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Longtime editor switches profession to give back to community

By Griffith Swidler
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Kathy Steinauer Smith was an accomplished newspaper editor when she switched careers to work at a non-profit organization.

“I remember telling my mom after working in newspapers for a couple years, ‘I wish my job was more important, I wish my work was more impacting,’” she said.

Now as the community investment manager at Woods Charitable Fund in Lincoln, Neb., it is.

The fund helps nonprofit organizations in the region. She and her three colleagues, “basically just give money away.”

The fund gives away roughly $1.5 million a year to about 20 nonprofit organizations.  Smith works as the middleman between the nonprofits and fund board members who approve the donations.  Her job is to put into writing, exactly how the money will be used by each organization and how much is appropriate to give to one organization.

She has to be able to make connections and really piece things together from scratch and then follow it through until the end. And that, she said, isn’t too different from what she did as an editor.

She worked as an editor at several papers, mostly in the West. Her first job out of college was at the Iowa City Press-Citizen in Iowa. But next, she and her journalist husband moved to Visalia, Calif., to work at the Visalia Times-Delta.


Kathy Steinauer Smith has worked at numerous newspapers and is now works at the Woods Charitable Fund. (Photo courtesy of the Lincoln Journal Star.)

After moving again to work at the San Bernardino County Sun in San Bernardino, Calif., the couple moved to the Reno Gazette-Journal in Nevada.  Finally, they come back to their roots and returned to Nebraska, where they had graduated from college, to work at the Lincoln Journal Star.

“I always knew I wanted to be an editor, I always loved editing,” Smith said.  “I just loved going into a story and making it better.  Especially when you are in a newsroom where you work with a pool of people and just have those relationships.”

After layoffs in the mid-2000s and the Journal Star’s buyout a couple of years earlier, Smith decided it was time for a career switch.

Her husband had already left the newsroom for a communications job with more normal hours.  “And then I worked all these weird hours,” she said, “and after a couple of years of that we decided maybe it was time to switch it up.”

Smith wanted to make a difference and truly help out her community.  Newspapers didn’t allow her to do as much as she would have liked.

“One thing that always bothered me was how in journalism there is this whole idea that you shouldn’t get involved in your community for the sake of conflict of interest,” Smith said, “Within the last few years I really hated that.  I wanted to support the things I support and wanted to play a role in my community.”

After moving to the fund  in 2012, she noticed her journalism and editing experience paying off. “An editor really has to be someone who sees the bigger picture,”  Smith said.

In her new job, she takes pages of notes on one organization and then compiles her information into a short summary almost as a journalist would.   Without an editor, Smith has to look over every detail and understand the larger picture too.

She traced her career’s success back to hard work and what she learned as a journalism student at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, “I really do think that my J-school background gave me a broad education and a sort of liberal arts view of things,” she said.  “It gave me skills that really help with where I am at now.”

One thing she misses about her old job is knowing everything going on in town and nationally.  “I feel a little out of touch now that I am not working at a newspaper,” she said.  “And I thought I would miss it more than I do, but I still feel like I am doing something I enjoy.”

As for anybody unsure about what they want to do with their lives, Smith said experimentation is the key.

“Just try lots and lots of different stuff.  You might not truly know what you are interested in until you try lots of different things.”


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