Multi-talented journalists are most valuable, online editor says
By Annie Bohling
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Just as journalism is becoming less finite and more encompassing, so are jobs in the industry.
“There are reporters who will take photos and sometimes there are reporters here who will fill in as city editors for months on end,” Micah Mertes, online entertainment editor for the Omaha World-Herald, said of the print and Web publication. “There are a lot of people here that are multi-talented and they have a lot of different things they can do.”
As newspapers across the country shrink, the duties of journalists will continue to stack, Mertes said in a phone interview.
“The people who tend to do more are probably going to be more valuable to their company,” he said.
Mertes is one of the journalists with many roles. Although Mertes is an online editor, he does not spend much time editing in the traditional sense. The stories he posts on Omaha Go have often been read by the reporter’s story editor, another story editor and a copy editor.
“In a lot of cases, most of the hard editing has been done and a lot of the things we’re doing for posting online are just making sure that it goes to the right place online and the headline is correct and that the summary is enticing,” Mertes said.
Those story and copy editors prepare stories for both print and online, even though they would probably consider themselves print editors, Mertes said.
Mertes’ main duties are finding new story ideas, posting polished stories onto the website and linking them to Omaha Go’s Facebook and Twitter pages. But he says he does quite a bit of reporting and writing, too.
“One of the nice things about being online primarily is that you have a little bit more freedom,” Mertes said. “I don’t necessarily have a beat that I fall into. I choose what will do best online.”
It is particularly important for the online department to choose stories that people will want to read — stories that will sell, he said. A main difference between online and print editing is the tools used in determining what stories deserve attention.
“We can actually see what people are reading so that kind of guides our decisions about what to play higher on the web page than other stories,” Mertes said. “For the most part, we’re letting stats determine what deserves to be on our home page.”
Mertes likes working with online content more than print because of the freedom in choosing content and the speed of publishing.
“Online is a little bit more fast and loose,” Mertes said. “I actually consider print a lot more stressful. Print, at least now, has a lot more scrutiny from your bosses. People are just a lot more worried about things in print.”
Mertes doesn’t like that errors in print journalism are so permanent — a source of the stress and worry. He also thinks that print involves micromanagement, which he doesn’t like.
“In print, there will be eight people that want to get involved,” he said. “Online—it might not always be this way, but at least now—people don’t really get too involved.”
But when it comes down to it, print and online editors use the same journalistic judgment.
“It’s the same thing as print,” Mertes said of online editing. “You want good content. You want people to read it. You want to be right and credible and not get the facts wrong.”
Good content requires editors.
“Even the most careful reporters or the best writers have gaps,” Mertes said. “Maybe they’re not thinking of certain questions or maybe they’re not being as rigorous in their reporting. In that case, editors are extremely important to work there as a safety net. In almost every case, they’re going to make any story a lot better; they’re going to make it a lot more correct.”
Mertes’ advice to aspiring journalists is to learn a lot of different skills.
“Learn a little bit of web design, a little bit of photography. Learn about as much as you possibly can,” he said. “But at the same time, don’t necessary go into a beat you’re not interested in because you’re going to get bored pretty quickly.”