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As editor, Joe Veyera does it all for Seattle weekly newspaper

By William Stone
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Joe Veyera is the editor-in-chief at the Queen Anne & Magnolia News. He also doubles as the primary feature writer and photographer.

After all, he is the only one on staff.

Though the Queen Anne & Magnolia News is part of a slightly larger group of suburban Seattle papers operated by Pacific Publishing, the papers operate with a tiny staff.

When Veyera was hired by Pacific Publishing four months after he graduated from the University of Washington, three staffers, two editors and a reporter, worked across the four papers.

Veyera

Veyera has been the editor of the Queen Anne & Magnolia News for two years and during that time has had to use his full repertoire of journalism skills.

“We were all stretched pretty thin then, and that’s still the case now,” Veyera said.

Having the skills to do anything he needs to be able to is key for Veyera in his day-to-day job.

“When I was in college, I had at least one professor who was very adamant to all of us that we needed to know how to do everything. You’ve got to know how to write and take photos and record audio and do design and all that,” Veyera said. “I kind of scoffed at the idea at the time, I was like ‘What role is there where you have to do all of that all the time?’ And I found it. I found exactly the role.”

As his high school paper’s editor, Joe felt intrigued by journalism. He took that intrigue to the University of Washington where he covered news, sports, and ultimately became the editor-in-chief of the school paper. At The Daily, he had a full staff so there’s been some adjusting to do.

The Queen Anne & Magnolia News is a weekly paper, which means Veyera has to have the whole thing wrapped up on Monday so it can be published on Wednesday.

He takes Monday to lay everything out and make sure all the content is where it needs to be. He does the printing in-house so that process is relatively simple.

After Monday’s print deadline, he uses Tuesday to plan out the next edition, but usually he doesn’t get the template for the next week’s edition until Thursday or sometimes Friday so some weeks he gets Wednesday as somewhat of a day off.

Even with the slower pace of the weekly paper, Veyera acknowledges some challenges.

“There have been instances where I’ve had to rush stories out just because I need to fill the space. I have basically everything I need, but it’s not as polished as I’d like it to be,” he said. “You’ve got this 16 or 20 page paper every single week. You know it’s coming.  You have to make sure that it’s going to be filled, and sometimes that leaves you with not the best content.”

To make the content as high quality as he can, Veyera has one rule he likes to follow.

“I rarely end up doing features or profiles that are based on phone call interviews,” he said. “In general, I’ve always found it best, you know, sitting down with someone in person over coffee, for instance, ends up giving you a much better idea of who they are and what they’re trying to do or what their business is, and I think they also appreciate talking to someone in person.”

He’ll make the trek from North Seattle to the Queen Anne & Magnolia office on Thursday or Friday to check the template and start plugging the articles in.

It’s not always easy being a one-man crew, and the job wasn’t exactly what Veyera had in mind out of college. That said, he acknowledges now, it has blossomed into a position he has come to love.

“I think when I started, I might have answered differently and said I wouldn’t be there very long and then move on to the next thing,” he said. “Then when I look at the calendar and realize I’ve been there for two years, I guess that might change it a little bit. The way I’ve always looked at job openings and positions is that I’ll focus on things as they come along.”

It wasn’t his goal going into college to run The Daily, but it happened. Then he didn’t plan on having to use all the skills he learned in college but now he is.

“The chance was there and I felt ready to move into it,” he said.

For now, he’s content at the Queen Anne & Magnolia News, covering the news of suburban Seattle and boosting his presence on social media so if an unexpected opportunity arises, he’ll be prepared for it.

Web mastermind takes over the internet one headline at a time

By Camille Paddock
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Most kids at the age of 9 want to be teachers or astronauts or firefighters, but Travis Siebrass dreamt of becoming a journalist.

His parents always got the Omaha World-Herald delivered to their house, which is what he credits to his peculiar childhood dream.

Travis Siebrass

“I loved the paper and I loved Nebraska football,” Siebrass said in a phone interview. “I always wanted to be a journalist because of that.”

While it may seem like Siebrass had it all figured out, he had a hard time finding his perfect fit in the world of journalism.

He wore many hats over the span of his professional career including news, sports, print and web before finally settling down in his position as the digital editor for the Daily Herald in the Chicagoland area.

Siebrass was born and raised in Nebraska and attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he graduated in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in news editorial journalism.

