Dylan Goforth on leading The Frontier, watchdog journalism amid print news decline

dylan goforth

Dylan Goforth is the editor-in-chief of The Frontier, a non-profit, online investigative news organization based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Frontier runs on donations from readers and grants.

Going into college at Northeastern State University, this definitely isn’t the path Goforth saw himself following, instead he said he “fell into it sort of backwards.” After being told he was a good writer by one professor, he decided to take a journalism class.

After a few more, he decided he would keep going, and eventually become a freelancer for the Muskogee Phoenix. After graduation, he worked at the Phoenix as a sports reporter, copy editor, and then the cops and court reporter before moving on to the Tulsa World in the summer of 2013.

After two years at the World, Goforth decided to join his colleagues Ziva Branstetter and Carey Aspinwall from the special projects team to start The Frontier. Today, he is the editor-in-chief of the outlet, overseeing a small but mighty team of four writers.

With such a varying but important range of experience, Goforth runs The Frontier through constant communication with his staff in order to produce the important journalism it promises Oklahomans.

What brought you to The Frontier?

When I got the job at the Tulsa World, that was when I finally had time to sort of slow down, and think, for the first time, ‘What is it about journalism that I like, and what do I like to read?’ And there were two reporters there who worked on the enterprise desk, Ziva Branstetter and Carey Aspinwall. And, the stories that I liked were always the stories they wrote. And I thought, I want to do more like that.

So what I would do is just go in (their office) and hang out with them and ask for help with open records requests. I was really nervous early on like, are they gonna tell me to just like piss off, but they were really helpful. And so I really wanted to work with them. And I tried, at one point I applied for a position on the team, but they just didn’t want to move me off of the city desk. And I just really wanted to do that kind of reporting.

Well, in early 2015, they came to me and they said, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about launching this frontier thing, and we know that you’ve wanted to work with us, this could be your chance, would you want to do it?’ And I was just like, ‘Yeah, let’s go.’

Were you interested in nonprofit journalism before?

There was a time after Warren Buffet bought the World and everyone had these illusions that they would be pumping all this money into the paper and the glory days were coming back. But there were still the same problems, the same layoffs. So I just tried to visualize what I thought a successful local journalism model would be. And I thought, if it’s gonna work, it’s gonna be a smaller, super focused newsroom that can be funded as a nonprofit.

And The Frontier wasn’t a nonprofit originally. We spent a year trying to see if you could do it in a different way and it just was too difficult. I mean, we hit enough subscribers to make ourselves solvent, but we were doing watchdog stuff, where we’re trying to find stories that are not being told. And if you do that, and then it exists behind an expensive paywall, that sort of defeats the purpose of this type of journalism that we wanted to do. So, after about a year it just made sense to just switch and pull the trigger. It just seemed like the right move. And so we did and, obviously has been.

How would you describe your editing style, and how is editing for a nonprofit news organization different from editing your typical daily newspaper?

I just sort of try to keep everything humming more than a very hands on approach of assigning every story. Our reporters really work hard and so they know what story they want to do, what stories they want to chase. I just try to keep everything moving forward and keep everything organized. And I think it’d be different if we had 10 or so reporters.

The difference I think is just the time that we have. Another thing that we are lucky to be able to do is to sort of collaborate on a lot of what we’re doing, where we’re sort of early on sharing what everyone is working on. Everyone is really, really talented and really good. We collaborate for every story that we work on. Yeah. And we just have the time to not rush through stories. You can sort of sense when someone has that feeling of a story they’re working on, like, I just want to get it done, I just want to get it over with, just publish it.

And we have the time to not do that, not rush through it. And so a lot of times, I can say, ‘Take the rest of the day to not deal with it. We’ll pick it back up tomorrow when you’re fresh.’ I think that helps the writing process and the editing process, and it’s just something that you don’t necessarily always have at a daily newspaper.

Have you ever been faced with a difficult ethical decision as an editor and did you end up regretting or standing by it?

Yeah, for us, we all the time have people who will want to talk to us, but they may fear for their job, some fear some repercussions. So we often have to have those conversations, who do you include in a story, who do you not include, who do you grant anonymity to? I don’t think I’ve ever made a decision I regretted. There have been times where we told someone, ‘Yes, we can use you anonymously.’ And there have been times we’ve told people that, ‘No, we can’t use this anonymously.’ A lot of it is on a case by case basis, but it has to be done in a consistent way.

I think the mistakes that you make there are when you’re trying to do something too fast and don’t think about it enough. And we generally don’t fall into that trap because we don’t have to post 10 or 15 stories a day. We post maybe one story a day, or one story every two days, so we have time to sit and think about what we’re doing and kind of visualize, ‘Okay, if we do this, then what happens next?’ And it keeps us from making mistakes like that, I think.

What are some of the biggest issues you feel affect editing and editors today?

The biggest thing that I see is, particularly in Oklahoma, all the state agencies are aware of the challenges that journalists face trying to get a story done. And so a lot of what we’re basing our stories on are data, records requests and stuff like that. And in Oklahoma, you might get your records request fulfilled, but you’re not going to get it fulfilled necessarily on your timeline. There’s no repercussions for delaying the responses, they’re not going to get in trouble.

It’s almost a game you have to play a lot of times, where you send in a request, and the agency knows what you’re after, and they know that they don’t have to give it to you, until they want to. And so, you’ve got to maintain this balance of being forceful while also maintaining a good relationship with them going forward.

What are your thoughts on the coronavirus and how the pandemic and successive recession will affect journalism?

It’s going to be interesting to see what journalism looks like after this pandemic is over. Because what happened to newspapers was that advertising would transition out of the newspaper to online. After the recession in 2008 people started transitioning out of their big ad buys. And then when the economy came back, they realized they didn’t need to continue them. And that money never went back to newspapers. And I just wonder now, with newspapers all over the country doing layoffs—and this is just the beginning, who knows how long this will last—is this going to be the shift from print papers moving forward digitally that everyone has anticipated?

I think it will just speed that process up. And that will affect everyone. Not just the print papers, but the digital nonprofit and digital for-profit. The landscape is going to look different in ways that we probably can’t really predict right now.

Use this soundcloud link to hear Dylan discuss the coronavirus question.

Kegan Reneau, managing editor of Sooners Wire, talks about his job and advice for future writers and editors

 

Kegan Reneau is the managing editor for Sooners Wire, which is a part of USA TODAY Sports. Sooners Wire, as one can tell from the name, is a specific sports news site covering the University of Oklahoma. Reneau’s job as managing editor is more so on the planning and big picture side of things rather than the copy-editing side. Reneau manages two other writers while writing and covering OU athletics himself. The main focus of his job is to plan out Sooners Wire’s coverage like what stories to look for, specific topics to keep an eye on and maintaining the bigger vision of the site. He also said that he enjoys grooming and polishing the younger writers below him and helping them fulfill their potential.

