For this Omaha World-Herald editor, job is entertaining, fun
By Maranda Loughlin
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
As a child, Sara Ziegler would drive around town with her mom pointing out grammatical errors and mistakes on road signs.
Now, as an adult, Ziegler is still fixing mistakes. But this time she’s doing it at the Omaha World-Herald, where she is entertainment editor and Omaha Go magazine editor. Part of her job involves taking out misplaced commas, editing rough drafts of stories and helping reporters write the best articles possible.
In college, Ziegler interned with The Des Moines Register where she learned she didn’t want to be a reporter. Then, Ziegler interned at The Journal News in New York as a copy editor. She also was the editor and chief at her college newspaper, the Iowa State Daily.
After graduating from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s in journalism and political science, Ziegler joined the staff at the Omaha World-Herald 13 years ago. Since then, she has had many different jobs in the newsroom. But editing for the Omaha World-Herald entertainment section and being the editor of Omaha Go are, by far, her favorite jobs.
Ziegler sat down during a Starbucks coffee break to answer questions about the challenges of her jobs, her daily routine and the changing news business.
Q: First off, can you tell me a little bit about how you became the Omaha World-Herald entertainment editor and Omaha Go magazine editor?
A: Last spring the woman who previously held my job left for a different job and, at the time, I had sort of been thinking about the next step I wanted to take. Being a copy editor I just worked with stories and I didn’t ever really work with the reporters. But I always had wanted to kind of delve into the process of developing stories from the beginning and choose more of what our content would be. Plus, I really liked the features section and I knew I would get to do Go magazine, which I always wanted to do.
Q: You always wanted to do Go magazine?
A: Yeah, I mean, I love the magazine. It’s just a fun thing to do. It takes a different kind of skill than the paper. I guess you would say that it challenges me every week because the magazine covers a different topic every week. I mean, doing a magazine while also putting out seven newspapers a week is really tough but really, really fun. It’s very satisfying.
Q: Did you always know that you wanted to be in journalism?
A: When I started college I was an engineering major and it was so different. I really liked math and science in high school, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. Then within a month of living there I was like, ‘No, this is definitely not what I want to do.’ Then a friend of mine, knew I liked to write and she had a friend that worked at the paper. She suggested that I give that a try. The first story I ever wrote for the newspaper was on the front page, and I was hooked. It was amazing to see my byline on the front page. I just loved it, and I fell into it like that. But even though having my byline on the front page was what really excited me, that’s not important to me now. I’d rather be the one people don’t know about – the one pulling strings in the background. I’m the puppet master.
Q: What is your daily routine?
A: See, I worked on the copy desk nights for pretty much all of my career so mornings are really hard for me. I’m a night person. I come in around 9:30 a.m. and then I’m there until around 6:30 p.m. My days are really different depending on what day of the week it is. My week is really weird, and it’s different than everybody else’s.
Q: What are your clear responsibilities for editing?
A: Go magazine is such an interesting thing because I am responsible for every facet of it. We do a lot of brainstorming for cover story ideas. I’ll sit down with my Go reporters and talk about what events are coming and which things we want to make the centerpiece and cover. Then I work closely with my designer and brainstorm illustration ideas. This past week was Miley Cyrus, and we couldn’t really decide on a way to illustrate her, especially because photos of her are a little tricky. Half of them are half-naked. But this is a family newspaper, so we have to keep the nudity to minimum. My designer and I went back and forth on what says Miley to people and we kept going back to the image of a wrecking ball. We didn’t have her picture on the cover at all and instead we had a graphic of a wrecking ball. Then the headline talked about how she was wrecking the notions of what it means to grow up in music. This kind of stuff is really fun I think because you get to think conceptually and take an idea and illustrate it to make it read well for people. The point of the cover is that we want people to pick it up. We have to make something really attention-getting and really beautiful and interesting. I really have two very different parts of my job that allow me to use both sides of my brain.
Q: Why did you love copy editing?
A: The reason I loved copy editing is because I always felt like it was a puzzle to be solved. You had to see if you completely understood the story, that there were no grammatical mistakes and that the headline made it clear what you were talking about. I always really love that part of it. Now my job is about making everything fit, taking something that’s raw and close and almost gets the point across and making it better. It’s really fun for me. It’s really satisfying.
Q: How is writing for a magazine different from a paper?
A: You can have more fun with it, and it has a more fun voice. The articles are written kind of tongue-in-cheek and maybe a little bit more snarky. It’s not so serious, and we can get away with that more at Go. In the newspaper, some people want to see things written more seriously because that is what they’re used to. But it’s always fun in Go. I mean, we never take ourselves seriously.
Q: Why the entertainment section, why not news?
A: I think sometimes people don’t take entertainment as seriously because it is silly. But when you think about how people actually live their lives, people really do care. People talk about the Kardashians. When Justin Bieber got arrested people on Twitter and Facebook were like ‘Oh it’s so stupid how much people are talking about this,’ but they were still talking about it. No, it’s not as important as what is going on in the Ukraine, but it is still a part of our lives. Music, the arts, TV — that’s what people care about.
Q: How has the Omaha World-Herald changed since you started working there 13 years ago?
A: It has changed so much since I started in 2001. It was before the industry changed so much. Staffs at all newspapers were huge and they were really specialized…. It was just such a different thing. Then, within a year that I started working, that’s kind of when things started to change. They started with consolidation, they let some people go and consolidated the staff. That has just kept going in the time that I’ve been here. The staff has just gotten smaller and smaller.
Q: Were you ever worried about losing your job?
A: At first I was really worried about the future of my job, especially when I was brand new. But at some points the newspaper was probably over-staffed anyway. I think now we’re to the point where journalism is still a great field to go into, but you have to really love it. I think in the past it was kind of a catch-all kind of thing people did who weren’t really passionate about it in the first place. But you have to really love it, and you have to really be good at it – which is also good for us. I think the writing is the best it has ever been at the paper. I think we’re putting together better papers than we have ever had. So, I don’t think we have really hurt that much since the industry has changed. And being in Omaha, it’s kind of insulated from the financial problems elsewhere. We are also really lucky that Warren Buffett bought the paper. To have an investor that loves Omaha and loves the newspaper has made a huge difference to us. Before that it wasn’t as sustainable.
Q: How much has the Internet changed your job?
A: The Internet is awesome for us because newspapers couldn’t really compete with TV before. We had to wait until the morning for the news to come out. But with our website, breaking news can come out right away. I do a lot of stuff with crowdsourcing, and I do a lot of things with Twitter. I think the Internet has made a lot of things easier. Instead of having to track someone down or cold-call people until you get someone to talk to you, you can put something up on Twitter and get responses. At the World-Herald we have a morning edition paper and an afternoon edition, so we were already kind of on a 24-hour news cycle. This made that transition to getting stuff on the Internet easier for us than I think it was for other newspapers. It worked out really well for us. Especially with entertainment – I can’t imagine how you would do it without social media.
Q: Coming from someone who had a lot of internship experience, do you think it is hard for people who haven’t had internship experience in college to get a job at a newspaper when they graduate?
A: I think having an internship just says to an employer that you know how a newspaper works. Even if it’s a really small newspaper, you know how it works and you know what it’s like. But, I’m a huge advocate for student newspapers. I loved mine and I learned so many good things from it. But also, it’s completely different than a professional setting. I mean just the difference of being there all the time and going to class is huge. You just can’t really get a good sense of what a paper is like if you have never worked on one…. But when people come to us who have done the Dow Jones editing program, they were on my list because I knew how vigorous the program was.”