Interview with a Newspaper Editor

in Jobs in Writing, Salaried Jobs, Sports Related Jobs

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What do you do for a living?

I’m the editor of a daily paper in a southern state, having a circulation of about 6,000. We publish every day but Monday.

How would you describe what you do?

I oversee a newsroom of six; it s a small-town community newspaper, so in addition to being in charge of the daily newspaper, I do a little bit of everything. In fact, I’m one of the six. We have a news editor, a sports editor who is a one-man sports department, a lead reporter, and two hybrid positions – one does reporting three days a week and works the news desk two days a week, and one who does sports reporting three days a week and news reporting two days a week. I also edit all the news stories for style and for mistakes. We still make mistakes. But we just make a correction and go on from there. I tell my reporters to do everything in their power to keep a mistake from happening, but if they are doing everything they can and are giving 110 percent, then I’m not going to eat their lunch.

What does your work entail?

My job is administrative, in that I oversee payroll and HR issues, but I also work alongside my reporters as an active member of the team. I do what ever needs to be done. Sports, is a large part of it right now, because school is in session, and we have six high schools in our town, and one Division II University. And there is also a lot of Junior High stuff going on right now. But it is my job to make sure that everything works smoothly, and that the news is adequately covered, and that the newspaper contains the important news in our town, every day. We have no interaction with the advertising part of the business in the newsroom. There are times when the ad people will come by and ask us to do something like covering a ribbon cutting, and I always tell them no.

What’s a typical workweek like?

There’s no such thing as a typical workweek. You never know what kind of day you are going to have until you get to work and see what phone messages you have, and what is going on in town. And there is a lot of administrative work – payroll, HR issues.

Some careers, it may take years to see the results of your labor. But mine is there daily, waiting for me in my driveway every morning.

I typically get to work about 8 a.m. and work sometimes as late as midnight. Two of my reporters are on a salary, meaning they can work more than 40 hours without being paid overtime, but the rest of my staff is paid hourly, so the burden falls on me or one of my other editors if extra work is needed. We are all supposed to work five days with two days off, but that often doesn’t happen, or when it does, the next week we make up for it by working six days. My typical week is 50-60 hours, and sometimes 70. Also, keep in mind, I do a lot of my work at home. And I often eat lunch at my desk.

How did you get started?

When I was in junior college, I applied for a scholarship to work on the college newspaper, and I really loved it. There was a weekly newspaper in that town, and they advertised for a news reporter. I got the job, probably because I was willing to work cheaper than anyone else. But once I started doing this, I never looked back. When I went to my four-year college, I majored in communication and was on the weekly newspaper there. I started out as a staff writer. One semester I was sent to work in the state capitol, covering the legislature, and after that I covered college football. When I graduated, I went to work for a small county newspaper as a sports editor for two years, and then moved to another state and took a job as the news editor for a daily paper. This job, the one I have now, was the logical next step. It took me about 10 years to get to this stage in my career. It is mandatory to be able to do everything, and understand what the other people in the newsroom do. It’s not really effective to take direction from people who have never done the job you do.

What do you like about what you do?

I think the immediate return on your investment is the best thing. Some careers, it may take years to see the results of your labor. But mine is there daily, waiting for me in my driveway every morning.

What do you dislike?

I can’t say I dislike anything, but my least favorite part is the administrative work. I hate paperwork with a passion. And meetings. If it becomes monotonous, I don’t enjoy it.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

$42,000 in salary, plus health insurance, a matched 401K, dental, vision, the usual benefits. I also get a two-week vacation, and will get three when I have been there for three years.

How much money do you make starting out?

Most newspaper reporters have to be willing to take low salaries. I started out at $26,000, went on to $35,000. But I was fortunate. Our entry-level reporters here make $22,000. With hard work, they can move up rather quickly. I want to hire people who want to move up, and will reward those who do. The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.

What education or skills are needed to do this?

A college degree is preferred, but there is no substitute for experience, such as having been on a college newspaper, or a smaller weekly or daily. I hire people who can do a little of everything. One of the first things I did here was phase out the photographer position. My reporters were told to get some camera equipment and take photos themselves. A photography purist might say that the quality of our work would suffer as a result, but now I feel the quality of our photos have actually gotten better since we made that move. They need to be able to write in Associated Press style, take notes, write fast, and be accurate; and they have to do it quickly, because the presses are waiting.

What is most challenging about what you do?

The whole thing is challenging. You have to look out for the overall future of the newspaper, how it is perceived in the community, you have to look out for your staff. But the most challenging is getting people to reach their potential.

What is most rewarding?

The most rewarding thing is when you are actually able to help someone. My favorite success story is a man I hired when I first got here, who didn’t have some of the qualifications of the other applicants, but who had a strong desire to be a professional journalist. I decided to give him a chance. Since then, he has moved on to be an assistant editor in another town, and I feel I had something to do with that.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

One, if you don’t want to work like a dog, don’t get into this business. Second, be willing to listen to people and take their advice. The inability to listen can ruin careers. The biggest problem that you run into from my end is that most college graduates don’t want to take the low pay. I find that hard to understand, because I was willing to work practically for free to get my foot in the door. This is not the kind of job that leads to large salaries, except in very rare circumstances. You have to love the work; otherwise, you are wasting your time.

How much time off do you get/take?

Not a lot of time off. We get holidays and about two weeks a year of vacation, but we work a lot of weekends and late nights.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

I don’t know if the people outside of the business, looking in, realize how much time goes into it. We give up a great deal of personal time to do this job.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I am in my dream job right now. This is it. I have no desire to work for a larger newspaper, because community newspapers are all I have ever known.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Robin Lahr February 10, 2015 at 10:27 am

Very helpful. Thank you. I was doing some research to assist my son with salary expectations. He just accepted his first professional position out of college (2 year Associate level with city colleges of Chicago – Harold Washington – with a year as reporter and a year as editor for college newspaper) as a night editor for the Daily Reporter, our local community paper in Coldwater, Michigan. They were much more interested in experience with proof of his newspapers and awards received for writing/editing than degree.

His intent was to take some time off from college, return home, make money, write, and then complete his Bachelors later. He didn’t want to go in debt for a degree (we covered first two years with money left for approximately one more year) yet his primary interest was furthering his writing and editing real world experience that he has such a passion for.

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