By Matt Hanson
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Some reporters would balk at the idea of covering a high school poetry slam. Some reporters would dismiss an event like that as insignificant, commonplace, not worth the time or effort they’d need to write about it.
Matthew Hansen has never been that kind of reporter. For most of his career, the 35-year-old Omaha World-Herald columnist has been the other kind of reporter: the kind who hears about a high school poetry contest, decides to check it out, then comes back and writes a 1,000-word story about poetry, love, loss, the optimism of youth and the wonders of the human spirit. That’s exactly what Hansen did for a 2013 column.
“If you are one of those people who are sure our best is behind us and our worst ahead of us, one of those people bracing for the future, one of those people whose ability to laugh, to think, to feel is blowing away like Nebraska topsoil in a psychic drought, then let me kindly suggest a new cure for what ails you,” he wrote in the opening paragraph of the piece.
Hansen might as well have used the same words to introduce his body of work as a journalist and a columnist. Throughout his career, he has aspired to bring a certain degree of positivity to his journalism, especially to his columns.
“I think a common theme of my column is attempting to show people that everything is in fact not going to hell, that there are reasons to be optimistic about the future, millennials, etc,” Hansen said in a phone interview.
Hansen’s column has provided him with an ideal platform to showcase his distinctive brand of optimistic, observational narrative journalism. With just two columns required each week, and almost no expectations regarding the contents of those columns, Hansen enjoys an usually high level of creative leeway for any journalist, let alone one as young as he is. Hansen said this means he can write about pretty much whatever he wants to write about.
“One of the cool things about this job is that there’s not a lot of structure to it,” he said. “Most of the time, I tell my boss what I’m working on, then I write it and it goes in the paper. It’s a great job. It’s really self-directed.”
For the past three years, Hansen has used the freedom of his column to find and tell the kinds of stories that reflect and fuel his optimism and curiosity. When scouting for his next piece, he says that he looks for stories that amaze or intrigue him.
“I look for things that interest me in the hope that if they interest me they’ll interest other people too,” he said. “I look for stories about people, stories that have some sort of built-in drama to them. And I look for stuff that’s weird, too. Some of the stuff that I really like that I’ve written was the weird stuff.”
Hansen said that he usually doesn't have to look very far for his stories. Most of the time, he said that he stumbles across his stories in the course of living his daily life. This serendipitous approach to finding stories for his column reflects one of the fundamental themes of Hansen’s work: that many of the best stories are all around us.
“A lot of my ideas will just be from paying attention as I go around the city,” Hansen said. “I just live my life and run into stories.”
As a result of this approach, Hansen’s column has spanned a diverse range of topics. His eye for slice-of-life stories has led him to write columns about just about every corner of life in Omaha, Nebraska. He has written stories on baseball and barbecue, politicians and poets, video games and veterans.
Although Hansen’s topics vary greatly from column to column, his writing style does not. No matter what he’s writing about, Hansen writes about it in a distinctive narrative prose. At once poetic and conversational, his writing is as consistent as it is coherent; however, Hansen said it wasn’t always that way. He said it took him nearly 20 years to get to where he is now, professionally as well as stylistically.
Hansen’s journey to the World-Herald, and indeed his whole career in journalism, began when he was in high school. Born and raised in Red Cloud, Nebraska, a small town near the Kansas border with a population of little more than 1,000, Hansen said he couldn’t recall having written anything meaningful to him before he joined the Red Cloud High School newspaper during his sophomore year. It didn’t take long for him to get hooked on journalism.
“It was kind of the first thing I thought I was good at, so I just stuck with it," he said.
After high school, Hansen left Red Cloud to attend the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, where he planned to major in journalism. After a year, however, he left KU and transferred to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It was there -- at UNL, in the basement of the Nebraska Union, at the offices of the student newspaper, the Daily Nebraskan -- that Hansen found the perfect outlet to showcase and develop his journalistic skills. Just as importantly, the Daily Nebraskan provided him with a home away from home.
“It was just the beginning of me connecting to (UNL) and realizing that it was a much more comfortable place for me,” Hansen said. “I immediately became obsessed with the place."