Reneau started out as a blogger during his sophomore year at Redlands Community College in El Reno, Oklahoma, where he played baseball. Reneau graduated from Redlands Community College with an Associate’s degree in arts. Reneau blogged about various OU sports-related topics. Eventually, Reneau found himself in sports radio, working for 107.7 The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Once that job ran its course, Reneau got a call from USA TODAY to be a part of their college wires covering OU athletics. Throughout his journey in sports media, Reneau has amassed over 7,700 followers on Twitter. Although Reneau’s job does not require him to do a lot of copy editing, the topics covered in our class are still relevant to him.

The first topic we covered was big picture editing. In sports journalism, it can be easy for a writer to get caught up in the stats and numbers of the game. Sometimes, this fascination with stats can lead to a writer missing the original point of the story. Reneau sees this with the other writers who work under him and sometimes still in himself. Reneau stressed the importance of figuring out why you are writing something before you write and then reminding yourself of that during the writing process. As we talked about in class, writers are closer to a story than anyone else. Editors must work with the writer to maintain the objectivity and main point of the story. If not, the story will stray away from the original point.

Reneau kind of branched off from this and made another interesting point that really resonated with me. As an editor, he has seen many new journalists, especially sports journalists, get ahead of themselves and try to flex their muscles so to speak. New journalists want their stories to be interesting and colorful (who doesn’t?), but oftentimes that leads to distractions for the reader. There are a lot of technical words and jargon that can be thrown into a sports article that the average reader simply won’t understand. It is sometimes hard to refrain from using these terms as a sportswriter, especially if you are a former player, because you are so close to the game. We must keep the reader in mind. Reneau stressed the importance of a good balance of not being too cliché, not using jargon and not writing/talking down to the reader.

In my own experience as a new sports reporter, I somewhat struggled with this. I didn’t want to be boring, but I didn’t want to overload the reader either. Knowing your audience is key when trying to find this line. For example, readers of ESPN stories will likely know more than the average newspaper sports section reader.

The second thing we talked about was the race between media outlets to be first in reporting a certain story. Reneau said that he has to remind himself and his writers that being first is not necessarily everything. As journalists, our responsibility is to report the best obtainable version of the truth to our audiences. The details in breaking stories often change. Reneau’s advice for a situation like this is to remember that there are multiple angles to a story. If another outlet beats you to the story, find another angle or detail to highlight that they might have missed. As we discussed in class regarding the Boston Marathon bombing story, the truth is more important than being first. Although in this instance we are not talking about wrongly accusing someone of bombing the Boston Marathon, the lesson still applies.

The third issue we talked about somewhat stemmed from the second issue. As journalists, we often find ourselves competing with other journalists and news outlets. While this is still a business, and competition is what helps drive our products to be better, sometimes cooperation can make for a better product for the reader. I saw this firsthand in my short time covering OU baseball alongside Reneau and various other sports reporters. The atmosphere up in the press box was a cooperative and friendly one. We often bounced ideas and questions off of each other. We all had different audiences and different goals in mind for our writing, but we tried to help each other get the best product out to the reader. This sort of cooperation seems more prevelant in sports reporting than any other type of reporting. .

 The last thing Reneau and I discussed was the advice he had for aspiring journalists and editors. As we all know, this industry is not the most lucrative to be a part of. Reneau stressed the importance of becoming a journalist because that is what you want to do and not because you think you will make a bunch of money. “If you are in it for the money, you are going to be disappointed,” he said. Most people would probably say this is obvious, but I think it is a good reminder. Being a passionate journalist and loving what you do will only make your product better. At the end of the day, the reader or the audience is our main priority. Having your passion be your driving force will lead you to better stories and more interesting topics for your audience.

Vimeo Link

 

 

Editors Discuss Utilizing Preferred Pronouns

In the past, it was standard for most newspapers to use the two genders he and she. It was only in 2017 that The Associated Press permitted journalists to use they as a singular pronoun. The current stylebook now states:

“They/them/their is acceptable in limited cases as a singular and/or gender-neutral pronoun.”

As acceptance grows for the LGBTQ+ community and more genders are recognized, editors have had to make changes in their writing and reporting. I spoke with three experienced editors about how they have approached, or would approach, utilizing preferred pronouns in their writing and implementing this topic in their reporting. 

I spoke with editors Anthony Mariani, Jeff Prince, and Liz McGathey. Mariani and Prince are both editors for the Fort Worth Weekly. Mariani has been with the paper since 2002. He served as an associate editor before becoming one of the overall editors in 2015. Prince has also been with the paper for some time. Working there for almost 20 years, he has had the opportunity to witness this change in journalism firsthand. Serving as an overall editor, Prince oversees all kinds of stories before publication. Unlike the other two, McGathey is the Executive Editor of Star Local Media. She has been in an editorial position since 2011 and has now been the overall editor for this North Texas local news organization for 6 years. 

 

Q. Have you had any experience with this topic?

Seeing that this is somewhat of a new topic for the world, especially for these editors in Texas, I was curious as to what, experiences these editors have encountered regarding preferred pronouns. 

(Mariani) Well, I have had only one experience and it was tangentially through one of my reporters. We wrote a story of a local band and the front person told the writer that they preferred to be they, wanted to be referred to in the story as a they and a them, and I think that that’s the only time honestly, it’s come across. But I agreed with the writer that just that small gesture means a lot to a person and means a lot to a sense of equality, so we’re no heroes at all but we saw no problem with that at all.

(Prince) I have interviewed transgender people and I always ask them what they wish to be referred by. I think everybody has the right to be referred to in the manner that they want. If you’re going to write a story, you have to stick your neck out a little bit and ask, because you have to find out. All the experiences I’ve had, people always appreciate when you ask and when you want to get things right. I’ve never had anyone act offended; I think people are always grateful when you are interested in getting it right.

(McGathey) There have been a couple of times where I have been interviewing a person and they went ahead and just let me know what they wanted to be called. A few people told me before we started the interview that they would like to be referred to as a man or a woman, but I have come across a few stories where the person identified as they.

 

Q. How do you remain grammatically correct with those who identify as they?

Grammar is an important part of editing, considering this is what is going to provide clarity to readers. However, grammar can become an obstacle to editors when interviewing someone with the preferred pronoun they. The current AP Stylebook states:

“Clarity is a top priority; gender-neutral use of a singular they is unfamiliar to many readers. In stories about people who identify as neither male nor female or ask not to be referred to as he/she/him/her: Use the person’s name in place of a pronoun, or otherwise reword the sentence, whenever possible. If they/them/their use is essential, explain in the text that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun. Be sure that the phrasing does not imply more than one person.” 

They can now serve as a singular pronoun, but using it in a story to describe just one person as opposed to multiple people can potentially cause confusion. I wanted to understand how editors respect the wishes of those they interview while avoiding confusion for their readers.

