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Grand Island columnist: Editing can be tool for better storytelling

Reece Ristau
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Growing up, George Ayoub wanted to be Walter Cronkite.

In those days, everyone did, Ayoub said. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to be in journalism, but he admired Cronkite’s command of language.

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George Ayoub is a senior writer at the Grand Island Independent.

Ayoub is a senior writer at the Grand Island Independent. His desire to be a wordsmith is infused into his philosophy on editing.

“I’m really into storytelling,” Ayoub said. “Some editors probably edit so things are incredibly tight. I want it to be tight, but it has to tell a good story and as a whole it has to work. Sometimes, you can shorten a story and then at the end it doesn’t work as a whole thing.”

Ayoub’s love for stories stems back to the path that led him to the Independent. He graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with degrees in broadcasting and English. He taught English for 10 years before moving to Los Angeles to try his hand at screenwriting.

When that didn’t pan out, Ayoub came back to Nebraska. He started writing columns and began his career at the Grand Island Independent in 1998. Since then, he’s been a copy editor, editorial-page editor and columnist. He has worked on podcasts and special projects and estimates having written 3,500 columns.

“When you get to be a dinosaur, you’ve done everything,” he said.

Ayoub said one problem in modern journalism is social media allowing anyone to be a “reporter.”

“A lot of people think they’re journalists because they tweet something out,” Ayoub said. “They’re not in my mind. The process I’m comfortable with is the slower process where you do reporting and it’s edited. Our first responsibility is to get it right.”

Even so, Ayoub said, embracing the ever-changing field is important for young reporters.

“I would embrace (social media) as much as I can,” he said. “Find a way to use it to tell stories. Understand how what appears in the paper in morning can be complemented on social media throughout the day and understand the balance between those two things.”

While Ayoub thinks students need to embrace technology, learning the basics is also important, he said. Ayoub is a voracious reader and a self-taught columnist. He writes and reads often and said students should do the same.

“If you love to write, journalism is still a pretty good gig if you like to tell stories,” Ayoub said.

Introducing readers to a young autistic girl is one story that Ayoub said was rewarding to report. He wrote a feature on her and did a follow-up story a year later. Ayoub said it’s experiences like that that will stick with him forever.

Through his time as an editor and reporter, Ayoub has met everyone from Tom Osborne to President George W. Bush. But, Ayoub said, it’s not these stories he values most.

“There are people that aren’t famous with great stories,” he said. “Everybody’s got some sort of cool story you can tell.”

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