Hansen’s hard work at the Daily Nebraskan began paying dividends. For one, he used his stories there to get a series of internships during college at local and regional newspapers such as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock, Arkansas. Hansen’s work with the Daily Nebraskan also attracted a number of professors in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at UNL.
One of these professors, Joseph Starita, became one of Hansen’s chief mentors. Hansen credits working with Starita, who specializes in narrative journalism, for much of his development as a writer and journalist. Under the tutelage of Starita, Hansen honed his writing style and expanded his repertoire beyond sports and basic news to include longer, more serious enterprise stories. Starita also opened doors for Hansen, taking him and other students to Cuba for a depth reporting class and guiding him to enter and win several prestigious collegiate journalism awards, including a couple of Hearst Journalism Awards.
After graduating from UNL in 2003 and spending his summer post graduation at the Democrat-Gazette, Hansen moved back to Lincoln to work at the Lincoln Journal Star as a higher education reporter. In four years at the Journal Star, he didn’t just cover higher education. He took any chance he could get to branch out, jumping on feature stories whenever he came across them and building a sizeable portfolio of human interest pieces in a short amount of time. His penchant for feature storytelling even got him an assignment in Iraq, where he covered the human costs of the war there.
By 2007, Hansen had built a winning resume at the Journal Star -- and the Omaha World-Herald had noticed. That year, the World-Herald offered him a job as a higher education reporter. Sensing that he had accomplished as much as he could in his current place of employment, Hansen took the job and moved to Omaha.
In Omaha, Hansen was the higher education reporter for three years. After that, he wrote stories about the military using his penchant for narrative journalism to tell stories about the lives of Nebraskans in the armed forces. By allowing Hansen to flex his narrative chops for the World-Herald, the military beat served as a kind of precursor to his present column.
After four years as the military reporter, Hansen was promoted to columnist. In his first three years as a columnist, he has written more than 200 columns and continues to write two every week.
By David Eickholt
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Former CBS Interactive lead college football blogger Adam Jacobi is finding success in the business world after a high-profile gaffe: In January 2012, he falsely reported former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno had died.
Paterno died later that month, but the error cost Jacobi his job.
Since his stint with CBS Interactive, Jacobi is making use of the economics degree he earned in 2015 from the University of Iowa. In March, he took a job handling mergers and acquisitions for MidAmerican Energy, a power company in Des Moines, Iowa. He said he took the lessons and skills he learned about content creation and found a way to merge it into his new career.
“I’m still doing research and I’m still presenting the results of this research. It’s taking myself from relative ignorance to expertise,” said Jacobi, 34.
In 2010, Jacobi joined CBS and wrote stories and also served as a go between for editors and writers. The process for constructing blog posts was a simple one. Jacobi typically would get a link, write a post and put it up on the CBS sports website.
When he read a story in a Penn State student publication that Paterno had died, Jacobi knew he couldn’t approach it the same way.
“This was different," he said, "get ready for one of the most important (obituaries) in college football history,” he said of his feelings at the time.
A few minutes after he posted the article saying Paterno had died, his co-workers and producers began to question it and the absence of a source for the information. Other media outlets had also falsely reported Paterno's death.
Soon after Jacobi posted it, Paterno's family said the coach had not died. Jacobi said in the aftermath of the error, he saw the dark side of social media. He was being bashed and threatened. CBS launched a review as well.
“I still worked while they were doing the review on me," Jacobi said. CBS gave him a two-week notice, he said.
"They left it to me to tell everyone," he said. "All I wanted to do the whole time was to apologize to the Paterno family."
After that, Jacobi went on to write for the Big Ten Blog at Bleacher Report, where he worked for about a year.
On the lighter side, Jacobi is also known for his Twitter prowess. On Father's Day in 2015, he posted a series of rambling tweets about his father on Storify and he posted another series of pun tweets during the World Cup soccer championship.
His advice in this realm?
“Identify things that aren’t available anywhere else and you push them hard and put them in front of people," he said. "But at the same time, don’t make people feel bad about reading it.”
Jacobi no longer works full time in sports media, but he still feels the pull to contribute something.