(Mariani) You’ve got to be careful when you’re writing, you don’t want to confuse the antecedents with something like albums or another plural term. That just takes a little bit of rethinking your writing; it’s very easy to write around. It may take you just a little bit longer to say what you want to say, but you should be able to do it without pulling a hamstring.

(Prince) I would state early in the story that the person being interviewed is whatever they consider themselves that makes them want to be called they. I would explain to the reader why I’m using that pronoun through the story. I think as long as you are using a pronoun that is confusing and seems grammatically incorrect, you have to explain why. I think it goes back to the person you are writing about appreciating the effort you put in, as well as the people reading the story also appreciating that you told them why you are doing it. That way they don’t think you are just a horrible writer. 

(McGathey) I think it’s important in these situations to just try your best to remain respectful to the people who are letting you into their lives. No matter what they identify as, they should be treated just as equally as anyone else. In terms of someone who wishes to go by they, I think I just tried to work around their pronoun so that it was easier for the reader. But I think that you should still use the pronoun the person identifies with in a story and just make sure your story is still comprehensible for your reader.

 

Q. Have you instructed your reporters to ask about preferred pronouns?

As the world changes, it is imperative for journalists to stay up to date. Just as the AP Stylebook is updated every year, editors must update themselves and their knowledge. Being updated as an editor also means making sure that your writers and reporters are up to date as well.

(Mariani) Maybe Fort Worth is not as progressive, but it just doesn’t seem to come up. I know I haven’t really had a talk with my writers saying not to assume that a person who looks like a male wants to be called he. We haven’t come that far. I do update my style guide though and I’m always adding to it. In my instructional edits to my writers I’ll just say to see style guide reference, so that could be something I add. 

(McGathey) I have, at our meetings, made sure that my writers understand that when we are maybe doing a profile or something where we have an extensive interview, that we understand how the person being interviewed identifies. I would take it as a huge mistake on my part if we were to misrepresent someone.

 

Multimedia clip: https://soundcloud.com/user-764470453-229870269/anthony-mariani

Times Record News writer, editor Sarah Johnson advises young editors

Sarah Johnson has been with Times Record News since 1986. She has been a managing editor and freelance writer during her career. Photo by Jett Johnson.

Sarah Johnson spent her early career as managing editor of City Magazine in Wichita Falls, Texas, and currently is a freelance writer/editor with the Times Record News. Johnson received her bachelors in broadcast news from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, in 1986. After learning of an opening at City Magazine in Wichita Falls, Johnson became managing editor for the small-town publication one year after the magazine started.

After the magazine switched from a monthly to a quarterly publication, Johnson left that job to become a freelance writer and developed two weekly columns for the Times Record News, also located in Wichita Falls. After a few years solely as a freelance writer, she now writes and edits for the Times Record News.

Jett Johnson: Tell me a little about how you got into journalism and how you received the job you have today.

Sarah Johnson: “I started college wanting to be a TV broadcaster, but I quickly realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do with my career. I loved my news editing and news writing classes so much it made me want to become a writer and/or editor. I met with my advisor at SMU about possible jobs after college and he informed me of a job as managing editor at City Magazine in Wichita Falls. I had never heard of Wichita Falls, Texas, being originally from Miami, Florida, so when I heard Wichita Falls, I immediately thought the job was in Wichita, Kansas. Delighted I wouldn’t have to move too far, I accepted the job at City Magazine. I did that for a while, but I still wanted to be a writer, so I became a freelance writer for the Times Record News, which owned the magazine I worked for. My first few years as a writer I gave my stories to an editor, but when she was let go due to budget cuts, I was able to write and edit my own stories. I also was able to help edit stories of other freelance writers. I started two weekly columns for the paper, one called View from the Pew, and one called Around the Town. View from the Pew was a non-opinionated religion column and Around the Town covered nonprofit happenings around Wichita Falls.”

JJ: What exactly is your role?

SJ: “At City Magazine, the executive editor and I would have a content meeting and decide what stories we wanted to run and then assign them to reporters or freelance writers. They would have about two weeks to write each story and submit for editing. I would assign stories to specific reporters I thought would be best for the job. At Times Record News, I write my stories and edit them and then help the executive editor edit any stories she needs help with.”

JJ: Which style rules do you follow? Which is your favorite set to follow?

SJ: “At City Magazine and Times Record News we follow AP style. To me, it’s the easiest to follow, and I’m glad I didn’t have to learn a whole new set of rules after college. While I edit, I have a style guide in front of me and I refer to it a lot. Style rules are constantly changing so I have to keep track of all the new changes. Nothing is more embarrassing to me than having a glaring error in a story I’ve edited. I didn’t study editing too much in college, so starting out I referred to my guide all the time. Over the years I’ve used it less and less, but I’ll never edit a story without a style guide handy.”

JJ: What’s the best recommendation you can give a young editor who’s just now starting his/her career?

SJ: “Oh my, this is very hard to pick just one. The best advice to give a young editor is to never be afraid to bend the rules a little if it helps the story. One of the worst things an editor could do is change the format when it ruins a joke or the flow of a story. Editing for grammar is extremely important, but if the story runs better with a small error in formatting, letting it run isn’t the end of the world. No reader will call you out for missing the error if it makes the story better. Another good piece of advice is to be friendly with all your publication’s reporters and freelance writers, because editing can be a cutthroat job. I’ve learned if you’re always nice to reporters, they’re more receptive to change and you avoid unneeded confrontation. Also, if you’re friendly with all reporters and writers, they feel more comfortable coming to you and pointing out why they think their words sound better. Keeping the friendship casual without getting too close is a perfect balance in a professional relationship. It’s also important to communicate with writers in person or via cellphone, not e-mail or text. This ensures your tone won’t be misconstrued and allows writers to respond immediately and come to a resolution.”

JJ: What does your editing process look like? Do you do it by yourself to avoid distractions or do you do it sitting with the writer/reporter?

SJ: “I always edit by myself so all of my focus can be on the story. I first print the story out, so I can view it the way our readers view it. I read through the story once and make sure everything makes sense. I then read it again and change any errors I find. I’ll then take a break and come back to it a little later and read over everything once more to ensure there’s no grammar or spelling errors and to make sure the point of the story is easily identifiable. Once I have done all necessary corrections and checked with the writer for the all clear, I come up with a headline for the story. Coming up with a headline is really just thinking of something that will grab the reader’s attention, without giving away too much detail of the story.”

JJ: What advice would you give a reporter/freelance writer about how to deal with editors?