A professor recommended Siebrass apply for an internship with the Daily Herald during his senior year in college. After graduating from UNL, Siebrass landed the position and only planned on staying in Chicago for the year-long internship.

But that is not how life turned out for Siebrass. When his year was up, the company offered him a full-time position, an offer he couldn’t pass up. He’s been working at the Daily Herald since.

In a typical day, Siebrass comes in around 5:30 a.m. and reads the note left by the overnight staff who have the morning articles ready. He looks over the homepage and the headlines and decides if anything needs to be changed.

“My favorite part is changing a headline and immediately watching [views] spike,” Siebrass said.

In fact, that is the big difference between print and web. On the print side, there is no way to see if your work attracted an audience, he said.

Online articles are constantly being tracked in terms of viewer engagement. This data is analyzed and changes can be made to articles and headlines in order to boost viewership. Since there is no way to track how many people actually read an article in print, web has become increasingly popular.

“I’m glad I made the move,” Siebrass said. “That’s where the future is.”

Siebrass’ advice for students is simple: He encourages all journalism students to take risks and reach out for internships.

“There is no substitute for experience,” Siebrass said. “Being out there in the real world is the best teacher of all.”

Better Homes and Gardens senior editor started as an apprentice

By Brooke Wrage
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

As a first-generation college student, Rachel Haugo switched her undergraduate major five times.

Haugo wanted to find something she loved.

She explored graphic design, anesthesiology, accounting, advertising, and finally settled for journalism with a magazine emphasis.

She doesn’t regret it.

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Rachel Haugo, senior editor for Better Homes and Gardens at Meredith Corp. (Photo courtesy of Rachel Haugo)

Haugo is more than 10 years out of college and still works at the same corporation she got her first job at after college. She found her place at Meredith Corp. after being a part of its apprenticeship program during her senior year at Iowa State University.

“Any time I feel like I kind of plateaued in a position, there’s always been something else that’s come up,” Haugo said in a phone interview. “It’s just been a really good experience. Meredith really does feel like home to me.”

She grew up in North Dakota and attended high school in Plymouth, Minnesota, where her high school yearbook teacher inspired her to attend Iowa State University and become a Kappa Kappa Gamma.

Her yearbook experience doesn’t fall far from her job as the senior editor for the Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

“I would say my job right now is almost like yearbook for adults,” Haugo said.

Technology is Haugo’s biggest challenge because it is constantly changing and improving. Haugo works to adapt to whatever the new trend is and tries to grasp an understanding of how it works.

As a media company, Meredith Corp. taps into the popular media platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram.

Haugo argues a place for magazines will still exist in the future because of the value and opportunities of digital content.

Haugo is excited to see where she will be in 10 years but does not have a plan sketched out. She strives to find what is best for herself at a given time.

“I think being fluid and able to adapt is just vital to the profession, ” Haugo said. “I think it’s just a matter of evolving with technology and revolving with the field.”

She is proud that she has found opportunities to grow personally and professionally within the same organization.

Haugo has worked for Meredith Corp. as a senior editor, lifestyle editor, producer and an associate editor. She has experience editing content for online and print.

A typical day for Haugo begins at 9 a.m. with a meeting and then varies from overseeing video or photoshoots to attending other meetings. Her team consists of six members who work with a lot of how-to content and how-to writing.

To be efficient editors, Haugo’s team collaborates and often recreates how-to projects to ensure they are able to write clear descriptions.

“How-to writing is kind of an art of itself, versus pretty magazine story writing. It’s just different, and you have to be very precise because when we’re not precise, we get a lot of reader questions,” Haugo said. “So we try to think about potential questions before we receive them.”

Outside of work, Haugo is a volunteer academic adviser for Kappa Kappa Gamma at Iowa State University. With Kappa, she is also on the editorial board for The Key magazine.

Haugo’s advice for students is to put effort into yourself, make connections and learn about what other people do.

Haugo believes every experience is one that shapes you into a better person and helps you to grow and become a well-rounded employee.

“You get out what you put in, and I really feel strongly that if you are interested in a certain area you really have to put that upon yourself to develop it,” Haugo said. “No one is going to develop you, you have to develop yourself.”

Vincent Tuss’ journey to becoming an editor started with an internship

December 12, 2017 Leave a comment

by Monica Uzpen
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

International relations isn’t a traditional major for journalists, but don’t tell Vincent Tuss that.