Jacobi is editor of Black Heart Gold Pants, an Iowa Hawkeye fan sports website he launched in 2007 as part of the SB Nation network. The site is owned by Vox Media.
“We noticed Iowa fans in the mid 2000s weren’t really actively involved on message boards and we wanted to change that," Jacobi said. The rules included no writing about politics and the mantra that everyone is welcome. He has enjoyed seeing the site, now owned by Vox Media, grow.
“I remember on one of my posts, I received 100 or so views and I told myself 'Wow, 100 whole people has viewed what I wrote,'" he said. "To see what we have become now, it’s just cool to see.”
Jacobi's first gig at sports writing was for the Daily Iowan, whee he covered women’s rowing because it was the only thing available at the time. He said he loved the experience and it was a lot of fun.
Jacobi enjoys his new job, but he hasn’t truly moved on from content creation - he is still involved in Black Heart Gold Pants.
"I just can’t leave this site right now," he said. "I love the people that have helped me create it.”
By Molly Meister
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Sarah Hoffman, 25, is determined to go beyond the lens and hopes to produce more than just pretty pictures.
For Hoffman, being a photojournalist is about more than just taking pictures. It's about giving back to the community and creating reactions.
“Being able to impact people through photography is very rewarding,” said Hoffman in a phone interview when asked what she loves about photojournalism.
Hoffman discovered a passion for visual communications at a young age and later found that photojournalism was the perfect way to combine all of her skills and interests. For Hoffman, it is all about staying interested and staying on her toes. She says that being a photojournalist provides her with the variety that she needs to never get bored. Now a full-time staff photographer for the Omaha World-Herald, Hoffman has the chance do to what she loves everyday.
“Everyday at the World-Herald is full of surprises and every assignment is always different. There is no typical day for me,” said Hoffman.
Hoffman works on one to three different assignments a day, some being longer and more interesting than others. In the past year, Hoffman has spent more time producing video rather than photos, which she says can be more challenging. Hoffman says that working on longer more in-depth projects is more rewarding and interesting and is what she is passionate about. Some of the projects assigned to her can last multiple days, while some take less than an hour.
“The longer the project, the more interested and involved I get, which is what I like most about my job,” she said.
While at the University of Missouri, Hoffman developed the skills to become a successful photographer. With photography and journalism skills, Hoffman is able to self edit all of her content, which has become extremely important now that the World-Herald does not have staff editors.
Before landing a job at the World-Herald, Hoffman held several other internships and posts.
Upon graduating from the University of Missouri with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in political science in 2013, Hoffman worked as the executive producer on the My Life, My Town multimedia project where she managed a group of graduate students who documented the lives of rural teens in Missouri between 2012 and 2013. She later interned in Dallas as a photographer for The Dallas Morning News in 2014. Hoffman also worked at the Jefferson City News Tribune, The Maneater, a student newspaper, and The Columbia Missourian.
Hoffman has won awards for her work. She placed third in the Hearst Journalism Awards National Championship for multimedia in the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 competition. In the College Photographer of the Year contest, she was awarded bronze in Large Group Multimedia and an Award of Excellence in Solo Journalist Multimedia Story or Essay.
Although Hoffman has had ample opportunities and has been successful thus far in her career as a photojournalist, she has not gone without challenges. Problem solving on the spot has become an important part of Hoffman’s everyday work.
“The most challenging part about being a photojournalist is dealing with the pressure to take interesting and high-quality photos. Sometimes the lighting is bad and the story just isn’t that interesting, which makes my job hard,” said Hoffman.
However, above all else, the most important part about being a photojournalist in her eyes is providing a visual learning experience for readers. Hoffman believes that everyone learns differently and that it is empowering to help people learn through her work at the World-Herald.
“As a person that gets to see what is happening first hand out in the world, it is important to be an eyewitness to history,” said Hoffman.
Hoffman has found joy in her photography career and continues to share her work not only through the World-Herald but through her self maintained blog and website where she keeps viewers and fans updated with her latest assignments and projects.
By Alyssa Olvera
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
National Geographic photographer Catherine Karnow says she is always learning something new.