SJ: “I would make sure each reporter knows that editors are just trying to make your story as good as it can be. Editors never try and change your words around unless it helps the reader relate to the story more or helps the overall focus of the story. I also think it’s important for reporters to understand that 90% of the time the editor knows best. Showing disdain for your editor just because he or she changed your story is useless and establishes a bad working relationship, which can damage stories. Reporters and freelance writers need to know editors are only trying to improve the publication, never hurt a writer or damage a writer’s reputation. My most important advice to any young reporters or freelance writers is to try and maintain a good relationship with your editor. It makes everyone’s job easier.”

Robin Dorner, The Gayly Editor-in-Chief shares editing experience with gay publications

Robin Dorner, The Gayly Editor-in-Chief shares editing experience with gay publications

Robin Dorner is co-owner, publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Gayly, a free, monthly, gay newspaper for the South Central region, founded in Oklahoma City. LGBTQ advocates themselves, Dorner and her husband have owned the publication for eight years, and have no intention of going anywhere, she said.

Dorner got her start in editing as an associate publisher of The City Sentinel, a weekly legal newspaper in Oklahoma City, where she stayed for seven years.

After The City Sentinel, Dorner began to freelance for various publications, one of which was The Metro Star, a former gay publication in Tulsa. When The Metro Star closed, Dorner began to freelance for The Gayly, “and the rest is history,” she said.

Soon after landing her freelance position, Dorner was promoted to Manager of Operations. Dorner worked in that position for a year when the former owners of the publication offered to sell the company to Dorner and her husband.

“We’re very happy doing what we do,” Dorner said.

As owner, Editor-in-Chief and publisher, Dorner is involved in every aspect of the publishing process, she said.

“I’m involved in every process — photos, correcting and all that kind of stuff,” Dorner said. “It’s quite an art to it, the whole process.”

I spoke with Dorner to learn more about how The Gayly functions, how it has changed since she’s been at the publication’s helm and how she deals with controversy and discrimination against the publication:

How many staff do you have and what are their roles?

RD: Myself and one other editor do the editing process. As far as columnists, there’s probably 22.

How does The Gayly function month-to-month, from writing to copy-editing and publication?

RD: As for the process of printing things to the newspaper I send my emails to my columnist and then I have a couple of freelancers — I usually assign them a couple of things. And we have a time process on when the absolute deadline is, and then I get (the drafts) and I set it all up, and when I say set them up, I make sure everyone’s name and byline are correct.

And that’s kind of step one, and then I edit it for actual content, grammar, etc. Another editor does the same thing and we run it through Grammarly. And Grammarly is not always correct, but we like to have that backup between the two of us and Grammarly. And then we  load it in InDesign.

Then we print all the pages when they’re ready and edit those pages. You’d be surprised at how different things work in a Word document than they do printed on a piece of paper.

Then, when that’s finished, we go through the correction in InDesign for any mistakes who might have found and then I do a final edit InDesign file, which is like a final PDF. So, we edit five different times.

In today’s publication we do our own photography or if we’re interviewing someone, just like an e-interview, which we do a lot of that now, and they can send us a picture for publication.

How has The Gayly evolved since you took over ownership?

RD: It has evolved so much. I don’t want to say it’s 100% different, but it’s a lot different. The tabloid is bigger. The pages are larger, the color, much better paper.

Gosh, what else? We’ve gone from mostly print on the front page and some pictures to just one main photo — it might be a drag queen …or may be something like a family, or it might be a group of people or different things. 

What’s your content goal for The Gayly? What goes into your decision making process about what stories get published?

RD: That’s an excellent question. So I try to select different topics at the time they’re being celebrated so that we can all celebrate them together and remember them. History is important.

One time we interviewed the person who created and put together LGBT history month, and made it a celebrated month, recognized.  So I think it depends on those type of topics — like June, obviously, we’re going to cover Pride, even if we don’t have Pride events this year. It’s still Pride Month so we’re going to celebrate it in The Gayly. 

So we have a lot of topics that cover things like that and we follow our editorial calendar, and those things I don’t want to say dictate, because anything can change, but it does change the things that we’re going to put in it.

Have you dealt with any controversy with other businesses or been at the brunt of discrimination?

RD: Yes, there were two printers in Oklahoma — now we have to print outside of the state — but one just flat out said, “No, because it’s a gay newspaper.” It’s a small town. I did a story about it and honestly cannot remember the name of the small town, and they just absolutely refused to print the paper. 

I had another publication that I had worked with in the past and they were very gracious but said, “No thank you, we’re too busy right now.”

And they were also in a smaller town and I actually felt like that was probably it, but I respected the way they approached it. I respected their decision, they had a business decision to make also, and they did it in a very kind of classy way. I wouldn’t know any different if they were just busy, of course I questioned it, but that’s okay. We all have business decisions to make with regard to that. 

But I will say this. I’ve had people stomp our racks and smash them down, and write real nasty notes on them. Very curative, like, “F—- you, you rainbow huggers,” and stuff like that on our racks. So I guess that’s the way they can get to us.

And then I had an anonymous letter come in, people are telling me that we’re an abomination all of us and we’re all gonna burn in hell. You know what I’m gonna start doing when I get those letters, I’m gonna start going to Facebook Live and read them to people.

How do you deal with the results of those instances of discrimination? Do you talk to your staff about it?

RD: I do absolutely nothing, because first of all there’s nothing I can do because these people never leave a return address. 

One time I was on an airplane and I flew back and this lady next to me was a Jehovah’s Witness and she was witnessing, and I told her what I did, and she said, “Oh that’s sounds so interesting. Can I get your card?” And she asked me a lot of questions. 

Two days later I get this letter in the mail about how the act was an abomination and we must stop immediately. And my husband and I laughed and we knew it was from her, of course there’s no return address on it.

You know, (our employees) don’t get a lot of exposure to it. I do share it with them because they are aware, but probably in a staff meeting or different ways I do it.

But we’re all pretty thick-skinned and we’ve been advocates for quite awhile. So, I can’t say it doesn’t affect us, because I think about how sad it is that people want to spend their time calling someone an abomination because I feel like we’re all on this earth to lift each other up and to help each other, but that’s just me. 

How do you see The Gayly? What do you hope it is for your local and regional readers?

RD: I hope people see it as a sign of hope. I recently had a friend who lived in D.C. for a while who was an attorney, and then he lived in San Francisco — big deal cities, — so his dad wanted him to come back home and practice law with him. But he didn’t know if he could make it after living in D.C. for years and then San Francisco for a while. 

He said he went into a restaurant and saw a copy of the Gayly and he picked it up and he read it and he thought, “Hmm, maybe I could live here in Oklahoma.” And he moved here.

So that’s what I want, I want it to be a sign of hope.

Houston Chronicle’s Maggie Gordon stresses teamwork in editing

 

maggie

Maggie Gordon has only been an editor at the Houston Chronicle for around six months, but her editing skills go far beyond recent years.

Through college and her professional career, she has edited herself and others with content for publications. Now, as the Chronicle’s assistant features editor, she helps lead the section along with her senior editor and another editor as well.

