Linda Ash, editor of the Northern Virginia Daily, is our Q&A subject this week.
Ash talks to us about a career that has been spent solely in journalism, her mantra she’s abided by over her years in the industry, what an ideal and not so ideal day in the newsroom looks like and more.
To start, please introduce yourself and tell us about what you do and where you do it.
I am the editor of the Northern Virginia Daily, which is located in Strasburg. We are a daily that covers news in Shenandoah and Warren counties, the Town of Front Royal, southern Frederick County and at times the Winchester area.
I’ve been editor here for seven years – since Ogden Newspapers purchased the Daily from the Keister family. Prior to that I managed the Daily’s web products – nvdaily.com, a daily newsletter, and three apps I created and sold for Apple and Android products.
I’m from the shores of Lake Erie – grew up in Mentor, Ohio, and was a journalism major at Kent State University. I was there at an interesting time – just three years after the May 4 shootings and during the Watergate scandal, which I believe drew many young people into journalism – everybody wanted to be investigative reporters like Woodward and Bernstein.
After college I crisscrossed the country working at newspapers. I started out as a reporter for the News-Herald in Conneaut, Ohio, and the News-Herald in Willoughby, Ohio, and then was named bureau chief / photojournalist at the Erie Times in Pennsylvania. I went south to Tennessee where I was a night editor at the Johnson City Press Chronicle. After that I was a designer and then assistant city editor at the Alexandria Daily Town Talk in Louisiana, a designer at the Newport News Daily News in Virginia, and then assistant wire editor at the Naples Daily News in Florida.
In the late 1990s, when newspapers started worrying about protecting their classifieds and began launching websites, I was able to get on the web team at the Naples paper in Florida and helped launch naplesnews.com. I loved working on that project – it changed the direction of my life. I moved on to Texas, where I was the online managing editor for the San Antonio Express-News. Two years later, the paper’s website became mysanantonio.com and merged with KENS-TV, so I was working part of my day in the television station’s newsroom.
I then went to Sacramento, California, where I was the Sacramento Bee’s online content manager, managing its websites and newsletters for several years. I came back east about 11 years ago to build and manage the Northern Virginia Daily’s website, and now I’ve spent more than half of that time as editor.
That’s a long list of a lot of cool jobs. What has been your mantra (if you will) for thriving in and working across an industry that has been in a constant state of flux for decades?
Embrace change, don’t hide from it. Change is inevitable, and I thrive on it. I love a challenge.
“My work is never boring – always challenging. It’s also allowed me to experience life vicariously, and has given me freedom to explore, learn and share stories with others. Being a journalist is the best job ever.”
What are some challenges you face as the NVD editor and how do you confront them?
What’s important to our readers is local news – not national or world news – and that’s my biggest challenge.
Some days it’s easy to fill 1A and inside pages with local copy; other days not so much. We have a much smaller staff than we did 10 years ago and a huge area to cover. Our focus is not on just one city or county. Our reporters put a lot of mileage on their vehicles to cover meetings, sporting events and feature stories in a three-county area. One of our counties, Shenandoah County, is more than 30 miles long – the travel time to cover something in New Market, for example, from Strasburg where our office is located is an hour or more roundtrip.
We also have super early deadlines because our paper is printed offsite. That means our inside local copy is due by 3:30 p.m. each day, and 1A and B1 Sports stories are due by 6 p.m. so that we can get our paper to press by 9:15 p.m. The early deadlines prevent us from getting any evening meetings or sporting events into the next day’s paper.
We overcome the deadline issue by sending readers to our website to read any major local news that breaks after we go to press. On the plus side is that our meeting stories are better written now because the reporter does not have to rush and has time to get questions answered or reaction to something that occurred at the meeting. As for sports, we still have game coverage, but we write more features now.
I push our reporters to turn in two stories every day and to think visually – we need more local photos in the paper. To fill our paper with local news and photos, our reporters need to be able to plan out what they’re doing each day in advance. Coming in cold, not knowing what you’re going to do that day doesn’t work – and getting them into a routine of planning ahead has been a challenge. What has helped is a weekly meeting with each reporter – we meet each Monday and go over their plans for that week. I have the reporters post their weekly budgets on an internal blog before that meeting, and they update the blog each day by 11 a.m. with what they’re planning for the next day’s paper.
As the newsroom’s captain, it sounds like you’ve figured out work around to your dilemmas. Let’s get a little hypothetical. What would be a “perfect” news day for you at the NVD look like?
This is an easy question. A perfect day would consist of a busy news day that brings in a good mix of 1A, 1B and inside local news, features, photos and community news – so much, in fact, that there’s not enough room in our paper for wire content – 100 percent local news. I also would want on that day for everybody to have so much fun at work that they can’t wait to come back in tomorrow to do it all over again.
“My proudest moments are the times when our staff members have won awards for all the hard work they put in to writing a great story or taking an awesome photo.”
Now, what about a day where everything is going off the rails and nothing is hitting right? What’s that look like and how do you tap into that zen-like mindset that I’m sure you (as an editor) have to have?
There are days when stories fall through, reporters are on vacation or, a double whammy, others are out sick at the same time. Monday holidays when banks and schools are closed while the rest of the world is working are probably the slowest news days. We get through them the best that we can but what helps is the fact that since our publisher owns four newspapers up and down the I-81 corridor in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, I can pull news and features from The Winchester Star, the Daily News Record in Harrisonburg, and The Journal in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Our readers travel outside of our circulation area for entertainment, medical care, to shop or work, and having regional news available to each newspaper benefits our readers. It also gives our stories a much bigger audience, and that’s nice for our reporters and photographers.
What’s one of your proudest moments as the NVD editor?
My proudest moments are the times when our staff members have won awards for all the hard work they put in to writing a great story or taking an awesome photo. Over the years we’ve won first place awards in contests hosted by the Virginia Press Association, the Virginia Farm Bureau and the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association.
What do you enjoy the most about working in newspapers and what has kept you in the industry over all these years?
I thrive on change and variety. My work is never boring – always challenging. It’s also allowed me to experience life vicariously, and has given me freedom to explore, learn and share stories with others. Being a journalist is the best job ever.