Coloradoan editor’s biggest advice is to ‘be audience obsessed’
By Alexa West
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
The world of journalism is not always clear-cut with a pathway leading straight to the answer.
In today’s fast-paced world, finding a way to overcome challenges can be difficult for both reporters and editors.
The biggest challenge an editor faces is time.
Eric Larsen, senior editor for content at the Coloradoan, a local newspaper in Fort Collins, Colo., said setting priorities is critical.
“There are never enough hours in the day,” Larsen said in a phone interview. “Every newspaper editor out there will say it is important to find a work-life balance.”
Larsen said it is difficult to accomplish daily and future goals. By prioritizing, it is easier to tackle both short-term and long-term projects.
“It really comes down to finding time to do the most meaningful stuff,” Larson said.
Larsen joined the Coloradoan after following a former executive editor from Twin Falls, Idaho, to Fort Collins, Colo. He started as a sports writer about 10 years ago at the Times-News in Twin Falls.
But Larsen’s future didn’t always seem so certain. He majored in exercise and sport science at Oregon State University. Midway through college, Larsen wanted a change.
“I wasn’t that good at taping ankles or chemistry,” Larsen said. “I figured I could write pretty well.”
In college, Larsen wrote for The Daily Barometer, a student-run newspaper. This experience helped Larsen realize his passion for journalism.
Writing for The Daily Barometer also benefited his editing career. It taught him to have pride in the name on top of a story.
“As long as you have pride above everything else, that is going to follow you whether you’re working at the student paper or The New York Times,” Larsen said.
His biggest advice for journalism students is to get to know one’s audience.
“You have to be audience obsessed,” Larson said.
Larsen thinks journalists need to connect and engage with their audiences.
They should be out and among the people who actually consume the content they produce. They need to find out what is important to people.
“That is going to make you more of a success,” Larsen said.
Today’s advanced technology allows newspapers to track viewership. Larsen said technology is both a challenge and an opportunity. Journalists can tell from online viewership and the users who interact via Facebook when a story really hits the mark and when it doesn’t.
Metrics track page views, time spent on the website and frequent page users.
“All those things, they don’t give us the answer but they do lead us to the right question,” he said. “Journalists need to ask themselves if they would read their own work. Ask why the story is being written.”
Larsen said if those questions cannot be answered then the story should not be written.
Metrics give a little bit of context behind a newspaper’s readership. It provides an opportunity for personal reflection.
“I think that makes us better,” Larsen said.
When asked how to fix journalism errors ,Larsen said, “you have to look at the process behind it.” Identify the root problem; then make sure there is enough time to do better the next time. Writing is a process. Critique work so it connects better with the audience. Listen to criticism as much as praise. Ask for readers’ feedback. The main thing to focus on is the audience’s feedback. Then, make decisions based on that criticism.
“Always remember who you are writing for,” Larsen said.
Being an editor, Larsen understands that everyone is human. “The fact of the matter is, everyone makes mistakes.”
However, he still encourages writers to always strive for improvement.
Larsen said the day in the life of an editor is never typical. As an editor who oversees six core news reporters, Larsen holds many jobs. He is a planner, teacher and collaborator.
“If I am doing my job right, I should be working with my people individually, to plan ahead on stories,” Larsen said.
Larsen holds a tight rein on the things he can control to ensure stories go out in a timely fashion. He tries to plan to ensure the big picture will be achieved.
Larsen is a teacher to those who are younger and less experienced. He thinks it is fun being able to teach others who have something to learn. As a collaborator, he hopes to help achieve the vision of his colleagues.
His favorite part of his job is working with reporters. That’s what really matters.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “it’s just getting to work with the folks who I get to work with.”