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Vincent Tuss, night homepage producer at the Star Tribune

Vincent Tuss, night homepage producer at the Star Tribune and professional copy editor, said international relations is all about helping people connect with and understand each other, which is a big part of what journalists do.

Throughout his career, he has been doing just that.

Tuss received his bachelor’s degree from George Washington University in 1994. Afterwards, he won the Dow Jones News Fund internship, worked as a copy editor for many publications, joined ACES: the Society for Editing and finally landed a job at the Star Tribune. But he was interested in journalism far before crossing his graduation stage.

“I was thinking about doing it in high school, but the timing didn’t work out,” Tuss said.

His interest came from reading The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, his hometown papers, which Tuss said were big and vibrant with lots of personality. It would take him until his senior year in college to act on this interest and join his college paper.

After that the rest is history. Literally history.

After he graduated, the Cold War made jobs in international relations hard to get, and Tuss knew he had what it took to be a journalist, so he accepted a Dow Jones internship, which places students in internships across the country after they take a highly competitive editing test.

That internship was like a two-week boot camp. Taught by a former Marine and journalism professor, the program had Tuss taking spelling and geography tests too difficult to pass.

“The idea was not so much that you had to learn everything, but to make you realize what you didn’t know, which is a lot.”

After the internship, Tuss pursued a career in sports journalism, which he always had a passion for. He started out covering women’s soccer and eventually worked his way up to men’s basketball, but soon realized everyone wanted to do sports and that there was little room in that industry. That’s when he realized he’d be great at editing.

“The more I did it, the more I liked it, the more I thought I was good at it.”

Now, he works as a night homepage producer at the Star Tribune, using all the experience he gained from editing. The biggest challenge? Trying to fill in the gap of what can make a story and what can’t.

And of course, trying to get everyone on the same page to fill that gap.

Tuss said that it’s especially difficult at night because the discussion of what to put in and leave out of the paper already happened. But Tuss also understands the importance of working with other people and communication.

“As much as we like to put a name on a story, it’s all a cooperative effort.”

The culture of his workplace is shifting to help make communication easier. The layout of his office, which he called The Hub, has changed to make the workplace more collaborative. Small innovations like this are just the tip of the iceberg in a changing field like journalism.

To keep up with the changes, Tuss recommends that aspiring journalists stay curious. Keep learning because you don’t know where the industry will be in two years, let alone 10.

But you don’t just have to look to the future to improve your skills. Tuss said that he wished he focussed more on writing, as well as other basic skills.

“You’re a better editor if you’re a writer and you’re a better writer if you’re an editor.”

Freelance editor finds editing skills still matter after newsroom

December 12, 2017 Leave a comment

By Brandon Thomas
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Screen Shot 2017-11-29 at 4.34.06 PM

Mark Allen, a newsroom veteran of over 20 years, is a freelance copyeditor.

Since the Great Recession, newspapers have cut jobs dramatically, forcing editors like Mark Allen to find new venues for their skills.

Allen started working in journalism when he was in high school as a reporter for the student newspaper. After high school, he continued as a reporter for a small time, but found employers valued his ability to edit others.

For more than 20 years, he worked for various news organizations until cutbacks led him into freelance work.

Journalism is far from what it was 20 years ago, but Allen still misses the fast-paced atmosphere around the copy desk.

“The most fun I get as a freelance copy editor is when it’s more of a journalistic thing, like a blog for a website,” Allen said. “I can apply those skills that I used as a journalist.”

Allen said all copy editing basically has the same goal, and that is to ensure that the story makes sense and is free of grammatical errors. It is the editor’s job to make the writer sound credible.

Allen’s experience as a reporter has helped him as an editor. Often editors are focused more on the reader, while reporters focus more on composition.

“When I was a copy editor, I wasn’t really thinking about the feelings of the writer so much,” Allen said. “I care that the reader may have questions, and are we answering those questions … the intent of what has been written is the result of what’s read.”

As a freelancer, Allen has worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ohio State University, The Knight Foundation as well as the Center for Transitional Justice.

He also teaches at University of California San Diego Extension in advanced copy editing. That allows him to teach editing skills to a variety of people from all over the world.

Allen said he’s learned different  perspectives from foreign students.

“English has become the lingua franca that everybody uses in business throughout the world,” he said. “People want to be able to edit in English because there is a demand for that.”

Allen was the first freelance editor to hold a seat on the board of ACES: The Society for Editing, which is an indication of the changing state of news media.

