Ask A Pro
assistant city editor
Philadelphia Daily News
Why did you become a journalist?
I became a journalist for all the same reasons most journalists do -- I am inquisitive, I believe in the tremendous services newspapers provide to individual lives and the development of society as a whole, and, frankly, the work is exciting.
What are your main duties as assistant city editor?
I look for story opportunities wherever I can; discuss and assign stories to news reporters; coordinate efforts with the photography, graphics and other departments when appropriate to make sure we're telling stories completely and responsibly; edit stories and take instruction from my superiors.
When you started out in journalism, was it your goal to become an editor?
Eventually, but I had no idea it would be so soon in my career. I had anticipated starting out as a reporter, as most writers do. But while I was in college, one of my professors encouraged me to take a copy editing internship at The Times-Union in Albany, N.Y.. She thought the discipline I showed in my writing would lend itself to this kind of job. That was the best internship and job experience I ever had. Not only did it show me all of the other opportunities available in the newsroom, it instilled in me the importance of nailing the mechanics of writing first and then incorporating the flair that will keep readers.
What's the best part of your job? What's the most challenging?
This answer is a bit general, but the best part is seeing people satisfied over the little things you do to help them. That could be just listening for 5 minutes to a reader who wants to vent about her frustrating trip through the criminal justice bureaucracy and giving her another number to call. Or it could be supporting a reporter in something he or she wants to try that may take a little time -- time we can't always afford.
The most challenging part is supervising people while respecting them and pushing them.
At my school paper, it's hard critiquing the work of others on the staff. In your job, how do you work with reporters to improve their stories without creating hard feelings?
It is very tempting to make a judgment about the entire body of work based on the first few words or sentences we see. And our initial reactions are usually or strongest. So then is NOT the time to offer the creator of such work our reaction. We must read the entire thing.
What I try to do is look for the best elements of the story and assess how much of the story needs work. If the lead is the only problem, you'll be so glad you didn't go opening your mouth right after you read it. Many times you'll find the lead buried. I find that when you pose a concern as a question -- "Hey John, I really like that strong quote you selected from Councilman Jones. I wonder, though, if it's lost under ..." -- the writer is able to reconsider without feeling criticized or strong-armed by you, his editor.
Please describe your typical workday, if there is such a thing!
- Arrive at work at 7:30 a.m.
- Read the daybook (The Associated Press compilation of area court cases, press conferences, speaking engagements, government activities); decide what if anything off the daybook needs to be assigned; talk to photo about it.
- Check in with City Hall, courthouse reporters.
- Talk to various bosses who check in on the way to work.
- Talk to various reporters about assignments for the day, coming days.
- Attend 11 a.m. budget meeting with news, sports, business, features, photography, other department heads to discuss day's newspaper, other upcoming stuff.
- Work with colleagues throughout the day on next day's paper; edit advanced copy.
- Attend 3 p.m. front-page meeting.
- Secure story budget for distribution to layout team, night city desk; edit some stories.
- Coordinate with night city editor; GO HOME.
A lot of students at my school don't seem interested in reading our paper! How can we be relevant and interesting to the entire student body?
Don't be afraid to write about the basic-level stuff people are talking about. People love gossip and gossip is sex, crime, drugs, stupidity and violence. It's great to tell people about public school reform because that's important and uses up a lot of tax dollars, but it's not always sexy.
What advice do you have for aspiring journalists?
Work hard in whatever job you do, no matter how unimportant it may seem. A strong work ethic is valued everywhere.
Lots of people are talented, but not everyone is disciplined and has the right attitude.
Talent can be molded, but you can't force people to work hard if they don't want to and no employer will want you or reward you if you are perceived as a slacker.