Q&A: The Post’s Jim Ryan and Emma Ockerman

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Editor’s note: Jacob DeSmit has written, edited or designed for The Post throughout his three years attending Ohio University. He is currently a member of The Post‘s design team.

Photo provided by Patrick Connolly (For The Post)

Last Friday, The Post, Ohio University’s student-run newspaper, finalized its pick for next year’s editor-in-chief. The result? The Post will be led in the 2015-2016 school year by Emma Ockerman, a sophomore studying journalism who will be the publication’s first female editor-in-chief since 2009. Backdrop sat down with Ockerman and current Editor-in-Chief Jim Ryan to discuss what students can expect from Ockerman and The Post next year.


Backdrop
 Magazine: The Post determines which of its candidates earns the editor-in-chief position with help from a group called the Post Publishing Board. Who is involved with that process?

Jim Ryan: The Post Publishing Board is essentially an advisory body that approves The Post’s fiscal budgets and picks its editor. It’s composed of two J-School faculty members, one other faculty member from the Scripps School of Communication, a community representative, a student affairs representative, The Post’s business manager, an undergrad, a graduate student, an administrative representative and I believe that’s it, though I may be leaving one person off. Basically, it’s supposed to represent the university’s community in picking The Post’s editor and approving its budget.

(More information about the Post Publishing Board can be found here: http://www.ohio.edu/standingcommittees/committee.cfm?customel_datapageid_1748687=1749813)

BM: But the process starts within, right? The editors’ plans are posted in the newsroom first, so does the entire Post get a say in the decision?

JR: The way we did it this year, and the way it’s historically done, is that [the candidates] are asked to draw up a proposal. So that’s a seven-to-12-page document, usually, that outlines what you would do if named editor. So that’s your staffing, that’s your plan for the direction of the publication, what you want to focus on content-wise, things like that. We post those on the wall in the newsroom so everyone can read them, everyone can sound off on them, bad or good. It’s in the means of transparency, so folks know what they’re getting into. The editorial workers do not have a vote on who is named The Post’s editor, with the exception being the current editor. I am currently a sitting member in the Publishing Board, so I have a vote in that room just like everyone else does.

BM: Was it a surprise that Emma was named next year’s editor-in-chief?

JR: To me, personally, it was not a surprise. I think Emma is very uniquely qualified for the position and will do a great job, and we had three very qualified candidates for the position. Any one of them would have done a great job. Ultimately, I am very pleased the Board selected Emma.

BM: (to Emma) Was it a surprise for you?

Emma Ockerman: Yeah. [laughs] I was surprised, to be completely honest.

BM: What did you think your chances of being chosen were throughout the process?

EO: I think they were as much as anybody else’s, considering we all had different things we wanted to bring to the table. I was actually pleased we included very different things in our proposals and all had different ideas. I’m hoping everyone will want to come to the table next year and implement those things as a group. But considering that we each have different strengths and things that we wanted to do, I thought it was fair that the publishing board could go either way with what they wanted to see next year.

BM: What were some of the highlights of your plan that might have led them to choose you?

EO: I don’t know what led them to choose me. [laughs] But some of the highlights of my plan would be expanding more digital operations, putting a digital managing editor in the executive office and making sure that that position remained a top editor or moved up, creating a visual media director, directly trying to find a person in the visual communication school who specializes in interactive design that might want to hop on board with The Post, and trying to focus on some rebranding campaigns for next semester when we’re recruiting to make sure we aren’t just looking for journalism students or students who are mainly interested in print media but students really who are interested in anything that could find a niche in The Post if we were able to provide that for them.

BM: I know from reading the Post article that made the announcement that [Professor Aimee] Edmondson was very supportive of there being a woman editor-in-chief next. What does a woman bring to that leadership role that a male may not?

EO: In my opinion, it’s representative of the student body we have now. There is a majority of females on this campus, and I feel that it’s very important that they have a female figurehead that they can point to with their story ideas and their pitches and say, “this is what we want to see The Post becoming in the next year.”

But I don’t think it’s necessarily something that’s dictated by gender when it comes to what makes a better editor-in-chief. I think it just comes down to people loving The Post, people caring about The Post and people wanting to keep journalistic integrity alive on campus. However, I do think that being a female will at least help in being representative of the student body.

JR: I’d echo that completely.

