By Emma Cox
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Joan von Kampen prefers to stay behind the scenes and was never motivated by having a byline. She likes to write, but what she’s always loved is editing.
Von Kampen, 51, had plans of being a high school journalism teacher, so she enrolled at College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
She learned that in order to be a teacher, she needed to enroll in the teachers college, but she didn’t want to make that switch. When she learned that there were editing jobs in journalism, she knew that was the route for her.
After graduating in 1988, she still wanted to be a teacher. Her long-term plan was to get her master’s degree and teach college students.
“Things don’t always work out the way you planned them out, but what happens instead turns out to be better,” von Kampen said in a phone interview.
Von Kampen has been the editor of The North Platte Telegraph since 2016, following a career at both big and small newspapers in the Midwest.
Between her junior and senior year at UNL, von Kampen landed an internship at The Des Moines Register as a copy editor, which led to her first full-time job at the Register. After three years, she moved to the Scottsbluff Star-Herald and worked there for four years first as a copy editor and then as chief copy editor.
She then moved to The North Platte Telegraph for two years, where she again started as a copy editor and then became head of the copy desk. She then became a city editor, a job that involved working with reporters. For a few months during that time, she was also the interim editor of the newspaper.
“At the end of those two years, I knew that what I needed to do for my career was to get back to focusing on the words and really polishing my editing skills,” she said.
She knew she wanted to go back to a large newspaper. In 1997, she took a job on the copy desk at the Omaha World-Herald, where she worked for 19 years. Von Kampen emphasized the importance of copy editing and she has seen how things have changed in the 30 years.
“In many ways, the editing process at large papers (is) starting to look more like the editing process at smaller newspapers,” she said.
When she worked at The Des Moines Register and was assigned to edit, her only job was to read stories.
“It was a luxury to only edit, because that is not how many newspapers run today,” she said.
Von Kampen recalls that the technology and electronic pagination was only beginning to be a part of newspapers in the early 1990s. Due to the expense of the computer systems and the complexity of changing work processes, smaller newspapers were able to make that transition sooner than larger newspapers.
With this new transition at a small newspaper, von Kampen learned how to balance her time between editing, proofreading, page design and pagination. This experience prepared her for being editor of the Telegraph, where she switches between many tasks and doesn’t focus on one specific job.
Von Kampen’s advice for journalism students is that all newspapers, have their own lessons to teach.
“There’s a lot to be said about working at small newspapers and large newspapers," said von Kampen.
"I encourage students to keep their minds open for the different possibilities that are out there in the world."
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.
This is me. I run this site.