“When I was laid off, the first thing I wanted to do was to sign up for the ACES national conference,” Allen said. “As I was launching a freelance career, I knew that would be a good resource and I wanted to be with other people in the field that were going through the same thing.”

Allen said that the biggest group of people in ACES now are freelance editors, with around a quarter of members working in actual news media.

Editing is important in a variety of fields and on a variety of platforms. With more editors looking for work, non-traditional news outlets can find former newspapereditors to provide that work. Websites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy are seeing a need to put out more refined content, and editors help enforce that.

Allen reaches out to others through his blog, which keeps up with the changes in AP style, as well as a venue for his compilations of mnemonic devices, which help people to remember common grammatical errors.

Another way that Allen stays connected to the news world is through Twitter. It started as a way to remain relevant as a copy editor and to reach a wider audience. Allen began posting editing tips, and a lot of people appreciated that he was doing that.

“So much of what’s great about Twitter is what you can learn from other people,” Allen said.

He started following people he thought were interesting, and soon it turned into something much like co-workers hanging around the copy desk of a newsroom. Soon he started following linguists and lexicographers, which has helped him learn new things and expand his craft.

“It turns into this fantastic conversation where you have your co-workers online,” Allen said. “You can talk about changes in the language and editing issues. You can talk to people that are beyond what you are used to, and still provide a service for those that are looking for it.”

The vast landscape that journalism exists in is constantly changing. How students prepare for those changes is hard to gauge. Sometimes the role a student picks up after graduation is not what the student had planned.

“One thing that I realized when I was young, was that having a journalism degree, having the ability to write … those skills are so transferable and so useful in so many situations,” Allen said. “One piece of advice is to look broadly at how those skills can be used to the jobs that are available. If you are a good editor, there is going to be a place for you.”

Project manager Jill Rogers turns her passion into a career

December 11, 2017 1 comment

By Kristen Seidl
University of Nebraska – Lincoln

Most people don’t equate market research with editing, but for Jill Rogers the two go hand-in-hand.

Rogers is the director of project management at True North Market Insights, a small market research company based near Lawrence, Kansas, where she edits documents for clients daily.

Jill Rogers, director of project management at True North Market Insights. (Courtesy of  True North Market Insights.)

Even in college, Rogers realized that she wanted a career in market research, but didn’t want anything to do with business.

“The business classes were boring me,” Rogers said in a phone interview.

Rogers came into college in 1986 as a business major. Like most students, she didn’t know what she wanted to do after graduation. She figured a business major would guarantee her some kind of job.

After her freshman year, she decided that if she was bored in her business classes, then she would be bored in her career after she graduated. She knew that she wanted more than that in life.

She had always liked advertising and marketing, and over the summers she would work as an interviewer, calling people and administering surveys. When she went back to school at the beginning of her sophomore year, she switched her major over to advertising in the journalism college.

Rogers took a marketing class that year and fell in love with the advertising part of it. She knew that the editing part was just as crucial so that the clients she worked with over the summers wouldn’t find any mistakes in her work. She graduated from the University of Kansas in 1990 with a degree in journalism and an emphasis in advertising.

A typical day in Roger’s job consists of a couple of conference calls and lots of computer work. She works with several PowerPoint and Excel documents a day, reviewing them for grammar and style errors before sending them out to the company’s clients.

“I’m living in PowerPoint and living in Excel, and really paying attention to detail so that you don’t have one thing wrong in a document or a report that’s going to be going to a client,” she said.

As it says in True North’s profile of her, it is her “job to guard the quality of the data at every stage and to ensure that results are delivered when promised.”

She talked about how she liked the variety of the projects that the company works on. There are a lot of different projects that she is working on at any given time. If there’s something that she didn’t necessarily like doing, she said, it would go away in a certain amount of time.

One of the challenges she faces is that while there is a variety in what kind of projects the company is working on, her job can be pretty monotonous. Rogers is always doing a lot of computer work. She said that doing the same thing day in and day out can get repetitive.

When asked what kind of advice she would give to someone in college looking for a job after graduation, she had a simple answer.

“Always be on the lookout for opportunities,” she said. “If you don’t want to get held up in your field, switch jobs every three to four years so that you can get those raises and promotions because staying in the same job for years on end isn’t going to get you anywhere.”

