By Sophia Nocera
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Covering crime for a living is both a rewarding and at times draining job for Andrew Nelson, who covers breaking news and politics for the Omaha-World Herald .
On an average day, Nelson, 43, wakes up around 7:30 a.m. He eats breakfast, catches up on news, exercises and runs errands. His shift begins at 1 p.m.
“I’m the middle man between people who work normal day shifts and the people who work night shifts,” Nelson says. “I know my wife wishes that I had normal hours, but I don’t really mind it.”
As a member of the breaking news team, Nelson responds to any breaking news, listens to police scanners and is ready to be first on the scene to get the story.
One of these stories was the February 2016 standoff between Kenneth Clark and the brothers of his ex, Julie Edwards. John and Jason Edwards were helping their sister move out of Clark’s home. One of the brothers called 911 and told an operator that he was shot, but it took law enforcement 40 minutes to find the brothers.
Nelson was called into work at around 12:30 p.m. that day.
“Another reporter was there, but he realized we needed more manpower. I left my house and went straight to the scene,” Nelson recalled.
When police arrived on the scene, an 11-hour standoff began. Eventually a SWAT team went into the house and found that the brothers, John and Jason Edwards, were already dead.
One question took over public debate after the tragic murders: Why did it take the police so long to get there?
“A lot of people think that 911 is like Uber and they automatically know where you are. That’s just not how the technology works,” Nelson said.
Instead of condemning the efforts of the 911 operators and police, Nelson took the opportunity to inform the public about the situation and possible avenues that could prevent a similar crisis.
Nelson got his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of South Dakota and a master’s degree in journalism and mass communications from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He worked part-time at the Lincoln Journal Star for a few years. Then, he moved to the Birmingham Post-Herald in Alabama and The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Mississippi.
In 2007, he returned to Nebraska to cover the night public safety beat for the Omaha-World Herald. From 2010 to 2015 Nelson was the World-Herald’s Iowa reporter and covered 2011 Missouri River floods.
“It was a big deal in the summer of 2011,” Nelson recalls. “The levees broke. People were fighting to hold onto homes.”
Nelson hunted for a story with some of the residents who were most affected and spent the summer with them at a campsite where they were staying.
“A lot of dramatic things happened. I was in Percival (Iowa) with them as things were flooding and people were fleeing. I got close to those people,” he said.
Nelson was proud that he was the reporter who got to tell their tale to World-Herald readers.
“It’s the highlight of my career,” Nelson said. “It was important to bring what happened to a broader public. ”
Although breaking news gives Nelson a chance to connect with people on a deeper level, it can be draining.
“It can be hard to do my job,” Nelson said. “But, after doing this for years, (I) feel that I can put the despair inside.”
Sometimes the lines between sympathizing bystander and reporter get blurred, he said. A few weeks ago Nelson was at a scene of homicide in north Omaha.
“I arrived at 11 p.m. I was trying to hear and see what police were doing,” he said.
As Nelson walked around the scene he noticed a group of 10 people, who were agitated and yelling at police. Those people were related to the murder victim.
“The family saw me approaching because of the identification around my neck and started asking me questions,” he said.
Unfortunately, Nelson couldn’t help.
“In cases like that, your human decency has to kick in," he said. "I wanted to know who the dead person was, but the family was upset. You need to be able to tell the public, but exercise compassion with people who are, naturally, upset.”
This is an important lesson for anyone who wants to cover breaking news.
“You have to keep elements of storytelling in mind, but don’t juice it up. Just tell it as it is,” Nelson said. “There’s a lot of drama, but it’s a natural level of drama. The stories I cover are real. The people are real -- they’re not just characters in a story. We have to remember that.”
Although the job is sometimes heartbreaking, Nelson thrives as a breaking news reporter.
“Part of the appeal is the lack of stability,” Nelson said. “When I worked regular hours, it wasn’t quite as interesting.”
Nelson said it's important to use social media to connect with his audience.
“I have a knack for Twitter. It’s something I just picked up. I tweet when I arrive at a scene, when I have time waiting around at a scene or really whenever I have time,” he said.
Nelson’s editor then re-tweets whatever he’s tweeted.
Nelson said his editors have been crucial in helping him write accurate and fair stories.
“It’s important to buckle down and show editors what you can do and talk to them like a normal person. They will help you succeed,” he said.
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