Gordon has been with the Chronicle for about five years now, and after working at Hearst papers as a reporter for about 10 years, she made the jump to be an editor so she could help others learn.

“I had my 10th anniversary as a writer for this organization, and I was like, ‘You know what, I want to do more,’” Gordon said. “I kind of felt like I had been really selfish in my first 10 years, and I had treated it almost like extended journalism school… I was still trying to learn.. I kind of was always able to be learning from other people, and I had really great editors who would walk me through, ‘Hey, this is a really great way to pace this.’ ‘What if we organize it this way?’ ‘This is how you do a narrative,’ you know, all of that kind of stuff.”

“It got to the point where I kind of felt like I was getting to the point of being selfish, where it was like, it’s time for me now to be able to answer some of those questions for other people.”

When an opportunity came up, Gordon said she raised her hand for it. Although people have told her she would miss writing, she said she really enjoys editing, since it “feels more like a team sport when you’re editing than when you’re writing.”

Gordon still occasionally writes — especially now, when the coronavirus pandemic has taken over the news cycle. She said she reports when there is a need, making sure content can get out to help overloaded reporters in her section whenever necessary.

“One thing that I see as an editor is, I kind of see sort of the more complete picture,” Gordon “Like, ‘Oh my god, that person is so overtaxed. This person is trying to write four things.’ … As an editor, I know when we’re at max capacity for max capacity.” 

The way the Chronicle’s editing process works is through a special software that takes the content through every process it needs to go through, even design. The features section has a longer lead time on editing than sections like news, and she says it’s “really neat … that we do have that time to make (copy) this gorgeous polished product.”

One of the things Gordon is responsible for is the Chronicle’s weekly ‘renew’ section, which is a healthy-lifestyle section that appears in the features portion of the paper every Thursday. Stories for this section are due on Fridays, giving Gordon and the other editors a week of preparation to put together the best story.

“I like to do a decent amount of back and forth with the writers I manage, lately that’s been happening on Slack… So it goes through me the assigning editor, and I’ll do those sort of line edits, we’ll talk about like, ‘Hey, is this nut graf where it should be,’ all that kind of stuff. It’ll probably go back for a little bit of rewriting, come back to me, then I pitch it over to a copy editing desk who you know, does all of their lovely voodoo, and they catch all of the line edits I didn’t catch, and they make sure that the cutlines are great. Then it comes back to me and the senior editor of our section, after it’s been laid out on the page by our design team, it comes back to me for proofs.”

“There are quite a few layers of editing here. Because we kind of see it as… a premium product and we really want to make sure that it’s totally polished when it goes out”

Gordon said her editing process has definitely evolved since college. She describes her process as “stream of consciousness editing,” where she nitpicks at the beginning while giving her once-over, and specifically targets things like word reuse.

“You know, if you only have a thousand words to say something, they should be the best thousand words,” Gordon said. And when you see things that are used over and over and over again, it just kind of makes you think, ‘Well, that that was maybe a little bit lazy,’ or ‘That was the first thing you thought of, maybe not the best thing you thought of.’”

Gordon also said she leaves lots of notes during her editing process, bolded in all caps to make sure reporters see them and they don’t blend in with the rest of the copy. She also makes sure to tell writers that they’ve done great work, as sometimes editing can get overwhelming.

Once she’s finished with her edits, if Gordon still feels like she doesn’t get the story, she said that’s when she decides the copy needs something structurally, so she’ll have a face-to-face conversation with the writer to see what they can do together.

Although Gordon has only been editing herself for five months, something she wishes she knew when she first started editing professionally is how important it is to remember what it’s like to be the writer. 

“I think it’s just … cheering people on and saying, ‘Hey, this was really good. This is just like, let’s level it up a little bit,’” Gordon said, “and just trying to be the editor that I wanted and and trying to make it like a team thing. I’m always very conscious to say instead of ‘Why don’t you do this,’ I’ll say, ‘What if we did this,’ because I’m invested in the team too. And it’s not me directing a writer to do something, it’s me thinking would both be better off if we go in this way and weaving through all that together.”

Editor Anna Dean stresses the importance of dependability in journalists

Anna Dean Holten is the editor of three magazines in Oklahoma: TulsaPets, OKC Pets and OklahomaHorses. On top of this, she is an adjunct professor at Tulsa Community College and a mother of two young children.

She has been the editor at TulsaPets since 2012. Soon after, she added OKC Pets to her repertoire and OklahomaHorses was picked up in the last two years.

“I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in mass communication,” Dean said. “I never wanted to work in hard news [or] daily newspaper, so I took the first magazine editing job I was offered. I’ve worked for magazines ever since.”

Though Dean leads a busy life, she is able to handle everything on her plate.

“On days that I teach, I prioritize my class material and fit in some editing tasks when needed. That may include sending an email to a freelance writer or a source while I’m sitting in my car in the school parking lot,” Dean said. “On non-class days, I take care of the bulk of my editorial duties. How do I juggle it? I may spend all day Saturday or Sunday on editing. I may be editing at 10 p.m. Whatever is necessary to meet deadlines is what I do. You have to be flexible and self-disciplined to never let anything fall between the cracks.”

She says recent times have made work a little harder.

“Working while also trying to home school my children and rework my class assignments to be online has been a challenge,” Dean said. “Plus the added strain of not being able to find basic necessities like toilet paper or Dawn dish soap has added a strain, but I’m making the best of it. I haven’t missed a deadline in the midst of it.”

As editor, Dean must continue her work amid the pandemic. She says that she juggles many tasks which include: “generating story ideas, assigning stories [and] creating assignment sheets, managing freelance writers from assignment through deadline, formatting editing stories once they are submitted, acquiring photos [and] graphics, and proofing [and] editing magazine PDFs before print.”

However, she says this is what she can think of off the top of her head, but there may be more tasks.

Dean follows a certain order when editing.

“I first format stories, edit for basic grammar, then read again for flow [and] tone,” Dean said. “I send it to the publisher after that. I don’t see the article again until it’s laid out by the designer. I then edit it again. I comment on the PDF for any needed changes.”

Dean says that the most common errors found in stories are “typos, misspelled words and factual errors … even [in] the best writer’s work.”

She says that each of her magazines follow AP style, but there is one exception.

“An example of when I wouldn’t follow it would be for clarity’s sake on a rare occasion, or that we always capitalize all dog breeds,” Dean said. “Capping all breeds is just our chosen rule as a publication.”

Over the years, Dean has gained an appreciation for her position.

“I like the flexibility my job allows, working from home on my own schedule,” Dean said. “It has always felt like a natural fit for me to write and edit. It’s not work.”

Dean says she has learned valuable lessons from her experience.

“Most of all, I’ve learned self-discipline and personal responsibility, being that my job is entirely done from home with no oversight from my employer,” Dean said. “With each [magazine] addition, I’ve had to adjust and meet the challenge of more demands.”