“I have such a passion for it. Everything I know about photography has been from my own personal experience,” Karnow said in a phone interview about her career as a photojournalist for the National Geographic Society. Karnow, who lives in San Francisco, specializes in travel and documentary photography. She has worked for National Geographic for 20 years.
Karnow has been teaching photography since 1995 and gives photography workshops such as the Santa Fe photo workshop along with private workshops and seminars in the U.S. and around the world. On the weekends in San Francisco, she gives National Geographic workshops. This month she will be giving a nine-day workshop in Umbria, Italy. In October, she gives a workshop in Vietnam.
Karnow specializes in photographing Vietnam and has done a lot of work there.
“It is one of my favorite places to go,” Karnow said.
In 1994, General Vo Nguyen Giap invited Karnow to be the only non-Vietnamese journalist to accompany him privately to Dien Bien Phu for the 40th anniversary of the battle, she said. Karnow has also done other work in Vietnam.
Once while Karnow was in Paris shooting for the National Geographic Traveler magazine she was told she wasn’t allowed to take photos of anyone or anything.
“It was really hard to get any shots with everyone telling me no. It really made me mad, but I had to figure out how to get the shots I needed,” she said.
Karnow advised students or anyone with an interest in being a working photographer to produce and create work. Photography requires a lot of hard work and long hours, she said.
“Take risks and get out of your comfort zone," she said. "Push yourself to do things you never thought you would do. When photographing someone or a group of people always take into consideration their point of view. Be considerate and be smart. Talk to those people, make friends with them and make them feel comfortable with you.”
Another part of being a photojournalist these days is social media, she said.
Karnow said she uses social media to reach people who might want to attend one of her workshops, promote herself to potential employers, announce workshops and brand herself.
“Use social media as a tool to show the real you and not just the career you," Karnow advised. "Social media can help in this way for people to be comfortable with who you are as a person if they know more about you than just your work."
Karnow was born and raised in Hong Kong and is the daughter of an American journalist. She always had an appreciation for photography, but once she started taking photography in high school she began to have a passion for it and knew it would be her life's work. Karnow has a degree in comparative literature and semiotics from Brown University. She graduated in 1983.
Karnow’s work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Smithsonian, French and German GEO as well as other international publications.
One of Karnow's first major assignments was in 1986 when she was asked to create a photographic guide book to France. She drove around the country for three months taking pictures. She said everyday was an adventure and she learned a lot.
Karnow has a variety of interests and said that photography fell into all of the categories.
“Photography is a beautiful way to see the world and connect with people. It’s a learning experience and teaching it is a joy,” she said.
By Kaci Leppky
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Dennis Rudner will be the first to admit that he is not a traditional editor. From newspaper writing, to running a bingo hall, to working on a cruise ship, he has done it all.
Rudner, 58, from Canton, Ohio, has been the weekend editor at the Lincoln Journal Star for over a year and counting. Rudner started his career during a time when social media and other new norms did not exist, but he says he has not stopped learning and is always looking for new ways to tell stories. Telling stories and mentoring aspiring journalists are two of his greatest passions, he said.
“If I can pass on something and help make you or other kids here be a better reporter or a better writer then I am doing my job,” he said in an interview at the Lincoln Journal Star.
His father was a pharmacist who hoped he might follow in his footsteps. However, being a pharmacist was never the plan for Rudner. He knew from a young age that he was meant to tell stories, and one way to do this was through journalism.
Before beginning his career, Rudner attended The Ohio State University where his passion of telling stories grew. He received a bachelor’s degree in public relations with a minor in journalism.
Since his college days, Rudner has built quite an extensive resume. He began his career about three months after graduating when he became sports editor of a small newspaper in northeastern Ohio. He worked there for a while before continuing on to other papers as a copy editor and sports editor.
In 1984, between jobs, Rudner left the newspaper business for about eight years. During this time, he ran a bingo hall on an Indian reservation in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for nearly seven years. He later worked on cruise ships. Although Rudner enjoyed putting his skills to work in a variety of fields, journalism was always in the back of his mind.
“I had learned how to run a business. I hired people. I fired people. I set policies. I did the marketing and the PR, and it was a lot of fun. But, in my heart, I wanted to go work for a paper,” Rudner said.
