By Quinlan Gaillard
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Charlie Stephan is an associate creative director at Swanson-Russell. He started his post-graduate life at Swanson-Russell and has grown into multiple roles in the past 10 years. However, he didn’t always know he wanted to work in advertising.
Stephan began college at Texas Christian University as a news journalism major, but quickly realized he could not see himself chasing down interviews and working the crazy hours it required. His next major was secondary education with a focus in social studies, but the classes didn’t feel worth the major. Third time’s the charm though, and Stephan graduated with a degree in advertising. He still was able to write and be creative but also have the low-key lifestyle he had wanted.
In college, Stephan was involved in a fraternity and with new student enrollment. Although TCU’s advertising program didn’t push students to connect with outside resources at the time, Stephan had an internship with a public relations agency in Dallas for a short period. He also worked a few smaller jobs like sports promotion for a local basketball team among other things.
After graduation, Stephan moved back home to Nebraska and found a short term position at Swanson-Russell. He worked as an associate writer-producer under Brian Boesche, now the chief creative officer and one of the owners of Swanson-Russell, who was moving into a management role at the time and need someone to write his day- to-day copy. That’s what Stephan did at the start of his 6-month contract. Throughout those months, Stephan began acquiring more roles. He took over for a writer who left and earned a few accounts. Now he’s an associate creative director who oversees writers and artists. In June, he’ll mark 10 years at Swanson-Russell.
Stephan’s average day involves working with designers, art directors and artists. “When we work on something here it’s not an assembly line,” Stephan said. “It’s not like I write the copy, hand off, the designer designs it, hand off, the client reads it. Everything has a ton of back and forth.”
Everyone’s work affects everyone else, so employees often work together. “So, a lot of it is those quick, 5-minute conversations.” Stephan said. He does spend time sitting at his desk in his office writing but prefers to see how the copy will fit into what he’s working on during the writing process instead of spending his time analyzing every word choice.
For instance, Stephan said, “I’ll write a radio script and read it out loud in here to myself.” That way, he can fix anything awkward sounding through trial and error.
Another part of Stephan’s role at Swanson-Russell is as a broadcast producer. So he not only writes the scripts for broadcast but also finds the right talent, film crews, production companies, and the like to shoot or record what he needs. Overall he spends around 30 percent of his time with production and the other 70 percent writing.
An unexpected part of Stephan’s job is explaining everything he does to his clients. “Everything we do is really subjective. I can’t tell Runza that ‘aw snack’ is a line that tests really well.” Stephan said, “It’s like, here’s our goal. Here’s why we think it accomplishes that goal.”
For Stephan, editing is more stylistic than substantive. He has to meet time or space requirements to meet a designer’s and client’s needs. Also, he has to make sure he’s using that space or time to focus in on what the client wants to be talking about. Editing means balancing the fun fluff with the message that needs delivering. This could be in a television script, a tweet, or anything in between.
“Most of the editing comes in just to get in everything that the client wants to talk about, but trying to do it in a way that design and layout doesn’t hurt,” Stephan said.
Something Stephan really enjoys about his role as an associate creative director is having to think through why he is doing what he’s doing.
“That’s a big part of the appeal for me is I’m not just what people think. That the creative part of an ad agency just sits around coming up with fun stuff all day,” Stephan said “It’s kind of true; we do some of that stuff. But a lot of it is a company comes to an ad agency because they have a problem.”
The first part of solving a client’s problem is defining it and the second part is figuring out how to fix it, which is where Stephan’s role comes in. Writing something cool or funny loses its luster, but getting to explain to a client why and how he’s going to solve their problem is what he likes most.
One of the harder parts of working in the creative part of an advertising agency is people being attached to their work. Clients can veto an idea with the sole reason of not liking it. Or creatives may not like something even though it’s right for the client.
“You have to divorce yourself from what you think is cool or interesting or funny. What matters is what works. What matters is what your target audience is going to respond to.” Stephan said. This can also happen with a client. If they have a product launch they’ve been working on for years, but it’s not going to solve their problem, it doesn’t matter how much work has gone into it. What matters is the best way to reach their goal or solve their problem.
Stephan’s advice for students is to get into the building you want to work in. Do whatever it takes – whether it’s an internship or delivering mail.
When he was in college, he worked summers at his dad’s law office. This gave Stephan information about how the office and industry work — valuable information if Stephan wanted to be a lawyer. Even if your job doesn’t involve what you want to do, it’s useful. “It’s not like you’re going to be practicing your craft, but you need to learn how the place works in order to be able to figure out how to contribute to it,” Stephan said.
