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Publisher and editor-in-chief says diverse skills help reporters

December 11, 2016 1 comment
Darran Fowler

Darran Fowler is the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Hastings Tribune.

By Collin Spilinek
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Instead of attending college after his high school graduation, Darran Fowler spent three years working odd jobs at grain elevators and construction sites.

He eventually decided to become a journalist and enrolled in the College of Journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1987.

“That was always my dream,” Fowler said in a phone interview.

Since 2010, Fowler has been the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Hastings Tribune, serving Hastings, Nebraska. He’s worked at the publication since 1995.

The career should have been an obvious choice for Fowler, who spent his childhood at the Tribune. His father worked in the printing department for 40 years, operating the press.

“So, I worked part time at the sports department when I was in high school,” Fowler said. “I caught papers off the press and worked in the production circulation area part time.”

Fowler said that later in high school, some of his classmates were having difficulty in deciding what they wanted to do with their lives.

“I’m unique in that I knew what I wanted to do,” he said. “I wanted to work in a newspaper.”

After graduating from UNL in 1991, Fowler joined the staff of the Plainview News, a weekly newspaper based out of Plainview, Nebraska. It was here that Fowler said he got his first real training in the newspaper business.

“I was a jack of all trades,” Fowler said. “I wrote the stories, whether it was news or sports, I laid out the pages, I attended all the school board meetings, Chamber of Commerce meetings, sold advertising, took the pictures, did all of the negatives, all that stuff.”

Fowler stayed at the publication until 1995, when he returned to the Hastings Tribune to work as a regional editor. After taking the positions of city editor and managing editor, Fowler replaced Don Seaton as publisher, who had held the title since 1974.

An early riser, Fowler usually unlocks the building in the morning and locks it back up at night.

“When I come here, that’s when I plan and prepare for that day’s newspaper,” he said. “And I have a pretty good idea before I even get there what’s going to be in the paper, but then I go through and I check out as far as whether there’s been any developments locally or anything like that.”

Fowler also works on preparing the paper’s newsletter, which is sent out in email blasts. He also reads through the copy and lays out three pages of the paper, including the opinion page.

“And then it’s just making sure that, through the team of people here, that we’re putting things on the app, we’re getting things on the website,” Fowler said. “In a lot of cases, I’m doing that particularly during the odd hours in the evenings or weekends.”

Although he noted the cyclical routine schedule of the paper and the high amount of stress, Fowler said he loves getting to work with other people who share his passion for journalism.

“And no one’s getting rich at it, but it’s in our blood, and this is what we enjoy doing,” he said. “It’s just hard to explain, but I enjoy coming here to work. I find that fun.”

One of the more difficult aspects of Fowler’s position is talking to people in the community about what the paper is to them.

“There may be some perception out there that we’re dinosaurs and we’re dying,” Fowler said. “And I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. We’re actually, more or less, growing.”

In 2011, the paper had a circulation of 9,356 for Hastings, which had a population of 24,907 in 2010, and the surrounding area. Fowler said the internet has allowed the audience to expand rapidly in the past 15 years.

“We are reaching a bigger audience than we were 10 or 15 years ago,” Fowler said. “While they may not always be reading the newspaper, they’re reading it in some fashion, whether it be on their laptop, their desktop, their smartphone or the actual printed copy.”

The paper has tried to use the internet for its advantage for years. In the summer of 2016, Fowler and other members of the paper worked on a phone application for the newspaper. The app is available for both iOS and Android.

“We’re still kicking the tires around on that thing, and we got to do better at it, there’s no doubt about it,” Fowler said.

With different platforms of news available to the public, Fowler said the paper has to work together to decide which information is published online  and what information is put into print. The relationship between print and online almost causes a mini-rivalry within the paper.

“Basically what my approach is, is the website and the newspaper don’t compete against each other, they complement each other,” Fowler said. “A lot of [the decision is] just being smart and what your instincts are.”

The internet has provided small newspapers the ability to break a story and give important or critical information to the public at any time of the day.

But with the rise of fake news on social media outlets such as Facebook, Fowler said he wanted the paper’s online presence to reflect the trust gained from the print version. Having a dedicated team of reporters do all the work themselves is one way to gain this trust.

“I guess that speaks volumes about the credibility of newspapers and their websites,” Fowler said. “We still practice the basic fundamentals of good journalism through solid writing and solid editing.”

Fowler also said it’s critical for newspapers, especially smaller ones, to hire people with a variety of skills, including photography, writing for different sections, editing and layout and being able to work with technology.