He returned to the newspaper business doing some freelance work for the Santa Fe New Mexican for a short time before finding his way to Las Vegas. Rudner and his family moved a few more times before coming back to Las Vegas, closer to where his wife is from. He remained there until the recession hit and he was laid off.
Rudner took a job as general manager at a La Quinta hotel in west Texas for about one year. He struggled living so far away from his family and still, he could not seem to let go of his love for telling stories. He returned to Las Vegas, was hired by CBSSports and was laid off again before finding his way to Lincoln.
Rudner and his wife were moving his daughter back for her second year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln when he called Todd Henrichs, the city editor at the Lincoln Journal Star, and convinced him to meet.
“We went down to the Haymarket (and) had a cup of coffee," he said. "He liked what he heard, and about a month later he called me and offered me a job."
It was at the Lincoln Journal Star where one of his most memorable moments of his career took place.
In 2016, the judges at the 2016 National Press Photographers Association Best of Photojournalism: Picture Editing competition awarded Rudner and his team with an honorable mention in the newspaper front page category for their work on the World War II veterans project “70 Years Later,” that ran on Sept. 2, 2015. Rudner and his team’s front page was one of 1,500 entries submitted for the international contest.
After a long, diverse and fulfilled career, Rudner’s advice for young and aspiring story tellers has generally remained the same.
“Always be curious,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to question things. There are always good stories.”
C.C. Stone spends her days juggling her multiple jobs of on-air personality, community calendar director and TV host at News Channel Nebraska.
It’s all part of life as a small-town radio personality for Stone to entertain, enlighten and inform listeners. News Channel Nebraska, which is based in Norfolk, includes a website, NCN-TV Channel 35 and 94.7 FM on the radio.
Stone says her normal day is never the same. She usually gets to work at 10 a.m. to get everything updated. She is on air for her shift from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Weekends are mostly spent working on TV segments, events, live remotes or at public appearances. During the summer she is busy with fairs, concerts and emceeing.
Stone says being in an area with a smaller population is good for her on-air personality.
"I can be more of myself up here since more people know how quirky I am,” she said.
Stone said that social media has changed her job a lot.
"Before we did a lot of our contests on the radio with call-ins. Now we do a lot of contests on Facebook,” she said.
When Stone comes in to work, it is a requirement for her to be logged into Facebook. It is a major part of her job and helps with branding. She says she tries to post often. Social media is a huge part of radio, journalism and broadcasting these days, she said.
Before the Internet and social media hit, no one really knew the face behind the voice, she said.
She said that is a good and bad thing.
“I will never complain about my job. I love it. There is a time, though, I just want to be done for the day and not talk about work,” she said.
She also said she has to be prepared to go into radio mode when she’s out in public, as she represents the company at all times.
Stone said she enjoys her relationships with Mike Flood, whose company owns the stations, and Dave Amick, the program director. They both give her creative range and they all respect each other with directions of stories, she said.
“I believe that editors are the key to everything. They hold the ground together in this business and are the liaisons for us," she said.
Stone says it's important for an editor to look over his or her work since it's usually read straight off the script right onto the air.
A good editor is open minded and wants every story to be successful, she said. And, good editors believe group effort is key for the story, she said.
Stone's path to News Channel Nebraska was a winding one.
Stone grew up in Nebraska and graduated from high school in Madison. She then went Bellevue College in Bellevue, Washington, and studied video productions. After graduating, she moved to Seattle and was an actress for 13 years. In 2013, she moved back to Nebraska.
“ When I got back I knew I couldn’t act so I thought what could I do that is creative and came up with radio," Stone said. She applied for a job at News Channel Nebraska's radio station.
The station trained her for six months and she's been there ever since.
Before this year Stone was strictly a radio personality, but that changed when her station changed formats. Now, she also appears on TV. In September 2015, the station switched from a rock format to 60s, 70s and 80s music and added news content to the radio station. The company that owns the station, Flood Communications, also added a TV news station.
Stone recently did a TV feature story about Dusters in Columbus, which brews beer and soda.
Stone enjoys the part of her job that allows her to showcase cool, local businesses and people.