It will also give you an idea of the type of people in the area you’re interested in. You can find out you wouldn’t get along with people in that area before you spend years working toward getting a job in that field.
“You’ve got to get in there and it’s like learning a foreign language,” he said. “You can go to Spanish class or you can go to Spain. If you go to Spain for a semester you’ll learn the language and if you go to Spanish class for four years you’ll kind of have an idea.”
By Nate Smith
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Jann Nyffeler has tried it all.
She has been a part of many news teams, hosts a jazz radio show and is a knowledgeable record enthusiast at Rochester, New York’s Bop Shop Records.
She gained her work ethic from her first job detasseling corn in the summer in her native Nebraska, Nyffeler said in a telephone interview.
“You are up early and out in the sun all day. It’s hot and it’s hard work, but detasseling taught me how to work hard and push myself,” Nyffeler said. “Those are important traits to have in any job, especially in the editing world.”
Growing up, Nyffeler had no idea that she wanted to be an editor. She was a part of her high school news publication where she gained editing skills and reporting experience. She didn’t think she was as strong of a reporter as her peers, but she discovered she had a knack for editing and working with others to get the best material out of them.
After graduating from The University of Nebraska- Lincoln with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and news- editorial, Nyffeler started working for The Sentinel, a paper based in Raleigh, North Carolina. There, she learned what it was like to work with different people in a team environment to meet deadlines.
Nyffeler stressed how important it is to try different roles when the opportunity arises.
“I remember when someone couldn’t be at work one day, and The Sentinel needed someone to cover a classical music performance,” she said. “I didn’t have any experience doing that sort of thing, didn’t know what I was doing, but I said that I would give it a shot and ended up really liking it. Don’t be afraid to try new things.”
After eight years at The Sentinel, Nyffeler became part of several other news teams. She was a page designer and copy editing team leader for The Wichita Eagle in Kansas, worked as a copy editor at The Dallas Morning News and became copy desk chief for the Democrat and Chronicle, a paper in Rochester.
She’s also used her editing skills outside of traditional print media. She was editor and communications coordinator for George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, and was the page production team leader at the Syracuse Post-Standard in central New York.
Now she combines her editing skills with her passion for people and a love for music. She manages all of the social media platforms for Bop Shop Records, an independently owned record store in Rochester that specializes in blues, jazz and American roots music.
“I am a little afraid of Twitter,” she said. “It is a really powerful tool, but you only get 140 characters to work with so your message has to be effective. I am experimenting with different ways to promote the record store.
When we get a new collection in or we are having a sale, I come up with different ideas to get the word out.”
Nyffeler’s musical interest extends to her morning jazz radio show on WGMC Jazz 90.1
“I play the coolest jazz I can find, along with some off-the-beaten-path, wacky stuff keep you guessin’.”
Nyffeler urges anyone who has an interest in getting involved in music journalism to apply to work at their school or local paper to gain experience, go to live shows and befriend musicians.
“Just write, go to shows and just try and write,” she said. “Start a blog. It’s a great way to practice. You will have something to show someone that you can write. Become friends with musicians. You can learn a lot about music and will become a better writer listening to what musicians have to say.”
By Lizzie Mensinger
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Although Heather Lundine has a doctorate degree in English, her love of editing actually began with food and travel.
As an intern at the University of Nebraska Press, she edited a variety of material. But food and travel pieces were always interesting to her. “Those are still my favorite,” Lundine said, “just because they are fun and exciting.”
Now as a developmental editor at Randolph Lundine, a manuscript consulting firm, and an acquiring editor at the West Virginia University Press, she edits a wide range of literature from scholarly articles to fiction.
Lundine has lived in Kansas City, Lake Tahoe and Phoenix, but she moved to Nebraska to work on her doctorate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Lundine’s internship at the University of Nebraska Press eventually grew into a full-time position.
Now as an acquiring editor for West Virginia University Press, Lundine has the freedom to create the types of books and literary works that she wants to edit. She currently is working on creating a list of books for the university to publish. She reads articles and reaches out to authors to see if they are interested in writing a book or creating a textbook based on their articles.
If authors agree to write for the West Virginia, Lundine works with them to create their work. She also edits and reworks each piece before it is sent to press.
“It’s about making a deal, designing the types of books that you think are best for the company (West Virginia University) to publish and what is going to be the most interesting, thinking how does one thing fit with another,” she said. “Does a scholarly article translate well into a full book?”