“That’s how it’s really changed, and as far as I’m concerned, at an operation like ours, a small daily newspaper, those people that have that kind of a skill set are very valuable,” Fowler said.

When it comes to editing skills, Fowler said it takes years of practice, but the more you read and write, the better you’ll be at editing. He also suggested reading stories over in the eyes of the average reader.

“If I have to go back and read a sentence or paragraph a second time, one, I either got distracted, which often times [may] be the case, or there’s something wrong with it that I had to go read it again to understand it,” Fowler said. “At that point, I’m the reader, and so I don’t want the reader to have the same experience.”

The Hastings Tribune has a role to serve in the community, and Fowler believes having these skills will help fill that role.

“And there’s no replacing just good, solid journalism,” Fowler said. “We’re not The New York Times or The Washington Post, but we cover things in Hastings and our surrounding area just as aggressively as they cover the national news.”

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Editing an outdoor magazine means spending time indoors

May 1, 2013 Leave a comment

By Gene Curl
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

editor2Contrary to popular belief, working for an outdoor publication does not mean that you get to spend all of your time outside hunting, fishing, camping or boating.

In fact, being the editor at NEBRASKAland magazine does not even get you an office with a window, Doug Carroll, the current editor, is quick to point out.

Carroll was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, while his father was stationed there in the Air Force. But Carroll spent most of his life in Nebraska. He is an alumnus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he studied journalism and wildlife management. While studying at UNL, Carroll also was active in the wildlife club. After college, Carroll went to work for the Norfolk Daily, in Norfolk, Neb.

After a year and a half, Carroll moved to Hastings, Neb., where he worked for the Tribune as a photojournalist and was occasionally given the opportunity to write an  outdoor column.

Growing up in Nebraska, Carroll always liked the NEBRASKAland magazine and dreamed of working for it or another publication like it. He never thought that he would have the opportunity because jobs like that have a low turnover.When an opening occurred, he applied.

Carroll has been with the magazine since 2001, when he was hired as the associate editor. In 2005, he was named editor.

The job isn’t exactly what he imagined it would be. Initially, Carroll thought being the editor would give him more time to work on his own stories and photography, but he quickly realized  he had a lot less time to spend on his own work because he spent more time editing others and attending meetings.

Time management is the hardest part of being an editor of an outdoor publication, he said.

The most rewarding part of his job is being able to stay active in hunting and fishing. Having the opportunity to inform people about  outdoor opportunities in Nebraska is another of the rewarding aspects of his  job, Carroll said. He thinks it is important for people to  know that there is more to Nebraska than  cornfields and an interstate.

Carroll’s advice for aspiring journalists is to be well-rounded.

“I don’t care if you are working for an outdoor publication like ours or a medical journal, or a regular newspaper, or whatever it is,” Carroll said. “It’s imperative to know quite a bit about what you’r3 getting into or you’re going to look foolish sooner or later [by] not understanding the subject matter. You can be a great editor, but if you are not sure what the subject matter is about or what is supposed to be said you can make some bad mistakes.”

Hastings editor says curiosity is key to good journalism

By Daniel Buhrman
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

When Andy Raun was young, his favorite subjects in school were English, history and political science. But his real passion was newspapers.

Courtesy of the Hastings Tribune

Courtesy of the Hastings Tribune

“I grew up on the Hastings Tribune and Omaha World-Herald,” Raun said in a recent interview. He turned his passion into a career as the regional and farm news editor for the Hastings Tribune.

After graduating from high school in Minden, Neb.,  in 1989, he went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he realized he could major in journalism.

Raun joined the student newspaper, The Daily Nebraskan, early in his career as a journalism student.  Student publications are important and can offer experience to young journalists, he said.

Between his junior and senior year of college, Raun got his first summer internship at the Tribune.  “It was a pretty comprehensive experience to the extent that two and a half months can give you,” Raun said.

During that summer, Raun helped cover the city beat and reported on many happenings around the city.  He worked hard to prove he was good at being a journalist.

He expected to take another internship after his senior year, but it turned out he didn’t need one.

“I got a call from the Tribune, and they invited me out to work for them after I graduated,” Raun said.

Raun was hired as the city beat reporter after the former city reporter was promoted.

Raun spent the next four years on the city beat before being promoted to an editing job in January of 1998.  “With how we are here, editor is the logical job progression after reporter,” he said.

