When talking to people about my job here at NEBRASKAland, folks almost always ask who decides what stories appear in the magazine. The simple answer is, “We all do,” but it’s really not that simple.
Twice a year, the staff and contributors to the magazine and other Game and Parks Commission staff gets together to discuss the content for the next two years. Yes, you read that right. We’re looking ahead two years. To have the seasonal content our readers like, we have to photograph a pheasant hunt during one pheasant season in order to have something to run in the magazine, which goes to press a month before the issue date, during the following season. Same for a story on fishing the walleye spawn or fall camping. A daily newspaper we are not.
Writers submit lists of story ideas they have, and at those meetings, we throw them on the wall and see what sticks. Some ideas are shot down quick. Some die quietly and others go down in flames. Sometimes we’ll lobby hard for an idea we feel strongly about. Occasionally, we get our way. We had this same kind of meeting almost every day when I worked for the Scottsbluff Star-Herald in the late-1990s. Steve Miller, my editor, would always play devil’s advocate and ask: “Why should I care?” Then and now, if you can’t answer that question, you aren’t doing the story.
But having a good idea and having a place for it are two different things. We try to balance our content to insure that all of the grand things we manage here at Game and Parks – Fish, Wildlife, Parks and Outdoor Recreational Resources - are represented, with an added sprinkling of general interest topics,. So if we get 20 great story ideas on the same subject, we have to pick and choose. That’s where Jeff Kurrus, our associate editor comes in, works his magic and churns out a schedule that balances both content and staff time (some stories require a day in the field, while photos for others might be capture during several field seasons). The schedule is not concrete. Some stories fall through and others appear unexpectedly that need to be moved in asap.
Planning NEBRASKAland is like hunting and fishing. Just as you can never have too many places to hunt or fish, you can never have too many story ideas. Each of us keeps a list of ideas we’ve come across. (I shudder to think how long Jon Farrar’s list is after 40 years on the job.) The best ideas make it to print pretty quick. A few gather dust for years before they see ink. Some simply don’t fit the magazine’s content and are abandoned.
So where do we get our ideas? We sniff some out and stumble onto others, but some of the best ideas are sent our way by staff and readers. One of my all-time favorites, “Thursdays are for Trout,” was sent by Gary Ralston, a long-time warden in Creighton who is now retired.
So why am I boring you with this trivial information? Our next magazine meeting is in a few weeks, and Jeff is bugging me for story ideas. If you have one, anything from an interesting outdoor enthusiast to a special place to someone who has a really neat way of doing things, let us know about it. We might be able to use it. But please don’t be offended if we don’t. That doesn’t always mean it’s not a good idea. It might just be that we had better ideas in the can or didn’t have room for yours. And remember that even if we do use it, it might not hit the newsstand for a few years.