Lundine also plays an active editing role at Randolph Lundine, a manuscript consulting company that she co-owns with Ladette Randolph, editor-in-chief of the journal, Ploughshares, and author of several books. At Randolph Lundine, Lundine works as a developmental editor, a role she describes as “a second set of eyes before the manuscript is sent to a publisher.”
A typical day for Lundine involves going over manuscripts and sifting through masses of emails and articles with the hopes of finding a new project to propose. Lundine said that the best part of her job is when “you are invested in a book or a scholarly work from conception to publishing. And it gets even better if the book goes on to win awards. It definitely gives me a great sense of pride.”
The people who work with Lundine feel the same pride about working with her. Judy Muller, author of “Emus Loose in Egnar: Big Stories from Small Towns,” had this to say about working with Lundine: “After Heather read my first draft, she was encouraging and blunt at the same time… The book that eventually went out to readers was vastly improved because of her editing skills. The excellent reviews that followed, from the Wall Street Journal to National Public Radio, would not have been possible without Heather Lundine’s expert guidance.”
As a manuscript consultant, Lundine says the most common error she finds while editing is that people tend to embellish their words too much. She calls it “purple prose.”
“People often get lost in their own narrative,” she said. “You find that people forget what they learned about writing when they were young, you forget narrative arc, and paragraph structure gets sloppy.”
As for her best advice to writers, she said: “Use clear, good words. Use the narrative arc, and make sure you know your audience.”
Lundine also posts writing prompts on her website regularly to help her authors grow their skills and to attract new writers.
As developing and acquiring editor, Lundine’s career has been fruitful. Her editing skills have taken her from an internship to owning her own business. Lundine has a lot on her
“The literary community is wonderful, fast-paced and being a part of it, you are constantly learning,” she said. “Knowing that you may have made a book a little better gives you a great sense of joy and pride.”
By Ryan Nielson
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
George Lauby decided to quit farming in the late ’90s to start working for his local newspaper.
Lauby got his start because he felt that a story by his local paper in Lexington, Nebraska, wasn’t properly covered.
“Like most people, I love to criticize a newspaper’s work,” Lauby said.
After he talked to employees at the paper about the story, he ultimately was offered a job there. He sold his farm and eventually became the editor for that paper.
Later he started to work at the North Platte Telegraph. While working there, the paper was sold and Lauby decided to leave. That was when he created the The North Platte Bulletin in 2011.
Lauby believes locally owned newspapers are needed in small-town Nebraska. He created The North Platte Bulletin so there could be a local voice in North Platte instead of a corporate one.
The North Platte Bulletin has both a website and print editions. Online has important information but not as many features as the print edition. Because the online edition is free, if everything was on the website no one would buy the print edition. That’s why some features are reserved for print.
He employs some reporters, but he still has to do a lot of work himself.
With a limited staff, Lauby handles all of the editing and business side of the paper. “I take out the trash. I work in the business office. I design ads sometimes, and I write, I edit, I take photographs,” Lauby said.
Lauby said success requires juggling many things. His advice: Stay calm and focused. Concentrate on the future instead of past mistakes.
By Natasha Rausch
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Heather Burns found a career in talking people off of ledges.
As a deputy editor at ESPN and one of the few women in sports editing, Burns uses her level-headedness to calm her reporters at the sight of trouble.
“I think I can be a bit more of a peacekeeper because I don’t lose my head over things,” Burns said. “Whereas a lot of guy sports editors just get pissed and start stomping around, and that doesn’t help anything.”
Although Burns has used her calm attitude to her advantage, being a woman in the industry has come with its challenges.
As a college reporter, she ignored the 50-year-old coaches who thought a girl couldn’t learn the ins and outs of sports.
As a young journalist trying to break into the business in 1992, she ignored the Reno Gazette-Journal editor who asked why a female would want to be a sports reporter.
Now, as an editor at ESPN, she ignored the McDonald’s worker who questioned her choice in jersey because she was a woman.
“They believed that because I was a woman I knew nothing about sports, and that still happens sometimes today,” Burns said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or a man; it just matters if you know your stuff.”
Burns has been learning her stuff since she was 3 years old, when Saturdays and Sundays were nothing but days to watch football with her dad.
It was then that she fell in love with sports and most of all, the National Football League (NFL).
“I just think that sports were the first reality TV,” Burns said. “Sports do something for people that nothing else does. They take you away from your life, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Burns, a graduate of the University of Iowa, started her career as a stringer, taking phone calls at the Iowa City Press Citizen for the sports desk.
That turned into covering actual games, like track and swimming. Those were four-hour events she didn’t particularly enjoy.
