Firing of basketball coach spawns editing career of Michael Carnes
By Christian Gallardo
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Sometimes in life, a defining moment can inspire the journey a person’s career takes.
For Michael Carnes of Milford, Nebraska, it happened early on. The then 16-year-old did not agree with the school board’s decision to fire the high school basketball coach in his hometown. He expressed his disappointment in a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. In it, he boldly called for the resignation of some influential school board members.
His letter was so well written that the newspaper decided to publish it. This was his defining moment. “I was able to see the power that newspapers and media had,” Carnes said in a phone interview.
A couple of weeks later, the editors of the local newspaper talked to Carnes’ parents about making him a staff sports writer. He was hired the following summer and has been in the journalism industry since. That was 35 years ago.
Today, Carnes is the managing editor for The Wayne Herald located in Wayne, Nebraska. Along the way, Carnes has worked for newspapers in nine other communities of varying sizes across Nebraska. His experience, including a stint as editor of his college newspaper at Southeast Community College in Beatrice, has shaped the type of journalist he is today.
As is the case in many small town newspapers, Carnes does much more than edit. He handles many roles beyond being the managing editor: He’s also the news, sports, photo, video and web editor.
“You wear a number of different hats in a small newspaper,” Carnes said. “You not only do the job that you’re hired for, but a lot of other things that the publication offers to the public.”
For Carnes, the most important characteristic for a successful editor is the ability to pay attention to detail. Editors must carefully examine content to avoid missing crucial information. Having a good sense of what is happening in the community is equally important for editors.
When it comes to ethics, he said, he believes that being objective is important. In situations where there are opposing forces, an editor must be able to empathize with all sides of a story.
He said the most fulfilling part of his career has been knowing that he has helped the public by informing and educating them. He’s often stopped on the street or gets phone calls from people who want to talk about the paper’s content.
“Just knowing that I’ve been able to reach people week in and week out has been the most fulfilling part of the job,” Carnes said. “When someone contacts you and compliments your story, that’s the best part. It makes your whole day.”
The job is not without challenges. The most difficult is facing the reality that news does not follow 8-to-5 job hours. He has made sacrifices in his personal life for the job. He believes that being prepared at any time makes a successful journalist.
He recalled a time when he when took the day off on a Friday to delve into another interest of his in radio broadcast. He was going to call a football game in another town. On his way there, a tornado tore through Wayne, Nebraska. He had to return to the office and spend the next few days, for long hours at a time, covering the story.
When asked about his advice for someone who wants a similar career path, he said he likes to joke around with students and tell them that if they think they’re going to make millions of dollars to get out now. But on a more serious note, he believes if a person is willing to use his or her gifts to the best of his or her ability and is passionate, then that person will find the profession fulfilling.
“That to me is more important than making money because you can go to bed at night knowing that you made a difference in someone’s life,” Carnes said. “If you can operate under that mindset and do everything in your ability to become the best journalist you can, this is a great career to be in.”