B A H j o u r n a l i s t

Brian Anthony Hernandez

Update on my life: New York Times and more

Hey, gang:

As promised to many of you, here’s an update on my life. I’m moving to Phoenix because I got a gig at The Arizona Republic, the 10th most circulated newspaper in the nation. Starting June 8, I’ll be reporting and editing my ass off in the sweltering heat. I can’t wait.

You have all been instrumental in my social life, but I’ve really dropped the ball on keeping you up to date with my career aspirations and what I’ve done to attain my goals.

To remedy that, here’s a breakdown of my adventures in journalism, the experiences that led me to my new gig. Since 2004, it’s been a wild ride working for The New York Times Company, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Des Moines Register, Lincoln Journal Star, Daily Nebraskan and Scottsbluff Star-Herald and hanging out at the Jschool and journalism conferences across the country.

To keep this semi-short, we’ll just look back at what’s happened since January 2008. I dipped my feet in many areas of journalism since then such as working on multiple New York Times projects, interning as a reporter for The Cleveland Plain Dealer and serving as editor at The Daily Nebraskan, the independent student newspaper at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Below are the highlights of those rewarding experiences:

New York Times projects, spring and fall 2008

1) Nineteen other college newspaper editors and I blogged live for The Times’ political blog “The Caucus” during two presidential debates, one vice-presidential debate and on Election Night. This was a golden opportunity for me to sink my teeth into a national, large-scale form of new media. On Election Night, for example, I wrote four postings about Nebraska’s affirmative action ban results, senatorial candidate Scott Kleeb’s campaign blunder and my voting experience.

2) Last year, The Times’ Chicago bureau placed me on its list of Midwest stringers to help report on issues and events in eastern Nebraska.

3) In January 2008, I traveled to Tucson, Ariz., to participate in The New York Times Student Journalism Institute, a two-week program that brings together 20 students and several professional journalists from The Times, The Boston Globe and Times Company Regional papers. At the Institute, which functioned as a working newsroom, I edited stories and wrote headlines for a 16-page print product and for a Web site. I also created music for podcasts, blogged about editing and wrote an in-depth story about health-care providers’ struggles to pay for interpreters and language services for their patients: “With Budgets Tighter, Hospitals Struggle to Pay the Bill for Language Services.” Also, check out a video of me talking about the Institute and how I first got interested in journalism at the bottom of the Institute’s homepage.

Daily Nebraskan editorship, fall 2008

We, self-proclaimed “DNers,” started the academic year with a 28-page newspaper in which I wrote an editor’s column outlining our goals to excite and include readers. Aside from trying to accomplish the goals in my opening column, I had the pleasure of managing the newspaper’s largest-ever staff of more than 150 students and the task of handling a $221,000 personnel budget. As the year progressed, the staff and I tackled unexpected challenges and were greeted with many successes and state and national awards. Though my tenure as editor ended in January, I continue to mentor a handful of DNers. I’ve met with them one-on-one to prepare them for their summer internships, revamp their resumes, enhance their portfolios, find conferences to attend and connect them with journalists at newspapers across the nation. Helping other aspiring journalists learn and grow will be my most memorable and rewarding experience as editor, but I’m hopeful this year’s staff will be remembered for the five things listed below.

1) Dispute: After the university denied several of my reporters’ records requests and cut off access to vital administrators, we fought back by writing an editorial and setting up a meeting with the chancellor. Throughout the dispute (read the Journal Star article titled “UNL, Daily Nebraskan resolving dispute”) we garnered support from First Amendment organizations as well as many out-of-state college and city newspapers, some of which wrote editorials shunning the administration and supporting our efforts. In the end, we mended our relationship with the administration, received the documents and regained access to vital voices.

2) “State of Mind” series: Each year, The Daily Nebraskan does an in-depth endowment series. Armed with a $7,000 project budget this year, we chose the topic of mental health. I sent crews to five locations outside of Nebraska, several places in the state and two international areas. We published the series titled “State of Mind” in three four-page installments in March. While the series had many well-written and well-reported stories, the article titled “Legal, illegal immigrants face slew of mental health issues” was my favorite.

3) Funding: When asking the university’s Committee for Fees Allocations to increase student-fee funding to the Daily Nebraskan, we were met with opposition, particularly because of tough economic times and the state of the newspaper industry. In the end, we persuaded the committee to allocate $115,686, which was a $33,729 increase from the prior year. The money helps pay for printing costs and fully funds a satirical newspaper under the Daily Nebraskan umbrella.

4) Web redesign: We remodeled DailyNebraskan.com (which has since been redesigned again) to give it a more modern look and feel. More importantly, though, we made the site easier to navigate so readers can quickly find content, subscribe to our e-mail edition, submit letters to the editor and view downloadable PDFs of our daily print edition (read our editorial detailing the changes). The new online platform allowed us to provide readers with audio slideshows, videos, photo galleries, podcasts, blogs and other fresh components not found in our print edition.

5) Election coverage: We embarked on the Daily Nebraskan’s most extensive coverage of any election season ever by tossing readers more than 55 stories about local, state and national issues and candidates. We also provided readers with a grab bag of other stories about people behind the scenes during campaign season and political tidbits in the form of charts, graphics and election guides. Our results issue also caught the eye of folks at Poynter, who chose our front page as a finalist for inclusion in their book showcasing historic election-day front pages.

Cleveland Plain Dealer internship, summer 2008

During my 12-week stint as a Plain Dealer reporter, I worked for the metro section and features department. In metro, I covered a variety of events, including the death penalty hearing and sentencing of an ax murderer, the update on the Fugitive Safe Surrender program, a memorial of a slain police officer, a fire that killed a Medina man and which five children narrowly escaped and the final chapter in the tale of a decade-long battle to save the historic Cozad-Bates House, among other fascinating events. In features, I expanded my life experiences with the reporting I did: I got a manicure, tried on skinny jeans, touched a vinyl record for the first time, learned how to bike safely, roller skated with an 86-year-old, interviewed an “American Idol” contestant and did many other weird but fun things. I also had six stories published after my internship ended.

1) My favorite assignment: I covered the death penalty hearing and sentencing of a Cleveland man who used an ax to kill a couple while they slept. My series of three stories following this court drama incited more reader responses through phone and e-mail than any story or series I’ve written. Story No. 2: “Carlos Christopher apologizes for double murder, judges consider punishment.”

2) My first assignment: For this task, I attended a service honoring police officers killed on duty. My story ran as the centerpiece on the metro front page the next day with two photos and jumped inside to three more photos and another story I had written. The story titled “Fallen police honored in annual ceremony” on the front also has a video with it on the Web.

3) My favorite story: I received a copy of a yet-to-be published study, which shed light on Fugitive Safe Surrender, a program that allowed thousands of fugitives to turn in themselves to authorities safely at churches. Instead of just quantifying the program’s efforts by using numbers, I found and interviewed a former fugitive who had taken advantage of Safe Surrender and used her story to propel my 40-plus inches, above-the-fold, front-page article titled “Fugitive Safe Surrender program succeeds; Kent State study tells why.”

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May 27, 2009 - Posted by | Arizona, Arizona Republic, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Daily Nebraskan, Journalism, New York Times, Online, Personal, Phoenix, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Work, Writing

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