What does it take to become an editor? Do you have to have a degree? Do you like what you do?
Those questions came in a letter from a local Girl Scout. I’m embarrassed and sad to say it has taken me far too long to respond. The letter, that I have thought of often, made it into the stack of hopes and dreams that sits on one of my file cabinets. It’s full of story ideas, projects and responsibilities that I hope and imagine I’ll get to soon. All too often my good intentions are greater than my ability to complete everything I know is important beyond the daily — what feels like hourly — deadlines to get our print edition out, digital content on the website and social media channels updated.
But I recently found I had answers to her questions that I wanted to share.
What does it take to become an editor?
Well, there is no single path. My first three editors, Barbara Ann Horton, Dave Silverberg and Stan Berry, were at the Daily American Republic and all followed different paths. Not all had degrees, some came to journalism at a very young age, while others fell into it.
So the path isn’t important. What is crucial though is a love of community and a desire to help it thrive, to be part of the ecosystem that creates a vibrant, accountable and transparent city and county.
Horton, Silverberg and Berry all helped me learn how to be a journalist and a storyteller. Both are required in community journalism. If you aren’t a storyteller, if you can’t convey emotion or take the complicated and boil it into its simplest and most important components, it’s hard to get anyone’s attention. To be a journalist, you must also be aware of the power your words hold, the responsibility to be fair and honest in your reporting and the sometimes difficult task of asking questions, even when it isn’t easy or comfortable.
Do I like what I do?
I wish I could adequately convey the heavy sigh that question draws.
I love what I do. It is endlessly challenging. It shows me daily the best of the people in our region and reminds me always that our world thrives best when we are informed and light is shed in even the darkest corners.
And yet it can also be endlessly frustrating.
Our landscape has changed so much.
I am proud of every single staff member who walks into the Daily American Republic each day and helps us hold the threads of a rapidly changing industry together. We put out the only five-day-a-week print edition in Southeast Missouri, and the only daily source of news for a large chunk of our region. We do it with the smallest staff we’ve ever had, but we do it with love and hope for what tomorrow can bring.
We have shifted and evolved to tackle staff cuts, software and technology changes and more challenges than I can list.
That frustration, that we all feel, is the desire to do more and be more. It is in the need to learn, grow and evolve faster, because the world is changing even faster.
When we can’t get our law enforcement reports in because of a staff shortage while we hire and train new people, miss a big event or can’t dig more deeply into a critical story because our reporters are also our paginators, photographers, typists, transcribers, website masters and social media gurus, we feel the impact.
We’re harder on ourselves than anyone else ever could be, because we live and breathe the importance of community journalism every day.
But the stories and content we share is immensely important and we’re proud of every edition.
Should you grow up to become an editor or a reporter?
I really, really hope you do. We need every curious mind, every individual who wants to celebrate the good that happens every day across our region. We need every person who wants to hold decision-makers accountable for their choices to pick up the torch. We need you to be a lightbearer in the darkness. Help us discover new paths. Help us remember what we lose if community journalism fades.
Donna Farley is the editor of the Daily American Republic. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.