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Every day brings a new opportunity for executive editor

Lauren Gustus the executive editor at the Coloradoan (Photo courtesy of Lauren Gustus)

Lauren Gustus is the executive editor at the Coloradoan
(Photo courtesy of Lauren Gustus)

The executive editor for the Coloradoan in Fort Collins, Colorado, loves her city.

Lauren Gustus has only been the executive editor there for a little more than a year, but she already knows that she’s found the place where she belongs.

“Every day there’s an opportunity for me, for everyone in this room, to learn something new, and, oh by the way, we get to take home a paycheck at the end of the day for doing that. It’s just awesome,” Gustus said in an interview in her office.

As the executive editor, Gustus, 34, makes judgment calls every day in the Coloradoan’s newsroom. As the only community newspaper in Fort Collins, Gustus believes that they are responsible for highlighting not only the beauty and fun in their city, but also where it needs to improve and what is happening politically. She and her coworkers make their decisions to help keep their content balanced and responsible. Each story that they decide to focus their time and attention on needs to have the right voices and adequately reflect the many sides of that story, she said.

While she doesn’t write as much as she used to as a reporter, Gustus still occasionally writes columns. In the spring of 2015,  she wrote one on the growth dynamic in Fort Collins. In the past she’s also written about the tone of a conversation about the mayor’s race and about the Coloradoan’s new social issues reporter.

Other than that, she leaves the writing to the rest of the staff in the newsroom.

One big focus in the newsroom is the Coloradoan’s mobile and online presence. Gustus said that she’s been on a “mobile crusade” lately. She believes that since people spend an average of three or four hours on their phones daily, it’s a platform that’s just itching to be utilized.

Along with the Coloradoan’s app, website, Twitter account and Facebook page, Gustus oversees the experimentation with new mobile apps that they might use in the future. She has recently experimented with Meerkat—a live video streaming app. Staff filmed a train going by an intersection and people  watched it, indicating to her that it has potential.

Gustus is passionate about the online presence of the Coloradoan. Every story they post is augmented with headlines written for search engine optimization. For example, online a story’s headline will contain “Colorado State” as opposed to “CSU” for the keywords to be recognized by a search engine and the story to appear near the top of a search page. That doesn’t mean that every headline is a conglomeration of keywords with no creativity, she said.

“You could be as dry as toast or you could use a little more flexibility in your headline to develop something that’s more engaging,” she said.

A more creative, but still optimized, headline will be more engaging to readers, drawing them in to click on the content and take the time to read further. Gustus also advocates linking within online stories. Linking to relevant content on other sites as well as other relevant content on your own site, increases credibility.

The life of an online story is not a short one, she said. Posting a story is just the beginning. After it’s published the story is put on social media, optimized, pushed and shared. Finally, it’s revisited and the questions of those who have read it are considered, she said. All of this happens on mobile.

Gustus said, “If we don’t pay attention to mobile we’re dead in the water.”

Gustus’ path to executive editor started with covering high school sports.

Gustus worked at her college paper at Pepperdine University in Southern California. Right out of school she took an internship with the Los Angeles Daily News, covering high school football and doing the scoreboard page for all of the major sports teams. In her time there, she worked her way up and covered everything from high school sports to professional tennis to the NBA finals. There she worked with a lot of other young reporters who were eager to prove themselves, creating a friendly and competitive atmosphere.

After that she worked in Salt Lake City as a reporter and assistant sports editor. From there she was hired to work in Reno, Nevada, at the Reno Gazette-Journal as a sports editor, but bounced around between sports, news and business. Her most memorable career moment was in Reno.

“It still gives me goosebumps to think about, but the story that probably impacted me the most was a school shooting,” she said.

Gustus was one of the first reporters on the scene in October 2013 after a 12-year-old boy shot two classmates, a teacher and then himself. He and the teacher both died. Gustus led coverage of the story in the ensuing days and weeks. The family gave them an intimate look at their lives following the shooting.

Gustus said: “It was heartbreaking to just see them come to terms with the fact that their child got ahold of their gun… That their child was gone.”

When asked about advice for aspiring editors and journalists Gustus had nothing but wise words.

“Get practice in a real-world newsroom,” she said. “There’s something to be said for having to work with people who are doing it for a community that doesn’t look like your community at your school.”

She also advised to be active online and make connections. Most passionate journalists want to talk about their jobs. She also said don’t be discouraged by negative talk about the field.

“There are a lot of great journalists doing really inspiring, life-changing work,” she said, “and I can’t think of a better place to come every day.”

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  1. May 30, 2015 at 11:33 pm

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