“This line of business is definitely not for everybody, if you have a passion for it, run with it. You have to work hard everyday and you are going go where you need to go, as long as you keep your passion alive.”
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
A publishing press must acquire works in order to publish them. It’s a simple concept that is often full of complications.
“We’re the engine that drives the train, so to speak,” Alisa Plant said.
If the acquisitions department at University of Nebraska Press is the engine, Plant is the conductor. Plant is the editor-in-chief and head of the acquisitions department at University of Nebraska Press. From her office just blocks east of the Capitol, Plant oversees 10 employees.
“We are responsible for getting the manuscripts that the Press then publishes,” Plant said in an interview from her office. “Everyone has certain fields in which they acquire and they seek out the best work in those fields and say, ‘Come publish with (University of) Nebraska (Press), because we’re the best.’”
Plant does more than just oversee the department. She spends time acquiring works in her own fields of expertise, such as the history and culture of food. Plant said when it comes to the rest of the department’s acquisitions, she is often in the background. When it comes to her own works, Plant says she is often in contact with her authors. Whether it’s providing feedback on what she’s read, interpreting reader’s reports for authors or providing a sounding board for the members of her department, Plant helps shape the works the Press publishes.
Being the editor-in-chief at an academic press was a career that Plant stumbled upon.
“It’s a specialized field. It’s not something people grow up wanting to be,” Plant said.
Plant was born in Kansas City, Kansas, and received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Kansas in 1987. After a long period that even included dropping out for a time, Plant received her doctorate in history from Yale University. In the early 2000s, Plant was teaching as an adjunct professor at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge while freelancing as a copy editor.
“I think unquestionably (editing) has made me a better acquisitions editor,” Plant said about her time as a copy editor. An editor's job is “to take someone’s work and not lose their voice, but try and fix it,” she said.
“I think being a copy editor has made me a better acquisitions editor because I can read a proposal and say, ‘Okay, yes. This makes sense,’ or ‘Oh my goodness, this is going to take a real heavy copy edit. This is going to take a long time,'" for it to be ready to be published.
In 2005, Plant said she was offered a full-time copy editing job at Louisiana State University Press, but was more inclined to an open position in the acquisitions field and accepted a job there. The move was providential. Just after she left teaching at LSU, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina resulted in the cancellation of the upcoming semester.
In 2015, after 10 years at LSU, Plant accepted the editor-in-chief of acquisitions position at the University of Nebraska Press.
As an acquisitions editor, Plant relies on building relationships with authors. Her department is the eyes and ears of the Press and is always looking for new authors and interesting manuscripts.
In order to do that, she increasingly uses social media. She uses Twitter to retweet links from UNP’s Twitter account and to maintain a connection with the literary world.
“It is also interesting to me in terms of creating communities,” Plant said about her use of Twitter, "because a lot of the people I follow, follow me.”
Admittedly, she isn’t the best with social media, but Plant continues to try to get her department to engage with potential authors and readers.
After a piece has been acquired, it enters the process of going from manuscript to a book. At an academic press, a lot of published works are works of academia. A dissertation written by a graduate student that was meant for a very small committee must be reworked into a more readable form. For Plant, that means navigating through jargon, slimming down the thick writing of academia and checking the sources and footnotes.
“I will tell them to cut their footnotes (and) eliminate talky footnotes,” Plant said of turning authors’ dissertations into books.
Each editorial decision is often made as a team with the marketing and editorial, design and production departments. As editor-in-chief, Plant settles disputes between authors, editors and other departments.
“Sometimes there are title disputes," she said. "For example, one editor totally loves a title, the author does too, but marketing hates it or vice versa,” Plant said. “We have to come to some sort of compromise there and often I’m brought in with that.”
Despite the many turns in the track on the way to becoming the head of an acquisitions department, Plant said she is happy.
For those pursuing a career in editing, Plant has tips. First, study style guides and have patience, she said. Keep an open eye out for chances and hang around when they find them, she said.
“The way most careers happen is by a combination of luck and persistence and hard work,” Plant said. “That’s kind of a tried-and-true old song, but there’s a reason it’s an old song.”