But football? She loved football.
Burns became the women’s beat reporter for the Press Citizen for a year, making $5.25 an hour.
“I decided I was starting to be too good of friends with all the people I was covering,” she said. “It started to be a conflict of interest, so I left.”
She moved to Minneapolis where she worked at Dominos for eight months and applied for journalism jobs here and there.
Nothing panned out, and her parents were starting to wonder if she’d ever put her college degree to good use.
She finally broke into the business for the first time out of college as a sports reporter for the Reno-Gazette Journal in Reno, Nev. During that time, she did some reporting for USA Today as well. Then, she went to the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota and after that to the Port Huron Times-Herald in Michigan for a total of almost four years.
“You go bigger and bigger, until you get where you want to be,” she said.
From Port Huron, Mich., she went to The Detroit News, where she would dabble in editing for the first time.
After working her way around The Detroit News as a copy editor, she applied for an assistant sports editor position.
“They were like, ‘Well you’ve really shown the ability to lead. You have a good demeanor, so I think you’d be a good editor,’” Burns said.
Burns had been a reporter for 15 years. She figured she could always go back to reporting if editing wasn’t her thing.
Burns said it turned out that she is better at being a manager than being a writer.
“To be a really, really good writer you have to be plugged in and have great sources or just be predisposed to be a good writer. Not everyone has that talent,” she said. “I think my talent is with managing people and keeping everyone from jumping off ledges.”
In January 2008, Burns was offered a position at ESPN. She almost didn’t take it because of the tight niche she found at The Detroit News, but her girlfriend convinced her to take the job.
“Props to her for saying, ‘Take the stupid job, ya idiot,’” Burns said.
Now, instead of sitting at home and watching football with her dad, Burns is paid to watch 10 to 12 hours of NFL every Sunday during the season.
“Yeah, it’s a long day,” she said, “but it’s football.”
Watching football for an entire day is hardly a challenge to Burns. The hard part is keeping up with the 24/7 news cycle and the constant digital content.
“You have to react to anything at any time of the day,” she said. “If you have to wake up in the middle of the night to cover something, you do it. It’s just the nature of the beast, and it sucks.”
Burns said it’s important to maintain a presence on social media in the digital age. Besides using her Twitter account to promote her favorite teams—the Tigers and the Cowboys—she uses it to promote her own writers.
“I usually just use Twitter as a way to send out news or analysis for ESPN,” Burns said.
In the 25 years she has been a reporter and editor, Burns said media have changed a lot. They have moved to digital, and women have become more prominent in the sports newsroom.
But the only thing that hasn’t changed is her love for football.
“If you can do a job everyday where you’re having fun, then that’s the way to go.”
By Reid Kilmer
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Cameron Carlow is a copy editor for The Omaha World-Herald sports department. As you read the World-Herald sipping your cup of joe, you might not realize all the work that went into making those words clear and accurate. In addition to the reporters and writers are the editors who check for grammar errors and factual mistakes. They also work to catch the eye – and attention – of readers.
Carlow said he is a huge sports fan and loves the fact that as a sports copy editor he gets to read a variety of sports stories every day. Some of the cons about his job are the long, strange hours. He works the night shift, which hurts his social life, and he said he is under constant stress because of deadline pressure.
A grammatical mistake that he said he catches all the time is the misuse of hyphens. Pregame, postgame and nonconference are the three words that constantly get hyphens inserted when they don’t need to. Carlow said he also receives many calls from mothers who complain about their child’s name being misspelled or want their son/daughter to be on the front page.
It wasn’t an easy pathway for Carlow. His career started slowly when he transferred to the University of Nebraska-Omaha after the college he was attending dropped its journalism program. Once he moved back to the metro area, he worked at a gas station where he ran into a Creighton sports writer several times. Through this contact, he made a connection within the Omaha World-Herald and was hired to answer phones on Friday nights while attending college. Two years later, the World-Herald hired him after graduation.
His advice is to get into news outlets early, do the grunt work and never ask for days or weekends off. Carlow’s favorite sport to cover is football. He said there’s never a typical day at his job. Many of his hours are spent editing stories and writing what he hopes are clever headlines. Other days he spends organizing sections of the paper and helps with the online version when he has free time. Not only does he edit, but he also writes his own fantasy football weekly column for the Sunday edition.
Copy editing and sports make up Carlow’s life. He said he enjoys going to work every day and understands his job isn’t for everyone. He wants eager copy editors to know he is more than willing to help get them into the business. You can follow him on Twitter @ccarlow.