Ask A Pro
Examples of Work
Cover of the Accent section
Cover of the 'Our Century' special section
Cover of the Election 2000 special section
The Palm Beach Post
West Palm Beach, Fla.
Why did you become a journalist?
It's the only thing I can do. Seriously, I've been writing stories and making newspapers and magazines since I was 10. I got my first newspaper job -- covering a small town's city council for a weekly paper -- when I was 15. I got paid 10 cents an inch. I was editor of my high school newspaper, too (The Trojan Times of Lake Worth High School in Lake Worth, Fla.)
What are your main duties as associate editor and how many people do you supervise?
I'm in charge of the fun sections: features and entertainment, plus the design of the newspaper, special sections and the packaging of front-page news projects. I also produce occasional projects for the Opinion section. We're a medium-sized paper -- with a daily circulation of approximately 175,000 and a Sunday circulation of 220,000 -- so, all of our editors get their hands dirty. I edit copy and put together packages myself as well as supervising approximately 50 people.
How do you bring out the best in the people you work with?
First, I try to hire interesting, talented, creative people. Then, I try to see them each as individuals who need different motivation to do their best work. I try to be upbeat and create an atmosphere that's open for ideas. And then I stay out of their way. One of my favorite quotes on this is from Max Depree, a specialist in corporate creativity: "If you want the best things to happen in corporate life, you have to find ways to be hospitable to the unusual person. You don't get innovation as a democratic process. You get it as almost an anti-democratic process." There's no such thing as creativity by committee.
Can you describe a couple of your favorite recent projects?
I've loved the history projects we've done: Two books, one on the history of West Palm Beach, which we did in 1994, and one on our whole circulation area, called "Our Century," which came out in 2000. They made me realize how much I love my community and my newspaper, and also what a big responsibility we have to record our daily history accurately for future generations. "Our Century" highlighted 100 people who made a difference in our area in the 20th century. Also, I'm very proud of our features and entertainment sections, which have been recognized as among the nation's best. We do a mix of hard-hitting, narrative journalism and completely wacky stuff.
What's the most challenging aspect of your work and how do you keep up with trends in newspaper design, graphics, feature writing, etc.?
Time is always the No. 1 challenge. You've got to be able to spin a lot of plates, make quick decisions, do many things at once. And keep your brain fresh while you're at it. Dull people make dull papers, so I live in dread fear of monotony. I'm around funny, creative people all day long, and they keep my lights on. Plus, you've got to stay reasonably hip if you're in features. I'm 45, but I know who Shaggy is.
How can you tell if the newspaper is doing a good job in its community? How does the newsroom respond to criticism?
I grew up in this community, and I'm still out there at the school bus stop. I talk to people. We tackle reader criticism head-on with a weekly column written by our in-house watchdog, our ombudsman. I probably talk to 25 readers a day on the phone. The greatest thing about editing a local paper is the ability to talk directly to readers -- they know my number and they hold me accountable.
Does journalism consume your whole life?
There's not one hour in my life when I'm not thinking about ideas or brewing some new project, but "consume" is not the right word here. Journalism has invigorated my life and made me smarter. As actress Carol Channing says, "Nothing focuses the mind like panic," and journalists' lives are all about controlled panic. If you like that kind of roller coaster, there's no better profession. If you don't, you should write novels, not news stories.
What qualities do you look for in potential hires?
Snap. Brains. Humor. Curiosity. I always say: Don't hire anyone you don't want to go to lunch with. If they're boring in the interview, they're probably boring writers, too. The best people always work for themselves, for their own clips. They're always looking for the next thing. I like fast learners and fast walkers. If people walk slowly, they probably work slowly, too, and that's not a good thing in journalism. And I like people who read -- other newspapers, books, magazines, everything. Good readers make good journalists.