Even as a child, Jay Furst knew he wanted to be a journalist

December 11, 2017 1 comment

Sarah Ruff
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Jay Furst knew he wanted to be a journalist since he was a kid and saw newspapers all over his house.

“Journalism is a public service,” he said, “and it’s an honor to be able to report news, meet people and tell their stories and inform and entertain readers.”

Furst has been a journalist for 35 years.

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Jay Furst, executive editor of the Post Bulletin, in Minnesota

In college, he was as an English and creative writing major at Princeton University, graduating in 1979.

Now he’s the executive editor of the Post Bulletin in Rochester, Minnesota. Though Furst is an editor, he said he still hopes to one day write deathless fiction.

With  journalism, Furst said, he likes writing stories that people can relate to.

“I love to write and to bring literary qualities to my daily journalism — creative word choice and approaches to stories,” Furst said. “I write daily columns that are all about personality, voice and humor.”

Furst said his favorite type of news is long-form stories that are issue-oriented. He said he likes when the people are front and center, but the context of the story is clear. He enjoys when plenty of sights and sounds are provided to make the reader feel involved.

Furst started in journalism in high school drawing political cartoons for his hometown paper in Wahpeton, North Dakota.  His interest in politics started with political talks with his parents.

“We were a news-oriented family, three daily papers in the house, lots of politics and debate at dinner,” he said. “My parents were good readers, always talking about news and books.”

Through his career, Furst said he has won some awards. His most recent was an award for an investigative series on panhandling in Rochester and whether it was a scam. He said he believes that awards are nice, but they are not what is most important to him.

Furst said he considers his biggest accomplishments raising a family and being a journalist.

“Hopefully my kids would say I’m a good dad,” he said. “and professionally, that I’ve been able to make a living as a writer and journalist at a time of profound changes in the business.”

After all these years in the business, Furst said he has learned a lot.

His advice for future journalists:

“Journalism is a public service. If you don’t believe that, there are easier and more lucrative ways to make a living.”

 

 

Bunting emphasizes digital transformation, diversity in journalism

December 11, 2017 Leave a comment

By Kyiia Rollag
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Omaha, Nebraska, sits in the center of the United States of America.

Most couldn’t point it out on a map, but for LaSharah Bunting, the Knight Foundation director of journalism, it’s home.

Her career in journalism has taken her across the country from The Dallas Morning News to The New York Times to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami.

LaSharah

LaSharah Bunting, director of journalism of the Knight Foundation. (Photo courtesy of the Knight Foundation.)

At one time, Bunting had considered law school but decided as a journalist she could change the world.

She is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2000. She gained additional training through the Maynard Media Academy at Harvard University, Chips Quinn Scholars program and the Dow Jones News Fund editing program.

She joined the Knight Foundation, which gives money strategically and invests in journalism organizations, in 2017.

Before that, Bunting had worked at The New York Times for 14 years, guiding much of the newsroom as a senior editor.

“This opportunity at the Knight Foundation was an opportunity to help the entire industry,” Bunting said. “So, I could help just The New York Times or I could help the entire industry. It’s an amazing privilege to be in this role and do the work that I am doing.”

While at The New York Times, Bunting gathered a plethora of knowledge in digital transformation and as an assignment editor.

Bunting credits The New York Times, where she began to focus on strategic digital transformation, in preparing her for her Knight Foundation position.

Her years as an editor helped too.

As an editor, you have to see even the smallest details – a skill necessary in any job you do.

“Digital was very much my focus during my time as an assignment editor,” Bunting said. “That job requires you to have critical thinking skills. You need to be able to look around corners to anticipate things, you need to both have a high-level view of a situation and then be able to switch to sort of the nitty-gritty.”

In a digital world, for newspapers to be successful, it is crucial that editors are aware of their audience. This means paying attention to trends and likes.

Bunting said that diversity is also important in storytelling. To write interesting, vibrant stories, newsrooms need to reflect their diverse communities.

A McKinsey research study has proven that companies with diverse staffs make more money.

“It’s so crucial to the bottom line and some news organizations are starting to realize that to be able to connect with those different, diverse audiences you need diverse staff to do so,” Bunting said.

Over the past decade, Bunting has acquired a wealth of knowledge to pass down to future journalists.

Bunting recommends reading The New York Times, The New Yorker and other good writing.

Her advice to students: “Get internships. Be experienced. Whether it’s working at the Daily Nebraskan or working at the Lincoln Journal Star.