She says future journalists should be dependable to succeed.

“My biggest advice is never leave a publication or editor hanging without a finished story that you committed to write. They will never trust you again and would never recommend you to another editor or publication,” Dean said. “If you are dependable, you will see the reward. My ability to come through as a freelance writer for TulsaPeople years ago is what brought about my opportunity with TulsaPets. The publisher of TulsaPets contacted TulsaPeople and asked for names of possible editors. The editor suggested me, and the rest is history.”

“I didn’t have to go looking for the job; the job came looking for me because of my dependable reputation.”

Anna Dean

Jennifer Gaston Discusses Ethics in Magazine Journalism

Jennifer Gaston is an editor and salesperson for the Tyler Today magazine in Tyler, Texas. Tyler Today is a locally-run magazine that reports on all things happening in Tyler as well as everything there is to do there, too. The bi-monthly magazine has been around for about 30 years. Even with the world in a lockdown due to the global pandemic, the Tyler Today is still operating and has this April/May 2020 issue published. Because the organization is so small, Gaston works as both editor and salesperson for the magazine, though has never stated that it is too much workload for one person to endure. In this story, she talks about the differences between hard news journalism and magazine journalism as well as slander and libel lawsuits and how ethics play a role in avoiding them.

Our class has discussed ethics in journalism and how to use it to avoid lawsuits regarding slander and libel. The textbook that we use, Everybody’s an Editor, describes libel as “Published material that defames or injures someone’s reputation,” and that the best way to avoid it is to “Pay attention to the basics, including double-checking names and facts.” Lawsuits are hard to avoid because anyone can make a case against a journalist. However, they are easy to win if you followed your company’s guidelines that they have. Jennifer Gaston said that her newsroom has a packet with a checklist on how to avoid any kinds of libel or slander. She said that they have had some “close calls,” but because the journalists followed their guidelines, they were able to get out of these situations clean and not get into any legal trouble.

Jennifer Gaston and the Tyler Today magazine have not personally been sued by someone for libel or slander, but Gaston does know someone who has faced legal trouble for something similar. Gaston’s husband works for the local CBS affiliate station in Tyler, Texas, and it has had an issue with lawsuits before. The situation was that a judge wanted information and footage of an interview for a case they were working on, and, according to Gaston, if a judge asks for information on a subject that someone has, he or she is required to release it or face jail time. The station provided the clip, because they felt that something like this wasn’t worth it to spend jail time for. Once they released the interview to the judge, the suspect in the case sued the station for libel, slander and releasing personal information without consent. The lawsuit was dropped immediately, because the station was protected by law to release that footage without any backlash from the suspect. The station was given a tough, ethical choice on whether to release this interview or not. They had the option to keep it and go to jail or release this suspect’s personal interview that they had with him. Gaston said that they ultimately chose to release the footage, because, even though it wasn’t ethical to give up that personal interview, they had to sacrifice their ethics in order to not go to jail.

Just because the Tyler Today magazine hasn’t been sued for libel or slander, doesn’t mean that they have never encountered some problems with that in the newsroom. Even a magazine has had their fair shares of ethical dilemmas in the past. One example that Gaston used is a situation that she said “Could turn into a lawsuit but won’t.” The story was about a courthouse that was being planned to be renovated. The judge wanted the story to be published for publicity on the courthouse’s renovation. The local historical society of Tyler did not feel like they were credited for some historic pictures of the town’s courthouse. Gaston said that the pictures came from the county judge, so she contacted him to sort things out. She ended up having to give credit to both the county judge and the local historical society to avoid a lawsuit.

Ethics is a very important part to journalism and plays a pivotal role in the newsroom. It is very hard to remain ethically balanced in every story, because there are so many factors that go into remaining ethical. The Society of Professional Journalists have a code of ethics that serve as a base guideline to what is ethical in the newsroom.

One example that Gaston used was that, in her line of work, there are a lot of stories they write on health issues. When writing about those kinds of stories, the hardest thing they do, in her opinion, is to “Please everyone.” She also said that she thinks ethics “Should be the number one priority in every letter that is committed to print.” In order to be ethical, Gaston said that, “We need to be responsible for what we say. Before we put an article out there and get the word out, we need to check on it.” She says that there has been a rise in “Fake news” in recent years and explains that this is linked to the lack of ethics in journalism. In today’s journalism, journalists aren’t making ethics their number one priority when writing a story, and that’s why there is such a rise in this “Fake news” concept. If journalists will prioritize ethics in journalism, then they will gain more credibility as journalists and people will start believing the news again.

Jennifer Gaston has explained her experiences on ethics, libel and slander. She has never been sued for it, but her husband’s company has. In that situation, the journalists had to decide on what was more ethical: releasing a suspect’s personal interview or face jail time. Even though they haven’t been sued, Gaston and the Tyler Today magazine have had their share of ethical issues in the past. Their most recent issue was not crediting the local historical society of Tyler for a photo that they used in their magazine regarding the court house. Gaston also said that ethics is the number one most important thing in the newsroom and needs to have the majority of the focus when creating a story. If ethics are ignored and a story is published, there is a chance that it could lead to a lawsuit, so the best thing to do is double-check everything and make sure that the story remains ethical.

NightOWL Publication’s editor, Gordon Walker, talks about the popularity of journalism and how it led to an editor position.

Gordon Walker didn’t always want to be an editor but through his college years he learned that it was necessary to “know a little about a lot, and a lot about a little.” This advice, from one of his college professors, led him to understanding the importance of a copy editor. I had the privilege of asking him a few questions about being an editor and these were his responses:

Have you always wanted to be an editor, or what led you to the position you have today?

I don’t know that I necessarily always wanted to be an editor, but my taste for journalism was first fostered back in high school, when journalism was a fun, intriguing and popular class to take. There are several accomplished journalists that I can think of off the top of my head, all of whom I would suppose got their feet wet in the same classroom I did, over the span of a dozen years or so, from print journalists to well-known electronic media personalities. A few of the names I think of: Skip Bayless, former columnist and current national sports talking head; Craig Humphreys, the Sports Animal morning show host; Larry McAlister, former sports information director at the University of Oklahoma, for Barry Switzer and football; Brent Hensley, General Manager of KOCO-TV in OKC; Doug Hoke, photographer for The Oklahoman; Mignon Merchant, former KWTV news anchor; Larry Bastida, former general manager for a prominent radio group in OKC; and my classmate, Vince Erickson, sports anchor in central Texas. My high school (Northwest Classen in Oklahoma City) had award-winning publications and probably one of the top journalism teachers for any school in the region, Mrs. Liz Burdette. Mrs. Burdette was generally kind, but she was generally tough when it came to cranking out a publication. She had very high standards. One day, she paid me a very nice compliment for a sports story I had written. I had always enjoyed reading the sports page, and so it seemed natural for me to write about sports, something I have always loved. That experience is where all of my interest in journalism began, and where my first steps toward eventually becoming an editor began. That’s where it all started.

