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Patrick Smith is the assistant online editor/night city editor at the Lincoln Journal Star in Lincoln, Neb. After attending the DJNF/Temple editing residency in 2004, he spent three months as an intern at The New York Times News Service. He took a job as a copy editor at the Des Moines Register after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in December 2004. In 2006 he took a copy editing job at The Stelter Co. in Urbandale, Iowa. He returned to Nebraska in January 2008.

When I was in school, my professors were always harping on students to get as wide a base of experience as possible. We’d need it, and it’d make us more valuable as we hunted for jobs, they reasoned. Shooting and editing video and photos, copy editing, designing, reporting — it was all important.

How right they were.

As the assistant online editor/night city editor (what a mouthful) at the Lincoln Journal Star, I do a little bit of everything every day. My focus is often on the Web, but my skills and experience as a copy editor are constantly in demand. When news breaks, we don’t have time to funnel a story from the city desk to the copy desk and then to our Web site. That’s where our online team comes in, and it’s often me whipping copy into shape under the strictest of deadlines: as soon as possible. At the same time, I’m thinking of how to present materials on our site and what related stories/media would complement them.

In the course of a normal day I’m dealing with reporters, editing copy (news, sports, features — it’s all fair game), communicating with the copy desk, preparing in-paper refers to Web content and even answering phones. I also edit podcasts and am trained (as a last line of defense) to shoot and edit video. But in nearly everything I do, I find myself falling back on my valuable copy editing experience. While a story in the newspaper goes through many levels of editing, a late-night update on a fire often gets two sets of eyes — the reporter’s and mine. There is no margin for error.

I’ve had three jobs in the four years since graduation, and some people might assume I become restless easily. I prefer to think that each job was a stepping stone to where I am now, and I know I gained something valuable at each stop. It was at Temple with Dr. Trayes and top-notch boot camp mates that I was pushed to raise my game (and sleep with an AP Stylebook), and I bought in to the idea that every detail, no matter how small, matters. Temple prepared me for my internship in New York, and the snowball kept rolling and growing. Working with immensely talented, like-minded journalists pushed me to be better, prepared me for the real world and opened my eyes to what’s out there for someone who’s willing to work hard enough.

Having the Dow Jones internship on my resume opened doors, but the experience I gained from it helped me excel at the Des Moines Register, then at the Stelter Co. Now, working on so many different assignments every day for Web and print is the most fun I’ve ever had in a news room. One minute I might be posting a news item to our site, or moderating comments, or creating a photo gallery. The next I could be sending a text message about how Nebraska beat Kansas in Lincoln yet again, a streak now 40 years old (Sorry, KU grads. Couldn’t resist). It can be hectic, but the variety is what I love about my job. With fewer rigid rules for our Web product, there’s also plenty of room for creativity in problem solving. The dull moments are few and far between, the time flies and barely four years out of school I feel like a respected, valuable cog in our newsroom operation.

Even though I’m no longer a copy editor in title, I know the value of those skills. I use them every day, and I see the need for people with them as news rooms and the industry evolve.


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