked for seven years.

The Drovers Journal has seen many changes over the years, as it started as the daily publication for market reports. But with the competition of radio, it became a weekly and then finally a monthly publication. Fitzgerald worked at the Journal when it was a weekly publication, where he reported on the feedlot and cow/calf industries. The journal is now a monthly publication and is called the Drovers Cattle Network. His work allowed him to travel regularly all over the Midwest, as well as to Florida, California and Tennessee for conventions and annual meetings.

Now Fitzgerald works at the Nebraska Cattlemen organization as the Director of Communications, handling the weekly radio reports, communications with members, and eventually the website. Now that he has moved to the position as editor of Nebraska Cattleman magazine and website  he considers himself “an in-house agency” managing the content of the growing publication. He manages that content via meetings with his staff, where they discuss the important issues and decide who will write or find the information to be published.

Nebraska Cattleman employs two sales representatives, one who solicits state advertisements and one who work on national ads. As the publication grows, it has garnered some “walk-in” advertisers who feel the audience would be a good demographic. Nebraska Cattleman recently adopted the practice of publishing guest editorials – which is great for content and readership but can be a challenge when it comes to deadlines. Guest articles that are rough and unpolished and pushing against deadlines are the biggest problems, Fitzgerald said.

“It can also be a challenge when it comes to the subject of the editorial, because we don’t want them to all be just “Whoohoo” cheerleader articles, but we don’t want to walk the line of ticking people off, either.” On the subject of controversial issues, Fitzgerald says he’s never had to run an apology or a serious correction, but that he has to make a conscious effort to express both sides. Fitzgerald finds challenges in managing the work flow in regards to issue planning and following through with deadlines. His goal for the magazine is to stay valuable as a publication by finding content that readers can’t find anywhere else, balancing the “mundane” meeting information with interesting, valuable and original content.

He started his career at the Nebraska Cattlemen as the Director of Communications, handling the weekly radio reports, communications with members, and eventually the website. Now that he has moved to the position of the editor of the Nebraska Cattlemen publication, the Nebraska Cattleman, he considers himself “an in-house agency” managing the content of the growing publication. He manages that content via meetings with his staff, where they discuss the important issues at hand and decide who will write or find the information to be published.

The magazine employs two sales representatives, one that solicits advertisements on a state level and one that solicits on a national level. As the publication grows, it has garnered some “walk-in” advertisers that feel the audience would be a good demographic. The magazine has recently adopted the practice of publishing guest editorials – which is great for content and readership but can be a challenge when it comes to deadlines. Pieces of work that are rough and unpolished and pushing the deadlines are the hardest to work with, Fitzgerald said.

“It can also be a challenge when it comes to the subject of the editorial, because we don’t want them to all be just “Whoohoo” cheerleader articles, but we don’t want to walk the line of ticking people off, either.”

On the subject of controversial issues, Fitzgerald said he’s never had to run an apology or a serious correction, but that he has to make a conscious effort to write to both opinions and express both sides. He finds challenges in managing the work flow in regards to issue planning and following through with deadlines.

His goal for the magazine is to stay valuable as a publication by finding content that readers can’t find anywhere else, balancing the “mundane” meeting information  with interesting, valuable and original content.

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