The indispensable role of the news editor

One of the main reasons a diocesan newspaper exists is to be a community newspaper, the go-to publication for a thriving Catholic community. Such a newspaper fosters unity among Catholics by announcing and recording events, telling inspiring stories of people living out their faith, articulating the goals and initiatives of their leaders, and providing accountability as to how donations are used. Over the years, the Catholic Voice has striven hard to be that newspaper for the Archdiocese of Omaha.

With such a variety of concerns and limited space, it takes an uncommon individual to sort through all the possibilities for coverage to present to our readers the best available content. At the Catholic Voice, this has primarily been the role of the news editor, a position held since 2010 by Joe Ruff.

Joe came to the Voice after many years honing his skills as a journalist with the Associated Press and the Omaha World-Herald. He took the job not only to find a new field in which to exercise his talents, but also to share his Catholic faith. And this he has done faithfully – issue in and issue out – for the last eight years. Now, as Joe leaves us for a new position in the Catholic press, it is important to take stock of his accomplishments.

So what, specifically, does a news editor do? The job involves a lot more than copy editing – applying the principles of grammar, punctuation and style to an article – though that’s part of it. A news editor is especially a 

developmental editor. In other words, he helps writers develop their stories. This involves coaching them in a number of areas, from selection of sources to writing a compelling lead to ordering the paragraphs. When the story is published, the writer gets the byline, but in a good many cases, the excellence of the work depends heavily on the news editor’s guidance.

Since the news editor helps to develop stories, it makes perfect sense that this person also coordinates the work of freelance writers and photographers. The Catholic Voice has an impressive cadre of stringers. Most, however, have full-time jobs, so they’re only able to contribute on an occasional basis. Perhaps the work of only three or four appear in our paper at any one time. To make that happen, Joe has done such things as pitching story ideas, negotiating deadlines, critiquing first drafts and selecting photographs.

None of this, of course, would be possible if the news editor weren’t a first-rate journalist in his own right. Many years of writing contribute to helping others to perfect their craft. And the Catholic Voice has benefited greatly from Joe’s writing. Just in the last year or so, Joe has authored many exceptional stories. Highlights include a feature on a letter-writing prison ministry, the harrowing tale of an immigrant mother’s flight from violence in Central America to a new life in Nebraska, and a well-reasoned exposé of the church’s stance on the death penalty.

Testimony to the tremendous job Joe has done were the many friends who streamed into our office for a Nov. 5 open house held in his honor. Priests, coworkers from various archdiocesan offices, freelancers and others all came to convey their appreciation for Joe’s work and to wish him well in his new endeavor. His last day on the job was Nov. 9. On Nov. 12, he became the news editor for The Catholic Spirit of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

Needless to say, this leaves the Voice in a predicament. The most straight-forward solution – and one we’ve already pursued – is to hire a news editor with all of Joe’s talents and qualifications. But this turns out to be easier said than done. A month of listing the job on numerous career websites has not yielded a clear-cut candidate.

As a partial solution, we have decided to promote our current senior staff writer, Mike May, to assistant editor. In this new position, Mike will do more copy editing and take on a bigger role in content development, in addition to continuing the excellent writing that our readers have enjoyed for the last three years. This opens the possibility of me taking on some news editor responsibilities and hiring a writer/communications specialist, in the event that someone with all the skills of a news editor cannot be found in fairly short order.

The question, then, that I pose to you, our valued readers, is this: Do you know of a good editor or writer that might be a good fit for the editorial department of the Catholic Voice? If you do, I’d be grateful if you’d encourage them to apply for one of our positions. Just direct them to the career section of the archdiocesan website, There they can review job descriptions and apply if they are interested. And please pray that we hire the right candidate!

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