Editor’s notebook: Welcome to the Nebraska Examiner

January 25, 2022 5:00 am
Lincoln at Dusk with Silhouetted Nebraska State Capitol

The Nebraska State Capitol on the Lincoln skyline at sunset. (Getty Images)

After a 40-year career at the Omaha World-Herald, I retired on Dec. 31, 2019. I was ready to sleep in, travel, take my dog for long walks and embrace hobbies I never had time for when I was a reporter or editor.

Fast forward two years. I’m once again rising early, apologizing to the dog, tabling the bridge games and plunging into my new role as editor-in-chief of the Nebraska Examiner.

What brought me out of retirement? A new opportunity to help bolster our embattled news industry.

As news outlets struggle to make a profit, managers have continued to cut staff and reduce content. Newspapers and radio stations have suffered the most, according to an analysis last year by the Pew Research Center.

Newsroom jobs at newspapers were cut a whopping 57% nationally between 2008 and 2020, while 26% of radio newsroom jobs were lost, Pew reported. That translates into roughly 40,000 fewer newspaper jobs and 1,200 fewer radio jobs nationwide. Broadcast and cable television jobs remained “relatively stable” during the period analyzed.

Fewer news employees and shrinking news space mean less news, by definition.

That is bad news for our society — and our nation.

“It is not simply that functional self-government is impossible without credible journalism with all that forebodes; it is that local newspapers have provided the social glue that brought communities to life, as places where people see themselves as participating in a joint enterprise with people they know and understand and care about,” Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols wrote Nov. 30 in the Columbia Journalism Review. “That is disintegrating.”

As an online nonprofit, the Nebraska Examiner is part of a growing trend nationally that is intended to help supplement the coverage produced by traditional news outlets. As print and radio newsroom jobs were being cut between 2008 and 2020, jobs at digital newsrooms were on the rise. The nonprofit segment of the workforce grew by 144% in that period, from 7,400 to 18,000, Pew reported.

At the Nebraska Examiner, we will provide a hard-hitting, daily flow of important news, scoops and reports to inform Nebraskans and help us all to better understand our community and state. We’ll explore issues and developments that are being unreported and underreported.

The Nebraska Examiner is the 26th outlet to join States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. Because of that, our content is free of ads, paywalls and paid subscriptions.

Newspapers and broadcast stations across the state (and elsewhere) are welcome to enhance their own report by republishing our articles, free of charge, with proper attribution.

A bedrock principle underpinning Nebraska Examiner coverage is that news stories should be unbiased, fair and balanced. While we are part of a strong network of newsrooms, the Examiner retains full editorial independence.

I’m proud to be working with an impressive group of reporters. Here’s an overview of their careers:

Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel  (Rebecca S. Gratz for the Nebraska Examiner)

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and was named editor of the Papillion Times in 1982. He later worked as a sports enterprise reporter at the Lincoln Journal-Star.

Paul joined the Omaha World-Herald in 1990, working as a legislative reporter, then roving state reporter and finally Lincoln bureau chief. He has won awards from organizations including Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press and Suburban Newspapers of America.

A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation and secretary of the Nebraska Hop Growers.

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald.

Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez (Rebecca S. Gratz for the Nebraska Examiner)

Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.

She has won awards from organizations including Great Plains Journalism, the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW) and the Associated Press.

Cindy has been recognized by various nonprofits for community contributions and diversity efforts. She chairs the board that oversees the local university’s student newspaper.

Political Reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also spent several years as an assignment editor and worked two stints as an editorial writer.

Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford (Rebecca S. Gratz for the Nebraska Examiner)

From 2005 to 2007, he served as communications director for then-Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman. Aaron, a North Carolina native, most recently was the lead investigative reporter for KMTV 3 in Omaha, focusing on holding public officials accountable.

Aaron’s work has received awards from the Associated Press, Great Plains Journalism and more.

As for me, I grew up in Omaha and have spent the bulk of my journalism career at the Omaha World-Herald. I held numerous roles there over the years, including features writer, copy editor, Washington Bureau reporter, assistant city editor, investigative team editor, metro-regional editor and editorial page editor.

I worked with a series of excellent reporters over the years, many of whom continue to do strong work for The World-Herald and other news organizations across the nation. Our work resulted in projects that triggered resignations of state officials and reforms in state law.

A sampling: An examination of Nebraska’s flawed sentencing practices, resulting in child rapists, drug dealers and others being released from prison too soon; a yearlong investigation of public policy issues surrounding the mass killings at Von Maur department store; a series exploring the unintended consequences of Nebraska’s “safe haven” law, which triggered dozens of troubled adolescents — instead of unwanted newborns — to be handed over to the state to raise; and a four-day narrative series, “Lost in High School,” which showed how public schools can fail to challenge their average scholars.

I’m confident Paul, Cindy and Aaron will continue this tradition of award-winning coverage. I encourage you to sign up for our newsletter and visit our website regularly to see their work. We hope to earn your respect, your trust and your support.

Nebraska newspapers have shown an appetite for the additional coverage that nonprofit journalists are providing, said Dennis DeRossett, executive director of the Nebraska Press Association.

“Readers want it,” DeRossett said, “citizens want it, and our democracy depends on it.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Cate Folsom
Cate Folsom

Editor-in-Chief Cate Folsom has more than 40 years of experience in daily journalism, spending the bulk of that time at the Omaha World-Herald. She worked in various roles, including features writer, copy editor, Washington Bureau reporter, assistant city editor, investigative team editor, metro-regional editor and editorial page editor.