By Dacee Dey
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Emily Hemphill-Johnson's interest in writing began at a young age. She joined the local 4-H club when she was 8 years old and served as club news reporter.
“I would write down what happened and I’d send it to the newspaper where everybody could read it," Hemphill-Johnson, now 25, said in an interview. "My name would get printed by it and I thought it was the coolest thing."
Now, as editor of The Milford Times she helps prepare the layout of the weekly paper, meets with staff for story budget meetings and assigns reporters to cover stories.
Hemphill-Johnson is also a reporter for the Seward County Independent, where she makes phone calls, sets up stories, interviews people, takes photos and writes.
There is no such thing as a typical day when working at a small-town newsroom, she said
“It’s always different. News is always happening, so it’s not like you can just clock in every morning and then clock out every night at the same time,” said Hemphill-Johnson.
“Some weeks I’m at my desk all week doing things over the phone, and then some weeks I’m like, ‘When am I going to write this?' Because I’m never here, I’m out doing interviews and talking to people and getting photos to go along with it,” she said.
Hemphill-Johnson said she prefers working at a weekly paper.
"I feel like I do more,” she said. “I get to talk to more people during the week.”
When she worked at the daily newspaper the Beatrice Daily Sun, she typically had one story a day. As a weekly reporter, she writes five to 15 stories a week.
“That’s the thing about being a weekly paper, is yeah we have a little bit more time to work on things, but we also have more stuff that’s on our list all the time,” she said.
One of the biggest challenges faced at a small town newspaper is the reaction of the community and readers.
“You’re dealing with the community all the time because they are the ones reading your stories and giving you feedback and giving you story ideas,” said Hemphill-Johnson. “If something’s not right, you’re going to hear about it, especially in a small town.”
Hemphill-Johnson said it is important to be community minded.
“It’s kind of a balancing act,” she said. “It’s important to keep in mind the people and putting out what makes readers happy, but also covering news.”
Hemphill-Johnson said that readers call in and want a story on something that may not be considered news, but the paper will run it because it wants readers to serve its readers. Often times, readers get upset when bad things are written about a person or a town.
“People love reading about the good things, but you can’t always do that because bad stuff does happen and you have to cover that too,” said Hemphill-Johnson.
As a reporter, she enjoys meeting people. One of the most memorable stories she covered was the story of an African refugee and his journey from eastern Sudan to Milford, Nebraska.
“You just meet all sorts of interesting people,” said Hemphill-Johnson. “It’s not always easy and you’ll be uncomfortable a lot, but you get to do so many things that you wouldn’t normally get to do.”
Hemphill-Johnson attended Concordia University in Seward, where she worked at the student newspaper, called the Sower, and climbed her way up from there.
Growing up in a small town, she wasn’t sure she even wanted to attend college.
“Initially, I wasn’t planning on going to college, but my parents were like, ‘No, it’s something you need to do.’ So I went to Concordia because it was close to home and I didn’t really know where I wanted to be yet," she said.
During her time at Concordia, she took an internship at the Seward County Independent and then accepted a full-time job there after graduating in 2014.
Hemphill-Johnson then worked at the Beatrice Daily Sun 2014. An editor position at The Milford Times opened up in July of 2015, so Hemphill-Johnson jumped on the opportunity and returned to her small town roots, where she's been ever since.
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