“Be curious. Always stay curious. Always be aware of what’s going on in the industry.

“Read. Read. Read. Read really great writing. Read what’s out there. Know what good writing is. Know what good reporting is. Doing and reading are the ways to get closer to where you want to be.”

 

Greg Awtry talks the business of journalism

December 11, 2017 Leave a comment

By Andrea Neill
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Greg Awtry,
Scottsbluff Star-Herald publisher

Greg Awtry’s career did not start off in journalism.

“I was in business, sales and marketing for most of my life, usually working with the media from the other side,” Awtry said.

This all changed in 2004 when he joined a newspaper as an advertising director. He then moved on to become a publisher the next year.

Awtry is the publisher of Star Herald in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. As a community newspaper publisher, he makes sure he knows what is going on around the community and informs others about it.

“Who will tell their stories, cover their city councils, high school plays, concerts and sports? Who will announce upcoming charity events, sponsor little league teams and make generous donations to the community? Who will publish and save decades of obituaries and wedding announcements?,” Awtry said.

Occasionally, he’s been involved in national news stories too. He was interviewed by CBS News to discuss the cons of the Keystone XL pipeline and why citizens in his area were affected by it.

He takes his job seriously, but knows that sometimes mistakes happen in newsrooms.  “Some embarrassing, like the time the cutline under the photo said ‘Fat man in a red shirt’, which slipped by all our copy editors,” Awtry said.

The error underscored the importance of careful editing.

Being a journalist poses challenges. At times, the newsroom produces stories the consumer doesn’t necessarily want to see. It’s hard to see journalists villainized by others.

“What most people don’t realize is that journalists are people too,” he said. “We are often accused of sensationalizing the news by reporting on tragedies just to sell newspapers. This is false. Journalists covering fatality accidents come back to the office in tears. In short, we cover a lot of stories we wish we never had to: murders, assaults, sexual predators, etc. All these stories have victims and we must be sensitive to them as well as report on the incidents.”

Though Awtry has worked in journalism for 13 years, he stills brings fresh ideas to the newsroom.

His paper has embraced the use of technology in journalism.

“Our digital audience growth and readership is growing at a rate outpacing most newspapers in the industry, and it has been for some time,” he said. “While some papers still resist the Internet, we welcome it, knowing it is our future.”

Journalists are reaching audiences on mobile platforms. And he believes that as social media grows so will the confusion on what real news is versus a  friend’s version of the news.

“Journalists today have a huge responsibility to rise above the fluff, to deliver a message with facts and purpose, and to make a difference by spreading the truth,” he said.

How can journalists make sure that their readers trust them enough to seek news over the fluff?

“Report the truth. Be relentless in seeking out and reporting the truth,” Awtry said. “Some readers may never come around, but to earn the respect and trust, we must report the truth… always.”

Coming from a business career, Awtry looks at numbers and figures of the newsroom along with the stories.

“Without profits, we cease to exist,” he said.

Being economically secure ensures that he can provide everything his staff needs to be the best journalists they can be.

“That includes hiring excellent management, provide proper training and equipment and to fight every day for their rights to access,” Awtry said.

Although he didn’t expect to wind up in journalism, Awtry wants nothing more than to be part of its future.

Editor Ryan Scarrow helps save the world one manuscript at a time

Ryan Scarrow is a social sciences editor for Nature Plants & Sustainability Journal.

By Molli Miller
University of Nebraska-Lincoln 

Ryan Scarrow, a social sciences editor for Nature Plants & Sustainability Journal, does more than just edit.

Scarrow helps build a bridge between natural and human sciences research to help the Earth and keep it sustainable.

“This is how we are going to get through the environmental issues that we face: having a group of people that can communicate between the hard sciences and the rest of society,” Scarrow said.

Based in London, Scarrow is the only sociologist working at the research journal. He reads seven to nine manuscripts a week on research about environmental topics from different scientists, professors or researchers. After assessing these manuscripts he makes “desk judgments” where he decides if it is something to further review or if he will reject it.

“Anything that has to do with society at large in regards to plants or sustainability comes to me,” Scarrow said. “I was hired specifically to bring social science content into journals that have never featured it before. Nature journals don’t know how to handle sociology, anthropology, social psychology or economics.”

Next, Scarrow has to find professional reviewers or researchers in that field and send manuscripts to them, hoping they will take time out of their busy schedules to review it. He normally gets reviews back after three weeks. Then, the journal decides if the research is publishable or if it needs additional revisions.

