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Experience, accuracy and broad-based education: Advice for aspiring journalists looking to get ahead
By Gabriella Parsons
COURTESY PHOTO OMAHA WORLD-HERALD
Connie White, deputy metro-regional editor at the Omaha World-Herald, grew up in small town Nebraska. She was born and raised in Grand Island, and later attended the University of Nebraska-Kearney where she received her BA in journalism. During college, White studied political science, and this set the tone for her career, covering Omaha City Hall, education and business throughout.
While most of her experience as been on the editing side, White worked as a reporter at the start of her career, then on the copy desk and also the page design team.
White worked at the Grand Island Independent, The Kansan and the Columbus Telegram, where she was the managing editor, before coming to the Omaha World-Herald 15 years ago.
White said that these experiences at smaller newspapers are what led her to becoming an editor at the Omaha World-Herald.
“I think that working at smaller papers first of all kind of gave me a diverse experience,” White said as she described the many hats she had to wear at these newspapers.
“You do a lot of things when you’re at a small paper— you might write the editorial, you might write a column, you lay out the paper, you meet with the community,” she said. “I think it gives you an appreciation for community news— the community’s stories and their importance.”
Before White arrives at the downtown Omaha World-Herald offices between 8:30 and 9 a.m. each morning, she is reading the newspaper and making sure she’s up to date with the latest news.
When she gets to work, she talks with her reporters and assesses what he or she is working on for the day before the 10 a.m. daily budget meeting.
White looks over state government and regional reporters, and she also helps plan the Midland section of the Omaha World Herald. With three of her reporters working in Lincoln, White says that she has to be in good communication with these reporters since they aren’t on-site at the Omaha World Herald.
White said the best form of communication between her and her reporters is email and phone calls. She says that if a question ever comes up and a reporter isn’t there, she’ll just give them a call. White also said that the computer system, “Saxotech,” which is comparable to Google Docs, has come in handy for revising articles written by reporters based in different cities.
“It’s like we’re sitting by each other, using the same computer program,” White said. “Except we’re 50 miles apart.”
White said that the changes in technology have forced newspapers like the Omaha World Herald to reconsider its priorities.
“I think 15 years ago we would have mostly thought about the [physical] paper. We’d get those stories that were in print online by the end of the day,” White said. “Well, that doesn’t fly anymore.”
The sense of immediacy that viewers want have shifted the way Omaha World Herald delivers its content, White said.
“The goal is that if something happens, we get it online immediately,” she said.
White noted that with the shift to online from print, it’s more important than ever for journalists to be accurate.
“We make it our standard to not put inaccurate information out anywhere,” she said.
While it’s become easier to make corrections to stories that are published online, that shouldn’t be a reason for journalists to get lazy with his or her accuracy.
“It’s always something we’re cognitive of– if we’re pushing a story out and we’re in a hurry, then we need to be careful,” White said. “Take the extra minute to make sure we’re not putting something out there that’s inaccurate.”
White shared some words of advice for aspiring journalists and editors:
“Accuracy is your reputation,” she said. “When you write something, it’s critical that you have your facts straight, because it will harm your reputation as a reporter if you don’t.”
White said that a good way of ensuring accuracy is by having two sources for everything. Then, you are able to verify your information almost 100% of the time.
She said that journalists need to be informed.
“You should be well-read,” White said. “You should care about important issues and have a good eye for accuracy and attention to detail.”
White said that as editors, reporters are relying on you to be their backstop.
“I think it’s helpful to have a curious personality,” White said. “But also have an even temper so you don’t get rattled. People are looking to you for guidance– if you can’t stay calm, neither will they.”
If White could go back and tell her young self something she wish she would have known earlier, it would be this:
“Looking back to when I was in college, the importance of taking lots of history classes, lots of English classes, lots of math classes– you just have to have a broad-based education,” she said.
It’s important for journalists to be multi-faceted and well-rounded, White said. She suggests challenging yourself and taking classes that interest you.
White said that real experience in the journalism world is what will set you apart when you seek out jobs.
“The experience is really critical,” she said. “Writing for the DN, getting an internship– seeking those opportunities to work on your craft.”
White’s experience at the Omaha World-Herald has led her to working with interesting people and an array of topics.
“It’s a busy life [the life of an editor], but it’s a fulfilling life,” White said.