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Executive editor talks about work, future of journalism

By Landon Caldwell

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

As J.J. Perry was growing up, he did not know he was going to become an editor.

Now that he is executive editor of The American News in Aberdeen, South Dakota, and has years of editing and reporting experience under his belt, he has some advice for journalists and aspiring editors.

“Use social media every day to interact with the outside world and see what’s happening in your community,” said Perry, 43, during a phone interview. “Practice reading, writing and taking notes every day. Take every opportunity you get to grow and become better at what you aspire to do in life.”

J.J. Perry is the executive editor of the American News. (Photo courtesy of J.J. Perry)

J.J. Perry is the executive editor of the American News. (Photo courtesy of J.J. Perry)

As executive editor, Perry has a lot of responsibility.

“I’m the department head of the newsroom,” said Perry. “All my staff members report to me.”

Perry spends a lot of time talking to the readers of The American News. Sometimes the paper is criticized for running a certain story, but he has learned from the mistakes. Also, Perry talks with the editors from each department and decides what should go in that day’s newspaper.

Perry has a team mentality when it comes to the newsroom. 

“I want my coworkers to be innovative and give people room to succeed in their work. It’s a team effort from everyone,” said Perry. 

Perry’s relationship with The American News publisher, Cory Bollinger, is crucial to succeed in the newsroom, he said. He relies on Bollinger for counsel.

“He counts on people on a high-degree so you try your best to not get him involved in problems you run into,” Perry said. “I consider Cory to be a good friend of mine. He is a very good publisher and loves what he does.”

Perry grew up in South Bend, Indiana. He went to Indiana University Bloomington, graduating with a degree in journalism and a minor in folklore in 1995. He worked at the college newspaper as he studied news and how to report it.

Then, he got a part-time job as a writer at The Herald-Times in Bloomington in 1997, where he wrote about youth sports. 

While working at The Herald-Times, he had a mentor who helped him realize what he wanted to do.

“He was fantastic. He was the model of a great guy and a great newsman. I knew I came to the right place at the right time,” Perry said.

After working at The Herald-Times for a while, he moved to the digital department. He sold advertisements and worked on the page design of the newspaper. Perry has also worked as a reporter covering breaking news, sports  and weather.

Perry initially didn’t want to leave The Herald-Times when he was offered the job at The American News.

“I didn’t know I would get this opportunity to work as the executive editor of a newspaper. It was tough moving from paper to paper, but it’s great to gain a lot of experience,” he said. 

He decided to make the more than 1,000-mile journey to Aberdeen to start fresh as an executive editor. He has been executive editor since October 2010.

Perry said The American News takes news judgment decisions seriously.

“It’s pretty tough as we always ask ourselves ‘What can we do to lessen harm to people, families and communities?’ Telling the truth is the best way to go even though we don’t always get it right,” said Perry.

Another challenge is the the 24/7 news cycle, which has changed journalism on a whole new level, he said.

“People right now are more engaged in news … than ever before,” said Perry. “People are sharing news links and videos they saw that interested them. There is just a lot of information being passed around.”

Perry thinks it’s not so much that the news cycle is changing, but the way the audience views the news.

Perry uses Twitter to tell readers about breaking news.

He pre-writes tweets to make sure he doesn’t miss any important information and uses hashtags.

Communication, especially on social media, is key to building trust between a newspaper and its readers, he said. Perry said using social media is imperative, but people need motivation to get on social media.

“I use social media, at the very least, a couple times a day,” Perry said. “It depends on the day and what is going on in our community.”

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