There’s a saying that the city editor has the most difficult job in a newsroom.
That’s certainly true at The Times Leader.
City Editor Dan Burnett oversees our newsroom’s largest department. Together with our night and weekend editors, Joe Soprano and John DiMaria, Dan manages 11 news reporters, two news assistants and an intern.
Throughout the course of a day, Dan’s in contact with virtually all of our reporters. He manages what’s called our “budget,” a rundown of stories that will make it into the newspaper. He edits stories. He provides guidance to reporters. He runs our daily planning meeting. He plans our Sunday projects, such as last week’s excellent update on the Lackawanna Cutoff rail line, four to eight weeks in advance.
Atop that, there are the headaches of management: paperwork, updating timecards, handling payroll, juggling vacation schedules.
It’s a relatively thankless job — Dan’s name doesn’t appear in any of the dozens of stories, news briefs and web updates he edits each day — yet it’s also the most crucial to our success.
Dan has worked at The Times Leader since 2007, coming to us via The Times-Tribune in Scranton and The Pocono Record in Stroudsburg. A Pennsylvania native, Dan’s experience helps shape nearly all of our journalism and his steady leadership, frankly, makes my life a lot easier.
Perhaps Dan’s biggest asset, though, is his ability to multitask. Over the course of typical one-hour block of time, he’ll field an email or two from a reporter who forgot to clock in our out, take a few calls from readers with tips or complaints, edit a story, and have conversations with reporters about how to strengthen their work.
Most impressive is how Dan runs our planning meetings.
While planning for the website is ongoing throughout the day, the print newspaper is plotted at 3 p.m. most days. Dan prints out the aforementioned budget, breaking our local stories down by “Front Page,” “Page 2/Night Meetings,” “Page 3,” and “Inside.” A typical budget will contain two dozen items. Being new to town, I’ll often have questions about stories — “Who’s that person?” “Why is that important?” “When was our last story about this?” — and Dan’s always armed with answers.
It always impresses me that Dan can find time to get those answers in advance. It’s the mark of an excellent city editor: someone who listens, someone who’s curious, someone who genuinely works closely with his reporters.
Perhaps the best gauge of someone’s value is how their shoes are filled while they’re away.
This week, Dan and his wife, Lily, are taking a much-deserved vacation. We’ve cobbled together a plan to fill his shoes, and it’ll take five of us to fill in the gaps. (Even with that sort of manpower, we’ll still struggle to meet Dan’s high standards.)
The Times Leader is fortunate to have a journalist and leader of Dan’s caliber in the toughest seat in the house.