Q&A with Wes Platt, news editor at the Herald-Sun

by andybechtel

Wes Platt is the newly appointed news editor at the Herald-Sun newspaper in Durham, N.C. He previously served as a reporter covering K-12 education. In this interview, conducted by email, Platt discusses his new job, which includes writing editorials and contributing to the paper’s social media presence.

Q. Describe your job. What does a news editor do on a typical day?

A. Right now, my days are mostly atypical, because we’re in the process of replacing me on the K-12 education beat. Until that happens, I’ll occasionally throw my reporter hat back on to cover a school event or board meeting.

But on days that are close to normal, I start from home in Watts-Hillandale, posting news from the Herald-Sun website to our Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Around 2 p.m., I arrive at the office and get caught up on what’s going into the next day’s paper. I talk with Bob Ashley, our editor-in-chief, about the plan for the night and what I’ll editorialize about. I start building a budget of national and world interest stories for Section C. I select and upload cartoons for the op-ed page.

About 5 p.m., the day starts blurring, because reporters are submitting copy for editing and I’m often writing an editorial. Once I edit an article, I upload it to our internal system for the page designers and then to the website. When I finish an editorial, I send it to Bob and our publisher, Rick Bean, for review and feedback.

As fresh material starts popping up on the newspaper’s website, I get busy promoting it through our social media outlets. I try to limit this to just a few links in each burst.

Later in the evening, I may be waiting for a reporter to file a late article from a government meeting or special event. That quiet time is often when I peruse the paper for editorial topics to explore in the coming days. But it’s also when I keep an eye on other media and our breaking news alerts.

After all copy is edited and uploaded everywhere it needs to go, I shift into air traffic control mode and wait to review the pages for the next day’s paper online.

Before calling it a day, I’ll send Bob an email outlining what’s done for the next morning if I am able to work ahead.

Q. What kind of a news town is Durham? What stories do you find most interesting?

A. It’s an eclectic town with so many interesting facets. I am always interested in stories that defy stereotypes and show real moments and genuine personalities.

I hear a lot of people painting Durham as a sort of “little Detroit” when it comes to crime. But while we do have rough areas, we’re also incredibly diverse, creative and forward-thinking, from our universities to the Research Triangle Park. I love to read (and write) stories that go beyond the superficial stereotypes.

Q. You also handle the editorials for the newspaper, which is not typical for a news person to do. How do you balance those aspects of the job?

A. It is unusual, but I don’t think it is intended to be permanent. I’m handling some reporting duties during this transitional period until a new reporter is hired.

As I noted earlier, although I write editorials, I don’t do so in a vacuum. These are intended to reflect the editorial board’s opinions, not just mine. Bob and Rick may offer feedback, suggesting a different tone or other changes that allow the piece to truly represent the newspaper.

Once we’ve got a new K-12 reporter, I’ll start writing columns to keep me out in the community and sharing my voice with readers. Beyond that, I expect my byline on objective articles to become an exceptional rarity.

Q. You are active in social media. What are you and your newspaper hoping to achieve there?

A. Bottom line: We want people to put their eyes on the Herald-Sun website and print edition. Twitter’s an incredibly crowded breakroom with lots of people gathered around the water cooler. We want to be part of their conversation.

Through these outlets, we want people to know that their local Durham newspaper is still here, and we’re still telling great stories about their hometown. We want to connect with our readers so they can share more wonderful stories with us, and then we can shout about those on the internet too. It all helps feed the daily beast.

Q. It’s been a difficult period for the newspaper business, with staff reductions at the Herald-Sun and other publications. What do you see as the future of newspapers?

A. So far, the 21st century has been apocalyptic for many print newspapers. Really, there’s no way to sugarcoat that.

But it is truly evolution in action. I am optimistic that papers like the Herald-Sun can survive because of our concentration on local news.

Social media won’t be our salvation. To me, social media is the new billboard, a new sign on the side of a downtown bus, the little ad on the restaurant menu. It reminds the people who are listening that we are still here.

It helps spread the word and gets people talking about us, which is great (and inexpensive, which is also a big plus), but it doesn’t guarantee survival.

Our salvation will be readers who recognize and appreciate the local coverage we offer each and every day, and who challenge us to cover more and better.

Follow Wes Platt on Facebook and Twitter.

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