If a manuscript gets published it sends a signal to the rest of science saying this is what Nature Plants & Sustainability considers to be important and stimulates the field to go in that direction.

Scarrow always had an interest in the environment, but his interest in journalism began in high school.

In fact his high school in Humboldt, Kansas, has the best journalism department in the state.

Scarrow’s favorite journalism teacher helped guide his way into the student newspaper, the yearbook, photography and online journalism. By his junior year he was chief editor of the school newspaper, and senior year his high school newspaper got inducted to the national hall of fame.

From there he pursued his journalism degree at the University of Kansas where he was involved in the student newspaper as a columnist and editorial writer. He also attended a publishing course at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Because he is deeply interested in the environment, organic agriculture, and sustainability, Scarrow received his Ph.D. in environmental sociology at Ohio State. He even taught globalization and society as well as technology and society courses there for seven years.

“I brought journalistic skepticism with me,” Scarrow said, and told his students: “I don’t expect you to agree with me, but I want you to be able to view this issue from a different perspective. Most of my students were in engineering school and weren’t being told this, they were being told how to do something, but I was the guy saying ‘yes but should you?’”

Scarrow found teaching these courses to be incredibly fascinating and hopes to go back to teaching someday.

“My students enjoyed the classes immensely because we discussed news, climate change, different technological achievements and whether or not they are actually good for society as we’re led to believe by tech people and media,” Scarrow said.

Scarrow enjoys his job at Nature Plants & Sustainability because it ties together the different threads of experience in his life of journalism, publishing and academic research.

Scarrow’s favorite part of his job is traveling.

“I get to travel so much more than I ever imagined,” he said. “I’ve visited Portland, Oregon, Athens,m Greece, lived in New York, now I live in London! I’m a boy from Kansas, that’s nuts to me.”

Scarrow is looking forward to visiting conferences in Capetown, Belgium, Beijing and Los Angeles with Nature Plants & Sustainability this year as well.

Another favorite aspect of his job is being exposed to research from around the world.

“It’s gratifying being able to see what the cutting edge research is in these fields and knowing you have a role in shaping what future research is going to be,” Scarrow said.

His job has many challenging factors too.

Scarrow is the first and only editor working with both human and natural sciences at Nature Plants & Sustainability. Being hired to do something no one else in the company has done before has been a continuous learning process for him and his supervisors.

Another challenge is figuring out how to get more research sent to the Nature Journal.

One way Scarrow does this is by networking and meeting people from around the world while traveling and asking them to send him their research.

A third significant challenge is getting researchers to take the time to review manuscripts for Nature Plants & Sustainability.

“Biologists and other scientists work in labs and have grants to do their research, the costs of time spent on writing and rewriting manuscripts and going to conferences is included in these grants,” Scarrow said. “Sociologists don’t have this luxury however; they must use their own time to review manuscripts.”

Scarrow had to explain to his supervisors that this amenity doesn’t really exist in sociology, anthropology, economics and psychology.

“No one is getting grants to do environmental sociology research,” Scarrow said. “They’re taking time out of their day to do this; they don’t have grad students they can pawn off to do this for them. It’s a matter of giving their time, which environmental journals expect researchers to do.”

Scarrow’s greatest challenge is perhaps the most rewarding one as well.

“This is a really big challenge — trying to convince a for-profit company that the work you’re doing is worthwhile, and that they should keep giving you the resources to do it,” Scarrow said. “But if some great collaboration can come out of it, if for example a biologist and sociologist can come together and realize how to take their research and make it more accessible, it can actually change the world in a concrete way.”

Scarrow offered some valuable advice for students looking into the field of environmental journalism.

“There’s a difference between the craft of writing and the substance of how to write well,” Scarrow said. “You can learn how to craft a good message, but to actually have some good weight behind it you have to build up a store of knowledge or context.”

Scarrow suggested supplementing a journalism degree with reading as much as possible about environmental issues.

“In order to really do a job well in a field like this, you need to have not just the knowledge of environment issues, you have to be able to place into context,” Scarrow said.

Reading, researching and keeping up with environmental news is essential to get into the career field.

“Being able to put your knowledge into context and speak to a potential employer about what you know will be a game changer,” Scarrow said. “Read as much as you can outside of what you do on a normal daily basis, that knowledge can only help you and will set you apart.”