By Parker Cyza
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
When Kyle Cummings was in middle school, he was asked — as every kid is — what he wanted to be when he grew up.
He thought about it, and wrote his answer on paper to put in his time capsule for school.
“It was the first time I’ve ever been asked what I wanted to be,” Cummings said in an interview at his office at the Alliance Times-Herald. “Initially, I wrote down that I wanted to be a play-by-play announcer. And that adapted into ‘I want to cover sports.’”
So Cummings kept with it. He wrote for his high school newspaper and looked into potential careers for covering sports.
“And I think I’m too stubborn,” Cummings said about his career choices. “I can’t change my mind very easily.”
Cummings, 23, is from Alliance, a small Nebraska town of about 8,500. He graduated from Alliance High School in 2010, and later attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. At UNL, he majored in journalism and covered Husker sports — particularly Husker football — for the Daily Nebraskan.
“I kind of got lucky (to cover Husker football),” he said. “I had only worked at the DN for two semesters and that was basically because they were really low on numbers when I got in.”
When Cummings became one of the older students at the paper, he got to cover Husker football.
He graduated from UNL in December 2013 and landed a job with the Columbus Telegram in Columbus, Nebraska, and worked as a sports reporter from December 2013 to March 2015.
At the Telegram, Cummings said he learned the value of writing local content. People still care about what’s going on in town, especially with sports, he said.
“I kind of got a feel for how to balance things and how I kept local content in the paper,” he said.
Cummings also learned about the importance of building sources. Talking to players, coaches or fans is important for nearly every story, he said.
“The communication with coaches has always been big for me,” he said. “They’re huge in helping you find stories and developing those relationships.”
In March 2015, Cummings returned to his hometown of Alliance to write for the Alliance Times-Herald. He was offered the sports editor position, and is the only sports writer on staff.
With no other sports writers on duty for the Times-Herald, Cummings juggles everything on the sports page. He covers high school games in Alliance and the nearby town of Hemingford. He takes the pictures and writes previews and features. He collects sports stories from the nearby colleges of Western Nebraska Community College and Chadron State College and decides what other content he’ll put in the paper.
“(The Alliance Times-Herald) has given me free reign. They’ve let me go out and cover what I want to cover, how I want to cover it and where I want to go,” he said.
The best part about his job, Cummings said, is getting to know the people he’s covering.
“When I got back (to Alliance), I didn't know hardly anyone anymore,” said Cummings. “But it’s been nice getting to go around and get to know the kids and their families.”
The toughest part about his job is deciding what content to put in and how to balance the coverage.
“It’s a lot more important in a small town paper,” he said. “It’s tough to decide where I’m going to go this weekend to make sure I give everyone fair coverage, so I’m not overlooking a sport. It’s a balancing act.”
At the start of every week, Cummings goes through the upcoming events around the area for the week and decides what he’s going to cover and what he can’t.
“My main goal has been at least one local story per day,” he said. The rest, he said, goes to national, regional or state stories.
Cummings said he gives local stories a high priority. However, in a smaller town, there isn't a game or event happening every day. On the days where there’s not a game, he’ll plug in a feature or a preview of a game happening the following day.
The Times-Herald is largely a print-oriented newspaper. It has a website, which mostly posts local stories for readers, but it will have to get better, Cummings said.
“We’ll have to integrate more into online eventually,” he said. “Right now, Alliance has an older readership so that’s really helped us stay with print. So we have a few years, but we’re starting to do some online publishing.”
With the constant change in the world of journalism, Cummings said the biggest change will be how people get their news, which, he said, “is scary for small town newspapers” that don't have a strong online presence.
“It’s going to have to come out quicker and to a wider audience,” he said. “Going forward, it’s just a matter of how we’re getting (stories) to them and to what medium we’re getting it to them.”
To boost viewership online, Cummings keeps tabs on his Twitter account, but is not as active as he should be, he said.
“I don't update it as quickly as I would like,” he said. “But just looking at the clicks and the views, it’s clearly important and clearly where people are starting to get their news. They start with social media and get to the news outlets that way. It’s kind of the gateway in.”
Cummings' advice for journalists is simple. “You’ve got to learn to love what you do,” he said. “You have to learn to have a passion for what you do. Otherwise it will show in your work quite clearly that you didn't care that day.”
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