What is the most important aspect of being an editor, in your opinion.

One of my college professors stressed that a good editor needs to “know a little about a lot, and a lot about a little.” What he meant by that is that an editor should be well rounded and well versed in what’s going on in the world around his or her readers. And then there should be at least one or two areas where the editors has an expert level of understanding. I would say possessing these abilities are most important, but equally as important would be that an editor should be able to help identify and bring out the strengths of every person on the staff that works under his or her leadership and also have the ability to help the staff celebrate the best things (not just the shortcomings) of the community they serve. Media can have such a powerful effect in either direction, negative or positive. While shedding light on corruption is of critical importance in journalism, I have never seen a written rule that says we have to major on tearing down our community.

Have you ever made any crucial errors that you feared would harm your reputation of being an editor? If you have, can you elaborate the process you used to fix the error?

I have made far more than my share of errors. We used to have a hard copy version of each page of the newspaper that I worked for for 15 years. We would use a baby blue highlighter pen to mark errors on the page, that would be marked by anyone on the staff who would take time to proof that particular page. Sometimes those mistakes were funny, but they were only funny because we had time to fix them before we went to print. My motto was: It’s better to be blue-inked on Tuesday (on press day), than to be red-faced on Wednesday (when we got the paper back from the press).

My practice for some time (it took some growth to get there, though) has been to make phone calls directly to offended parties as soon as I become aware of them. I think of two situations right off, and believe me, there are plenty others. In one case, just a few years back we published a photo in RAMBLER, the magazine for the Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club of Andy Coats and his wife. The problem was – and it was entirely my mistake – I listed his wife’s name as that of his ex-wife. (Dr. Coats is the past Dean of the OU College of Law and a former Oklahoma City mayor.) For someone like myself who is a complete name freak (knowing who people are, knowing or figuring out how to spell their name properly), I had totally blown it. Even though I knew the difference between Linda Coats and Nancy Coats, I goofed it up in print. But I didn’t realize I had done so this until Dr. Coats sent me a letter, letting me know of the error of my ways. He was professional about it, but also clearly displeased. After I spent a few minutes consoling myself after reading his letter, I picked up the phone and called to apologize. He was appreciative that I called and was forgiving in the tone of his words. I have kept his letter as a reminder that making those type of calls is always the right approach when you make a mistake, especially ones where you know someone has been wounded, in this case completely unintentionally.

One an occasion previous to that one, involved a regular feature on the sports page at our weekly newspaper. Each issue during the school year, we had “Athletes of the Week” from each of our six schools, one female and one male. For a while at least it was a big deal for the kids and their families. I remember several times going to someone’s home who had a high school age kid and seeing the “Pioneer Pies Athletes of the Week” portion of the page cut out, hanging on the refrigerator. Some of the schools were quite helpful in choosing their students and providing the photos. It was no small task. If we didn’t get the information from the schools, we had a list of top athletes in each sport along with the previous school year’s yearbook. This allowed us to a pair a name with a student and keep the “Athletes of the Week” process rolling effectively. I remember getting the phone call on a Thursday afternoon, after a mom called to let me know what had happened. Little did we know, the male athlete (a wrestler) had committed suicide just a couple of weeks before our publication. We were not aware. The mom was mortified that the photo was published. I was mortified even more so. After another round of feeling sick about my doings, I obtained the phone number of the mother of the young man who had taken his own life. I told her we had published the photo, which she was already aware, but had not realized at the time that her son had passed. She was very gracious and appreciative that her son was spotlighted. I was relieved. I expressed my sorrow for her loss and ended the call. I then called the other mom who had initially alerted me, and we were both relieved with the news of the grieving mother’s response.

Both of these instances highlight the importance of being careful and sensitive to what’s going on around us, but also that sometimes, no matter how meticulous we might be, mistakes are just going to happen. Owning up to mistakes, whether it’s with work or relationship of any kind, is the best path toward resolution and peace of mind.


What is the process of your publication before you send something to be printed/distributed?

 

Have you always wanted to be an editor, or what led you to the position you have today?

I don’t know that I necessarily always wanted to be an editor, but my taste for journalism was first fostered back in high school, when journalism was a fun, intriguing and popular class to take. There are several accomplished journalists that I can think of off the top of my head, all of whom I would suppose got their feet wet in the same classroom I did, over the span of a dozen years or so, from print journalists to well-known electronic media personalities. A few of the names I think of: Skip Bayless, former columnist and current national sports talking head; Craig Humphreys, the Sports Animal morning show host; Larry McAlister, former sports information director at the University of Oklahoma, for Barry Switzer and football; Brent Hensley, General Manager of KOCO-TV in OKC; Doug Hoke, photographer for The Oklahoman; Mignon Merchant, former KWTV news anchor; Larry Bastida, former general manager for a prominent radio group in OKC; and my classmate, Vince Erickson, sports anchor in central Texas. My high school (Northwest Classen in Oklahoma City) had award-winning publications and probably one of the top journalism teachers for any school in the region, Mrs. Liz Burdette. Mrs. Burdette was generally kind, but she was generally tough when it came to cranking out a publication. She had very high standards. One day, she paid me a very nice compliment for a sports story I had written. I had always enjoyed reading the sports page, and so it seemed natural for me to write about sports, something I have always loved. That experience is where all of my interest in journalism began, and where my first steps toward eventually becoming an editor began. That’s where it all started.

When I started school at Oklahoma State, I dabbled in electronic media and also education (I had long desired to be a teacher and coach), before settling on print journalism. That led to the first half of my career (which I will address in Question 6 below). The first half of my career led to where I am now, as President and Publisher of NightOWL Publications, Inc.

What is the most important aspect of being an editor, in your opinion.

One of my college professors stressed that a good editor needs to “know a little about a lot, and a lot about a little.” What he meant by that is that an editor should be well rounded and well versed in what’s going on in the world around his or her readers. And then there should be at least one or two areas where the editors has an expert level of understanding. I would say possessing these abilities are most important, but equally as important would be that an editor should be able to help identify and bring out the strengths of every person on the staff that works under his or her leadership and also have the ability to help the staff celebrate the best things (not just the shortcomings) of the community they serve. Media can have such a powerful effect in either direction, negative or positive. While shedding light on corruption is of critical importance in journalism, I have never seen a written rule that says we have to major on tearing down our community.

Have you ever made any crucial errors that you feared would harm your reputation of being an editor? If  

you have, can you elaborate the process you used to fix the error?