By Brook Cammarata
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Balancing two professions at once sounds like an overwhelming and unrealistic task for most. However, for state Sen.Tanya Cook, the 51-year-old president of City Girl Communications, that was reality.
Since 2003, Cook has run her own public relations firm in Omaha, where she grew up. Since 2009, she has also represented District 13 in the Legislature, which meets for several months each year. This legislative session was the last for Cook because she reached her term limit.
Cook has balanced and thrived with her two passions.
She has used her public relations knowledge to help run her campaigns and promote herself and her legislative bills.
For some, keeping the two career paths separate and making sure boundaries aren’t crossed would be difficult. For Cook, it’s all part of the territory.
She has learned to stay clear of legislative bills that could interfere or cause any kind of backlash with her other career.
Cook has served on numerous committees and is the first of two African-American females to be elected. She is known for her soothing, articulate and well-spoken debate on the Legislature floor.
“I have been lucky. I haven’t had any hard votes in terms of overlap with my career with City Girl,” said Cook in a recent interview.
Cook has also made many strides in the public relations world. Her one-woman company, City Girl Communications, has been retained by the City of Omaha to help the African-American community regarding the Combined Sewer Overflow project. City Girl Communications has also assisted in targeting outreach for a long-term redevelopment project led by the Greater Omaha Commerce in North Omaha.
Cook originally fell in love with advertising and public relations while majoring in international business and concentrating on marketing at Georgetown University. This new love helped her make the decision to focus her career goals on public relations.
In 1987, Cook took the plunge with a good friend and moved to New York City. There she took a job with N.W. Ayer, an advertising agency, where she started off stuffing press kits, researching audiences and staffing events. While working for N.W. Ayer, she also interviewed people for the company newsletter. This helped her realize her passion for the writing and the public relation side of ad agencies.
Cook left N.W. Ayer for a smaller PR firm in order to gain more experience. With the new firm she began to work on non-profit projects for organizations such as the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.
“I was really more interested in using my skills for non-profits and for causes, than more business corporate interests,” said Cook.
The smaller firm allowed her to connect more with audiences and organizations. In 1989, it helped connect her with her first political campaign when David Dinkins became New York City's first black mayor.
Cook moved back to Omaha in 1990, where she continued to follow her passions for public relations and politics. She worked for Brenda Council’s city council campaign. She wrote press releases and set up placements and special events.
“With a slogan like ‘Council for Council’ how could you lose? Well, we won!” said Cook.
Cook stayed with Council’s campaign, working with her while she ran for mayor. However, after the loss she went to work for then-Gov. Mike Johanns as the director of urban affairs - a post she held from 1999 to 2006.
She handled bill-related work, but spent a lot of time with community relations and face time on the governor's behalf. During that time, she founded City Girl Communications, which specializes in public participation public relations.
In 2008, Cook ran for the state Senate and drew from campaign work experiences and also used her public relations skills. She targeted her audience and drafted messages and flyers.
Cook said her final goodbyes on the Legislature floor on April 20, 2016. While she may be done at the Legislature, she is still running City Girl Communications. She also hopes to write a book on how to run for a political office, showcasing her writing skills, public relations knowledge and political experience.
By Katie Knight
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Joe Sexton had no idea what he wanted to do with his life.
The ProPublica senior editor left the University of Colorado after multiple arrests. He spent time working for the Union Pacific Railroad and living in a boxcar. He spent a few months studying in Ireland where he wrote some bad poetry and polished his taste for stout.
But the 56-year-old is now an accomplished journalist. While he was an editor at The New York Times for 25 years, Sexton oversaw work that brought home four Pulitzer Prizes.
“I believe in the power of the accidental,” he said in a phone interview. “My entire career was a series of unlikely, but wonderful accidents. I never had a game plan. I never set out to do anything particular. But if you sort of trust the lack of certainty and say ‘yes’ as often as you can to as many different kinds of experiences, you’ll get there.”
Working for a world-renowned publication like The Times didn't come without its challenges. Time after time, the University of Wisconsin graduate had to deal with claims that The Times was biased. The Times was considered by many to be too liberal to do investigative stories on people and institutions affiliated with the political left.
