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Hear Nebraska managing editor faces special challenges

By Victoria Klafter
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Unique goals present unique problems.

Chance Solem-Pfeifer has discovered this as the managing editor of a small nonprofit publication with a specialized focus.

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Chance Solem-Pfeifer is the managing editor of Hear Nebraska, a music and arts publication. (Photo courtesy of Hear Nebraska)

The publication is called Hear Nebraska and its mission statement declares that it “cultivates Nebraska’s vibrant, fertile music and arts community by providing resources and a voice for bands, artists and members of Nebraska’s creative class and the people and businesses that support them.”

It takes more than one breath to list Solem-Pfeifer’s job duties. He sets the editorial calendar, assigns all stories, publishes all stories on the website, edits, gives feedback to writers, photographers and videographers and manages Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. He also writes features and supplemental articles.  Because Hear Nebraska is so small and functions as a nonprofit, managing editor has to be a “catch all” job, he said.

Solem-Pfeifer, 24, started working at Hear Nebraska immediately after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a bachelor’s degree in English in 2013. He was granted an internship with the possibility of a job down the road. “Down the road” turned out to be just around the corner as he was offered the position of staff writer within a month. He became the managing editor in February 2014, not even a year later.

Solem-Pfeifer, who is originally from Omaha, Nebraska, wasn’t new to covering music and arts. He had accumulated stacks of experience in the Arts and Entertainment section of UNL’s school newspaper, the Daily Nebraskan. He worked for the Daily Nebraskan for four years and served as editor of the Arts and Entertainment section for two and a half years.

Although he was a journalism major for only a year, he made many important connections through the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, where he hosted a radio show on the student-run station, KRNU-FM.

After his freshman year, Solem-Pfeifer switched to the College of Arts and Sciences and became an English major. He said that this major, with a creative writing emphasis, especially prepared him for his job at Hear Nebraska.

“It clarified how I feel dealing with other people’s work because you always have to know that it’s ultimately the writer’s story and you’re there to tell them what you think is working and what isn’t,” he said in a phone interview.

There’s always a ceiling on how good a piece of journalistic writing can be, he said, and an editor is just there to elevate it.

An editor also sometimes has to shoot down pieces if they don’t align with the publication’s mission. The promotional nature of Hear Nebraska’s mission sometimes presents different kinds of editorial decisions than what normal newspapers might face.

“Sometimes we’ve had a story idea or a feature idea—and even though it might be a decent news story—we’ve had to step back and say, ‘You know this doesn’t really support our mission,’” he said.

Therefore, he said, Hear Nebraska staff has to marry its goals as writers and its promotion of artists in a way that meets the overall goal of the publication.

This doesn’t mean they just publish fluff, though.

Solem-Pfeifer said there is definitely a place for negativity and he and the other editors often approve negative reviews.

“We also often say that it’s a can we don’t want to open,” he said with a laugh.

However, some “cans” should be opened eventually and Solem-Pfeifer and the other Hear Nebraska editorial staff chose to do just that with a recent interview and story. The interview was with the frontman for a well-known hardcore band from Nebraska and the story was intended to be about the band’s recent signing with a national record label.

It wasn’t so straight-forward in reality. The frontman carried a history of resentment against Hear Nebraska for its perceived neglect of genres outside indie rock.

This element cast a dark cloud over the actual news. In the end, the real story was significantly overshadowed by the tense dynamics of the relationship between Hear Nebraska and this musician and his band. Many people who also thought that Hear Nebraska neglects certain genres spoke out on social media with negative comments about the publication and its alleged lack of variety.

So, why would the editors of Hear Nebraska choose to publish that story?

They are “constantly aware” that they need to cover different types of music such as hardcore,  which is a genre similar to screamo, electronic dance music, jazz and other genres that aren’t as “immediately visible” as indie rock, Solem-Pfeifer said in an email.

Solem-Pfeifer said that this deficiency can be attributed to several factors that are directly related to Hear Nebraska’s small size and none of which are malicious or purposefully negligent. This is a recognizable gap in Hear Nebraska’s coverage and he said it was important for them to be transparent about their inadequacies.

It’s these types of decisions that make editing a precarious balance between appreciation of art and awareness of reality.

Other editorial decisions that Solem-Pfeifer faces that are unique to Hear Nebraska—because of its exclusively Nebraska-focused mission—arise at national music and arts festivals.

Hear Nebraska recently covered South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. Thousands of musicians and bands from all over the nation perform at South by Southwest. Solem-Pfeifer’s main job is to focus his staff’s efforts on Nebraskan bands.

“We want to cover all Nebraska artists because our mission is to make Nebraska music known to people inside the state. So, when bands are out of state we want to champion those people,” he said.

Thus, he must be selective in what bands they’re covering while accurately portraying what the festival embodies as a whole.

Even though Solem-Pfeifer is officially a managing editor for an arts publication, his passion for the arts extends far beyond the boundaries of his job duties.

“My favorite thing about working for Hear Nebraska is the hope and the feeling that I—and we—have a place in a larger conversation about art,” he said. If people are interested in appreciating the beauty and intrigue of art, he said, they are more likely as a community to be socially progressive and conscientious.

Similarly, Solem-Pfeifer said that young journalists and writers need to be aware of their part in the larger discussion.

“Don’t write a review or do an interview without knowing as much as you can about what’s already been written or asked,” he said.

Knowing what has come before can open up new angles for stories and drives discovery in the industry, he said.

“Plus,” he said, “it’s a way to stay motivated.”

 

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