By Riley Slezak
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Don Walton has done the same thing for the same paper for over 40 years. It may seem like this could be boring at times, but in the evolving field of journalism Walton has been through many changes too.
“In essence I’m covering the same sort of events, but there are different personalities, different players,” said Walton during an interview in Lincoln.
Walton is the politics and government reporter for the Lincoln Journal Star. This involves covering the state Legislature and government, as well as other political events in Nebraska. Walton was born in South Dakota, but grew up in Lincoln and graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a journalism degree.
Walton said he knew had a passion for writing as well as history and politics, but he still didn’t know which major to pursue by the time he was a sophomore. When his adviser gave him some options that involved Walton’s passion of writing, he chose journalism.
The changes that Walton has really noticed in the industry are the quick nature of news. He may have been able to sit on information for a while in the past, but now he knows he has to get it out as soon as he can.
“When I started there was no online,” said Walton. “There’s a lot more players now, not only newspapers and broadcasts and TV, but bloggers who are engaged."
Walton worked for the Lincoln Star when he first started as a reporter. The Star was a morning paper and he knew that he could wait until the night before if he had story. But, changes in competition have taken that luxury away.
“The scoop lasts about as long as you can get it tweeted or put up online and then it’s gone,” said Walton.
Walton feels as if he has adapted to these changes well. He now shares information sooner and uses Twitter.
Walton said while Twitter forces him to get things out immediately, it's also a valuable source of information. When he was first told that he should get on Twitter, he questioned why.
“Twitter has been a great resource for me,” said Walton. “I’m a big Twitter fan in terms of getting information.”
Besides adapting to the Web and social media, Walton also pointed to the importance of knowing people and being able to develop relationships with them.
He said that people have a natural tendency to share what they know and this can be very valuable to reporters in a fast-paced job.
“You want to know the 49 senators, but you want to know their staff too,” said Walton when bringing up the importance of talking to a variety of people.
One thing that has remained consistent throughout Walton’s career is the importance of editors. Walton said that good editors are “invaluable” and that his relationship with his editors is good.
Walton said he works best with editors who are willing to work out differences of opinion. He is concerned when editors make major changes without consulting the reporter first.
“My view has always been ‘Hey, it’s my name on that,'" said Walton. “I’m comfortable being fully responsible for what I write, but not for what somebody else writes.”
Walton sometimes has to make tough decisions. He said that he tries not to be too tough on people.
“I’m inclined to give people a little bit of the benefit of the doubt on their beliefs," said Walton.
His daily routine is not always the same. But on a typical day while the Legislature is in session, he could work from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
On a recent day in spring 2016, when the Legislature was in session, Walton said he arrived at the Capitol around 7:30 a.m. Walton watched the Legislature throughout its session and when it wasn’t in session he was on the phone gathering information for stories.
“Those hours are probably atypical," said Walton, who works a more regular schedule when the Legislature is not in session.
Covering the same thing for 40 years hasn’t made Walton weary or worn out on journalism, he said.
He believes aspiring journalists should be willing to adapt to change, as he has done. Students should also take advantage of opportunities and learn about a variety of things so they are well informed.
“The world is a lot smaller now than when I was a student,” said Walton. “I would say take advantage of that.”
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