But his staff investigated.
Sexton helped his staff break the news of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s penchant for prostitutes. During his time as sports editor, Sexton also watched his staff cover the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Pennsylvania State University.
“In some ways (covering the Sandusky scandal) was frustrating because it was a story that the essence of which was broken by a newspaper in Harrisburg (Pennsylvania), and I think there had been a missed opportunity on our part -- my part -- to have gotten to it earlier than we did,” the lifelong Brooklyn resident said. “But that said, it was obviously a story that warranted as aggressive and comprehensive reporting as you could muster.”
That kind of restraint, he said, allowed his team more time to get its facts checked and talk to more sources. However, Sexton, who was an English literature major, disagrees with the idea that the nonstop cycle of journalism in the Internet age has lessened accuracy.
“The truth is that newspapers, when they were put out once a day with a certain set of deadlines, were every bit the flawed creatures that today’s Internet news sites are,” he said. “Whether you have 24 hours to put out a newspaper or 14 minutes, both of those exercises are going to be flawed with mistakes and problems.”
Sexton said it's "almost lunatic" to put out 100,000 words a day and expect perfection. But the effort to try for that is noble and thrilling, he said. Mistakes are part of it all, he maintains, keeping you humble and forcing a daily rededication to be better.
While Sexton loved reporting, he still felt that same joy as an editor. People asked him: "What was it like to give up your byline? You used to have stories on the front page of The New York Times."
He wound up not missing that for a second.
“The satisfactions of being an editor, of helping shape the coverage of a department or a staff or a newspaper, helping other people achieve the great thrills and humblings of trying to do good work is an enormously satisfying thing,” Sexton said. “Having some role in leadership of a news organization during a time of enormous tumult is both pretty challenging and rewarding.”
As it turns out, Sexton has a knack for editing. During his years at The New York Times, staff that he oversaw won four Pulitzer Prizes.
“It helps to have really fabulous f---ing reporters, and The New York Times has plenty of those,” he said. “So there are plenty of opportunities to do good, important stuff. And then it really just takes the willingness to say yes to some crazy ideas.”
Central to Sexton’s view on editing and reporting is the value of risk taking.
“My shtick at the time was ‘Do s--- you’re not supposed to do,'" he said. "If you do that, you’re gonna make a bunch of big mistakes, which is fine, but you’re probably going to create some magic, too."
Sexton doesn’t have a favorite type of story to edit. All Sexton looks for is meaning. One of Sexton’s friends and a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times, Jim Dwyer, has a saying that Sexton believes in: "There are three inextinguishable human desires: the desire for food, the desire for sex and the desire for stories."
“I love stories with a beating f---ing heart,” Sexton said. “You can find them in sports. You can find them in New York City. You can find them in West Africa or southeast Asia. But I have a great appetite for stories of all types. People want to tell stories. People want to hear stories. People want to sustain themselves in stories. People want to retell stories again and again. Journalism does that very well.”
Like all good things, though, Sexton’s time at The Times came to an end.
Since working for ProPublica, he’s experienced enormous change and relief, in addition to new challenges.
“I spent 25 years at The New York Times and I could have spent 40 there,” Sexton said. “And in leaving I like to think that I managed to pull off one of the greatest divorces of all time -- both parties still loved each other and felt that there were no hard feelings, and I remain friends with people there. I remain an admirer of what they do every day.”
But he needed a change of scenery. While he said the safe bet would have been to stay at The Times, taking a chance on the young ProPublica “required a little bit of balls,” which is part of what made it feel right for him.
ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom in New York City that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.
“ProPublica had carved out its own little frontier in trying to help create a broader answer for preserving journalism into the 21st century,” Sexton said. “That felt invigorating and scary.”
No matter where he’s editing, Sexton knows how to work toward that success and satisfaction he seeks.
“It’s a combination of being willing and to act so daring and (having) curiosity, and with good fortune and hard work, crazy s--- happens,” he said. “I believe in that.”
A note about the content: This site showcases the final projects of University of Nebraska-Lincoln editing students. Each semester, students pick a journalist or communications professional to profile. This is their work.
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