Small town newspapers provide options for journalism students
By Meridith Gross-Rhode
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
“I guess I found myself kind of tired of grading 85 essays in a weekend,” Nathan Arneal said in an email interview. Arneal is the photographer, editor and owner of the North Bend Eagle, a small weekly newspaper.
In high school he enjoyed writing for the school newspaper, which was always something he knew he wanted to do. Arneal majored in education and received endorsements in English, journalism and coaching from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He got a job right after college teaching at Scotus Central Catholic High School in Columbus, Neb. He was teaching English classes and one physical education class. When he arrived, the school newspaper at Scotus was struggling, so Arneal volunteered to take it over. In his four years as newspaper adviser the paper won two Cornhusker Awards, which is the top rating a high school newspaper can get in Nebraska. It also won a state runner-up trophy in journalism and had several individual state journalism champions.
After teaching at Scotus for seven years Arneal decided to send a letter of inquiry and his résume´ to the owner of the North Bend Eagle, his hometown newspaper. “The owner responded to my letter by saying, “Let’s meet. Six months later I owned the thing!”
Arneal says the best part about being the owner of the North Bend Eagle is flexibility. Although he has a weekly deadline, if he finds himself needing to take a day off and run errands to Omaha or Lincoln, he can. Or if he wants to run off to Boston to witness his favorite basketball team, the Boston Celtics, win their 2008 NBA Championship in The Garden, he has the chance to do so. “Growing up on the farm, time didn’t matter. Results did. My job is similar in that respect.”
The worst part in Nathan’s eyes is Monday nights, the deadline nights. He has to stay at the paper until it is finalized, which depends on how much he abused his flexible time schedule. “City Council can sometimes be a drag,” he comments. He also admits that graduation is one of his least favorite things to cover, saying it’s hard to find new angles and shots each year.
Since 2006, Arneal has added a website and expanded coverage using Twitter. With the addition of the website, subscribers are now able to download an online PDF version of the Eagle. Arneal admits that he could do so much more if all he focused on was the newspaper but he likes to devote a lot of time to his other interests such as coaching, running Dodge County’s men’s basketball league as well as making highlight videos that are shown at North Bend Central’s sports banquet each semester. “Also, I really like to sleep,” he comments.
With technology and the fall of major newspapers, a lot of people say print journalism is dead. Arneal doesn’t believe that one bit. “The industry is as strong as ever on our level. I have no competition. No one can provide the coverage [of North Bend] I can.” Although he admits that people could subscribe to the Fremont Tribune, he doesn’t consider them competition, knowing that they will only cover a handful of North Bend stories a month. “I know if Fremont and I cover the same North Bend game, yes their story is going to be out the next day and mine might not come out until next week, but my story is going to be better and more in-depth with more photos.”
When asked about any advice for a student looking into working at a small town newspaper, Arneal said he believes just about any recent graduate could make big changes to some small town newspapers. “I think weekly newspapers are a great opportunity and one a lot of journalism students don’t consider. Everyone has dreams of working for the Omaha World-Herald, Des Moines Register, Chicago Tribune and other big city papers. But of course there you’re going to start out at the bottom and work for pennies. Any J-school graduate could take over a weekly newspaper and be their own boss right away. Call their own shots.”