John Heaston leads the way for The Reader in Omaha
By Mason Reed
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Twenty-two years ago, the first issue of The Reader was crafted out of an apartment in Omaha, Nebraska. Among the five contributors were John Heaston, the current publisher/editor of Omaha’s alternative magazine.
The Reader prides itself on being different. It is the only nationally recognized alternative magazine in the state of Nebraska. According to its website, the Reader has produced over 25,000 stories. The Reader keeps “a keen focus on providing Omaha with cutting edge news and sharp cultural coverage, each issue complete with great writing, great presentation and the city’s most complete event listings.”
Heaston’s interest in journalism didn’t happen until late in his college career at the University of Nebraska Omaha, when he became involved in starting up a free monthly magazine. Two years later, while working at a group home for developmentally disabled adults, Heaston began working full-time with The Reader when it went from monthly to weekly in 1996.
“I just had to kind of learn along the way,” Heaston said about his career.
As publisher/editor of The Reader, Heaston keeps a busy schedule. “Monday is a big planning day as well as a meeting day. It is where we set the schedule for the week,” Heaston said in a phone interview. “I spend Tuesdays trying to catch up on all of our bigger sales clients.” The rest of the week is a mixed bag. Heaston works with the editorial team, getting feature stories ready for online publication and getting assignments laid out.
Heaston and his staff pride themselves on their cultural criticism. “We are not so much the inverted pyramid as we are a more narrative feature style of journalism.” Heaston said. “I think that we probably have the strongest cultural voice, or a critical voice for better or worse. But, that’s one of our responsibilities as journalists in that area.”
The Reader’s content includes: the music scene, local dining, film, art, theater, local activities and life stories.
The Reader is part of Pioneer Publishing, based in Nebraska. Pioneer consists of various media channels, with five in print and five online. Pioneer describes itself as a local freelance content provider network.
The staff at The Reader also contribute heavily to El Perico, a multicultural, bilingual publication. Many of Pioneer’s media channels are rooted in either print or online, but as publisher/editor Heaston oversees both.
When asked about the growing prominence of the Internet, Heaston said, “Well, there’s no getting away from it.” The Reader is in an interesting position for online because it is not competing to be the first to publish a breaking story.
With 22 years of experience at The Reader, Heaston has seen the many changes in journalism as readers move to the Internet.
To young, aspiring journalists he has wise advice: “Be flexible, the landscape is changing,” Heaston said.
“A lot of jobs are moving toward the multimedia approach. I think quality rises to the top. If you stay dedicated to your craft and pay attention to your opportunities, you will succeed.”