Now in his 15th year as the regional and farm news editor, Raun still does some of his own writing and reporting.  “It wasn’t like I got out of writing,” he said.  “I wouldn’t have wanted to do that.”

Raun said everyone at the Tribune does a fair share of reporting, and that can help keep people sharp.

The Web, he said, has complicated journalism.  “We have to reorder our thinking with the website, Facebook and Twitter,” he said.

The 24-hour news cycle is challenging.  The Tribune has not hired any extra journalists to work on Internet activities, so the burden is shared by everyone .  “We have to reorder priorities in a sustainable way,” Raun said.

The Tribune has its own website, with a free version of the day’s top news, and a PDF version people can subscribe to of that day’s newspaper put onto the Web as it appears in print.

Raun said the best advice he can give to new reporters or editors is that they must have an “innate curiosity about the world around them.”  He said anyone can always learn how to write better or use technology better, but it’s impossible to teach someone to be curious.

“The thing that gets new journalists in trouble is when they say things don’t interest them,” Raun said.

Accuracy and fairness are traditional values that are still essential for journalists, Raun said. Technology cannot change that.

“There’s a special kind of reward for being able to put something together as a story that can help benefit people and the community,” Raun said.

Hastings editor offers a peek at hidden side of journalism

December 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Managing Editor Amy Palser of the Hastings Tribune

By Chloe Gibson
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Not many people see the editing side of newspapers. Unlike a reporter or photographer’s role, editing is hidden.

But Amy Palser, the managing editor of the Hastings Tribune said editing is her favorite part of journalism.

Palser, who is from Denver, graduated from Hastings College in Hastings, Neb., with a bachelor’s degree in print journalism.  Originally a broadcast major, an editing career was not on her radar.

“After I started doing broadcast at Hastings College, I thought, ‘Wow this is really boring,’ so my mom suggested I write for newspapers,” Palser said in a phone interview.

 After an internship at the Hastings Tribune between her junior and senior year, she was hooked.

“They offered me a full-time job before I even graduated,” Palser said.  “I was very content working as a reporter for about three years but when a job as news director opened up, I applied.”

Palser took the job and began her journey in the behind-the-scenes part of newspapers.

Palser said that being the news director was a big change for her, but experience had helped her succeed.  “I had a solid three years of writing behind me.  I knew style and I knew what stories should have,” Palser said.  “These are things that all journalism majors need to know.”

In 2005, Palser and her husband had their first child.  Palser decided that being a mother was her first priority and left the newspaper.  She stayed away from newspapers for the next six years.  Palser had a second child and said she didn’t know if she would ever return to the Hastings Tribune.  Then, in the summer of 2011, the managing editor retired and Palser decided to apply.  She got the job.

“The whole time away from newspaper I honestly didn’t miss it, but when this position opened up my husband actually suggested it to me,” Palser said.  She was pregnant at the time but, “Hastings Tribune let me come back for two months and then I had my son who is 8 weeks now.  Then, I stayed at home for six weeks.  I’ve really enjoyed coming back because this is what I really want to do.  It’s fun to work with people who like the news.”

Now that Palser is settling in to her role as managing editor she said things have changed significantly since her previous stint in a newsroom.  With the development of social media, Palser said it is important to keep up with how people choose to get their news.

“We do tweet, have a Facebook and obviously a website that we constantly update,” Palser said.  “We feel like this is what you have to do to keep newspapers going.  There has been so much talk about newspapers dying out.  We do not think that.  We just think newspapers need to get on board with social media.  Things like Twitter and Facebook have just allowed us to remain in closer, better contact with our readers,” she said.

Communication with readers is key for young journalism students to understand, Palser said.

Journalists must have “knowledge of AP Style and a critical eye and critical mind,” she said.  “They need to know when a story doesn’t make sense and when a story is incomplete.  They need to be decent writers so they can change writing if need be.”

Palser also said that being a leader in the newsroom helps put a person on the fast track to becoming an editor.

“I would say write like crazy and report like crazy and read newspapers, read great newspapers that have good stories to read,” Palser said.  “Also just having readership skills because as an editor you need to be able to explain why something needs to be re-done.  If you’re not a leader, I think you would be a poor editor,” she said.

To be successful, newspapers have to keep changing.

“I think if journalists don’t step up and embrace the other mediums, then the papers will die out, but I think papers can thrive if they do embrace the different mediums,” Palser said.  “There is depth in reporting that you can’t get from TV or radio and if papers keep doing that well, they will keep their readership up because they’re offering a product you cannot get anywhere else.”

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