I have made far more than my share of errors. We used to have a hard copy version of each page of the newspaper that I worked for for 15 years. We would use a baby blue highlighter pen to mark errors on the page, that would be marked by anyone on the staff who would take time to proof that particular page. Sometimes those mistakes were funny, but they were only funny because we had time to fix them before we went to print. My motto was: It’s better to be blue-inked on Tuesday (on press day), than to be red-faced on Wednesday (when we got the paper back from the press).

My practice for some time (it took some growth to get there, though) has been to make phone calls directly to offended parties as soon as I become aware of them. I think of two situations right off, and believe me, there are plenty others. In one case, just a few years back we published a photo in RAMBLER, the magazine for the Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club of Andy Coats and his wife. The problem was – and it was entirely my mistake – I listed his wife’s name as that of his ex-wife. (Dr. Coats is the past Dean of the OU College of Law and a former Oklahoma City mayor.) For someone like myself who is a complete name freak (knowing who people are, knowing or figuring out how to spell their name properly), I had totally blown it. Even though I knew the difference between Linda Coats and Nancy Coats, I goofed it up in print. But I didn’t realize I had done so this until Dr. Coats sent me a letter, letting me know of the error of my ways. He was professional about it, but also clearly displeased. After I spent a few minutes consoling myself after reading his letter, I picked up the phone and called to apologize. He was appreciative that I called and was forgiving in the tone of his words. I have kept his letter as a reminder that making those type of calls is always the right approach when you make a mistake, especially ones where you know someone has been wounded, in this case completely unintentionally.

One an occasion previous to that one, involved a regular feature on the sports page at our weekly newspaper. Each issue during the school year, we had “Athletes of the Week” from each of our six schools, one female and one male. For a while at least it was a big deal for the kids and their families. I remember several times going to someone’s home who had a high school age kid and seeing the “Pioneer Pies Athletes of the Week” portion of the page cut out, hanging on the refrigerator. Some of the schools were quite helpful in choosing their students and providing the photos. It was no small task. If we didn’t get the information from the schools, we had a list of top athletes in each sport along with the previous school year’s yearbook. This allowed us to a pair a name with a

student and keep the “Athletes of the Week” process rolling effectively. I remember getting the phone call on a Thursday afternoon, after a mom called to let me know what had happened. Little did we know, the male athlete (a wrestler) had committed suicide just a couple of weeks before our publication. We were not aware. The mom was mortified that the photo was published. I was mortified even more so. After another round of feeling sick about my doings, I obtained the phone number of the mother of the young man who had taken his own life. I told her we had published the photo, which she was already aware, but had not realized at the time that her son had passed. She was very gracious and appreciative that her son was spotlighted. I was relieved. I expressed my sorrow for her loss and ended the call. I then called the other mom who had initially alerted me, and we were both relieved with the news of the grieving mother’s response.

Both of these instances highlight the importance of being careful and sensitive to what’s going on around us, but also that sometimes, no matter how meticulous we might be, mistakes are just going to happen. Owning up to mistakes, whether it’s with work or relationship of any kind, is the best path toward resolution and peace of mind.

What is the process of your publication before you send something to be printed/distributed?

In my current role, as publisher at NightOWL, we have different processes for each of our different publications. I’ll use one example. We produce the Oklahoma Restaurateur magazine, a trade publication for the members of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association. We work with the ORA staff to develop strategy and content for each magazine, a quarterly publication. ORA staff provides at least half of the editorial content, but our staff produces the meat and potatoes of the magazine. We produce stories, including accompanying photography, on a restaurant member and then also an allied member (someone who has products and services that aid restaurants such as food distributors or food equipment brokers). We also have at least 1 or 2 other features that we produce that hopefully hit on a timely topic. In the most recent issue, I wrote a story on the 25th Anniversary of the OKC Bombing, spotlighting the relief work of restaurant people in preparing more than 100,000 meals in the two weeks after the bombing to help feed rescue workers. NightOWL sells all of the advertising, handles all of the production for ads and the magazine design. We have two main copy editors here – myself and my wife (she is my partner, book keeper, office manager, photographer, and takes on a few hundred other little odd tasks here and there). Once all of the content is determined, we began the magazine building process, pass on materials to our artist for development, make our initial proofs, then share the revised proofs with the ORA staff. Once we finish all of our polishing, we send the files electronically to our press. (We use a printer in Oklahoma City and one in Iowa.) As the files go to press, we use to mailing lists – one from the ORA and one from our list of staff and advertisers. The press job typically takes about a week, then the printed pieces are passed on to the mailhouse. From there, it usually takes 4-7 business days before the magazines pop up in mailboxes.

How important is it for a writer/photographer to understand the role of an editor?

I think it’s important the writers and photographers understand the role of an editor, just as it is important for an editor to understand his or her staff. It takes some work on both sides to adjust to one another’s styles, strengths, weaknesses, pet peaves, etc. When you have an understanding where everyone wants accuracy, balance and compassion in their story and photo production as well as the publication overall, it makes for good working relationships.

Where have you worked besides NightOWL? Was the dynamic different than the position you are in right now? 

Out of college, my first job was as a sports writer at the Bartlesville (Okla.) Examiner-Enterprise. After two years, I moved to Oklahoma City as news editor (then managing editor, then general manager) at OKC FRIDAY, the state’s largest weekly newspaper. There are a lot of similarities between FRIDAY and NightOWL, because we are both serving a very similar market. FRIDAY serves far northwest OKC and Nichols Hills, the more affluent part of north OKC. NightOWL produces the member magazines for six country clubs, all in north OKC or Edmond. The differences are pretty basic. FRIDAY is published weekly and is a broadsheet newspaper format. The NightOWL projects are published a varying frequencies, but we have a total of 24 titles over the course of a year; and, the format is full color, standard magazine sizes.

Anything else that you would add about your experiences being an editor? 

Two things I look back on that I think of as having shaped me as an editor.

One, at the weekly newspaper we had one staff member (our art manager) who was constantly cranky

and her work did little to make up for her unpleasant disposition. I knew then that if I was ever making the call on personnel, I would not tolerate someone who brings down the rest of the staff. I have plenty of weaknesses as an editor and a business owner, but constant crankiness is something I have not had to contend with at this job, now in our 16th year.

Two, I will always cherish the adviser for The Daily O’Collegian at OSU. His name was Jack Lancaster. Jack had this ability to read over a story with all of these young people, myself included, and make you feel like you had written the best story possible, while also helping you find the weak spots in your story and making it clear that accuracy was essential and that finding better words were always worth pursuing. I’ve always longed to be like Jack in this way. I think it has made me a more compassionate and patient editor, and it has also made me a better dad. I truly tried to think like Jack when I have helped my kids with their writing projects through high school and college.

One final note, as a writer/editor: I have come to really appreciate built-in “polish time,” particularly with my own writing. Being able to write, set the piece down for 24 hours, and pick it back up for one last polish can make a big and marked difference.

https://vimeo.com/407243365

Above is the audio of Gordon Walker answering the last question.