BM: (to Jim) Do you foresee Emma facing any kind of challenges that you didn’t in your time as editor-in-chief?

JR: Of course there are always new things always come up. If I had sat here at this time last year and named off all the things that would be challenging for me this year, I simply couldn’t based on the years prior. Emma’s going to face a whole slew of different challenges than I did. I’m sure she’ll handle them very well, and I’m sure her staff around her will handle them very well.

Every year is different, but I know one of the primary things is in how we continue to do a great daily newspaper in addition to continue building up that online presence that we’ve been expanding year over year.

BM: (to Emma) In your career as a journalist, what type of challenges have you faced in the collegiate and professional setting?

EO: I suppose some of it has boiled down to the fact that I’m young. At the internships I’ve had so far, I’ve entered in as the youngest intern at that job or as one of very few interns in that pool. Sometimes being young has been a challenge. It’s hard to always be taken seriously when you are a student — that’s across all respects, across all mediums. No matter who you are as a journalist: the younger you are, the harder it is to be taken seriously by professionals that are above you. But that’s a challenge, not necessarily an obstacle. I think it’s something that [the Scripps School of Journalism], in general, is able to overcome. We have great students on this campus who are proving every single day that they have what it takes to be journalists, no matter what their ages are.

But aside from that, I have found that both The Post and the internships I’ve had previously have been very welcoming to my ideas, to what I wanted to do. I’ve never been in a place where I haven’t been able to speak up about what I feel is right or where I think the future is heading. People have always been receptive to not only my ideas but to everyone’s, at least in the work environments I’ve been in.

BM: You both are very confident in the quality of journalists that are coming out of the school. Do you think that women journalists are being represented fairly in the different publications on campus and with equality to men?

EO: In student publications on campus I would definitely say certainly. I don’t anticipate me being the only female editor at The Post next year, and I don’t anticipate being the only female editor at a student publication, certainly in a top leadership position. Looking at the fact that there is a majority of women in Scripps, it’s only natural that as years go on, women are going to be in leadership positions.

Again, I don’t think that is necessarily something that needs to be dictated by gender. I think men and women can do equally well in leading a publication. However, I think it’s gonna be really cool to see a lot of really awesome ladies rocking in the executive office, taking charge of the newsroom. I think we’ll be able to have a lot fun next year, but that’d be the case for boys or girls.

BM: Where does The Post go from here? What are you looking forward to most next year?

EO: I’m looking forward to – I don’t want to say start fresh – but look in different directions that we haven’t before. I’m looking forward to being able to, hopefully, be a very vocal and visible editor and have editors backing me up who are also vocal and visible people who love what they are doing, are happy doing it and want to talk to people about it. [I want those editors] to want to hear opinions from other students on campus that might not be journalism students but who want to have a hand in how The Post is shaped in the future, or who might want to have a hand in what media is going to look like in the next 10 years. I want to hear that from everybody.

Not all of my friends are journalists. Some of my best friends on this campus are majors from pretty much all walks of life. Knowing that and seeing how they’ve been reading The Post and how they’ve been receptive to our coverage, I’d kind of would like to see more of that implemented in our newsroom. I want to see some non-journalism and non-visual communication majors in here. I’d like to see this campus have a hand in shaping The Post like it should, and it not just being us [journalism majors] in this newsroom.

BM: What are you two most proud of in terms of what The Post has done this year?

JR: I think The Post has generated a lot of discussion on campus this year and has really provided necessary news to those who need it. I had a phone call this morning from a woman here in town who said The Post has been one of the news outlets that has been holding folks accountable here on campus over the past several years, and she just wanted to call to pass along a story idea and thank us for our coverage. That, to me, is a reminder that what we do as student journalists — not just at The Post, but elsewhere – really is meaningful and something that we should be proud of, not only just as journalists but as students here at OU.

EO: I would say that this year I have been most proud of our breaking news coverage. We’ve been able to do a lot to make sure that students aren’t just getting the news they need quickly, but they’re getting the news that they need in an engaging and entertaining manner. With our coverage of things like the West Union Street fire and Pat Kelly’s trial, we have not only fully been able to write those stories well and and in an interesting way but also at speeds and with talent that I can’t even fathom or explain. I can’t believe the kind of talent that is coming from the freshman level at The Post.The kind of content they’re churning out at four in the morning when news breaks is just incredible to me, and I can’t even imagine the kind of talent that will come next year on the freshman level.

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