Remember that piece we ran about the author whose blog post raised $1 million for charity? Denver Post Food Editor Kristen Browning-Blas wrote the article that inspired the post.
Considering she has the enviable gig of writing, editing, and eating for The Denver Post, we sought her thoughts on everything from self-editing, to digital’s impact on journalism, to her job. “You know the best parties end up in the kitchen?” she asks. “That’s how I feel about being a food writer/editor.”
What ultimately led you to an editorial position at The Denver Post?
I have a degree in Journalism from Colorado State University, 1985. My first job after college was as a news assistant at the New York Times Denver bureau. I also worked at Denver magazine, then moved to Chicago and worked at the Kane County Chronicle as a reporter, covering all kinds of small-town news. Then moved to Fox Valley Living magazine and edited a design magazine called Southwest Sampler, later renamed West. Those are both defunct now.
In 1993, my husband, 3-month-old daughter, and I moved to Chile, where we lived until 1999 (our son was born there). I did some freelance writing and worked as a translator/editor for Business News Americas.
We returned to Colorado in 1999 and my husband became a teacher. I answered an ad in The Denver Post for a part-time features writer. I got the job, and was promoted to food editor a year later.
What’s the best thing about editing/writing stories about food?
The best thing about my job is that it usually involves happy subjects. People love to eat, and they love to talk about eating. You know the best parties end up in the kitchen? That’s how I feel about being a food writer/editor. People connect over food. I love talking to immigrants about their food traditions, to old ladies about their pie recipes, to kids about how they would change school lunch.
What’s your editing philosophy?
As an editor, I look for clear-headed ideas, both in story pitches and in the writing itself. Because we are a regional newspaper, I like local stories with a strong sense of place. Economy of words is important, as we have tighter space now — 1,000 words would be a long story for us. Correct grammar and knowledge of AP style are essential when writing for a newspaper.
As an editor, do you find it easy to edit your own work, or do you always need a second eye?
I’ve gotten better at editing my own work, especially now that we have so few copy editors. But a second eye is always helpful. It’s amazing the things we catch on proofs.
Do you edit yourself with the same rigor — or more/less — as you would another writer’s work?
The thing about newspaper writing is that we don’t have the luxury of time in editing. So it has to be clean to start with. I spend a lot of time in the “pre-writing” phase (aka procrastination). But I think hard about the point of the story, which isn’t always clear. (See my answer to the editing philosophy question.)
Longer pieces in newspapers and magazines are a thing of the past for most print publications, but digital publishing has reopened the space for expanded essays and articles. Do you think print publications will start offering real estate for longer pieces again?
I doubt it. We just don’t have the space in print. But our Sunday Arts & Culture section does run longer pieces, maybe 50 inches (that’s about 1,300 words).
In your experience, how would you say the transition to digital consumption of news and content has impacted the newsroom?
This is a huge question. Words like “seismic shift” come to mind, but I’m writing this for writers, so will try to avoid cliches. I am tempted to spin my answer toward the positive, but that would be dull. So…
When I started at The Post in 2000, the newsroom was packed. We sent reporters to Afghanistan. We had expense accounts for taking sources to lunch. We had a food editor, a dedicated staff writer, and a dining critic. An editorial assistant (there were two in Features) opened our mail for us, and there was a lot of it — elaborate press kits, product samples, party invitations, cookbooks, wines.
Now, most of those desks are empty. I open my own mail (not complaining, just saying) and there’s a lot less of it, although we still get all the new cookbooks.
As a section editor, I’m lucky, because staffers want to write for Food. The dining critic is also a staffer who writes for other sections. I write for Food and for other sections, too. It used to be that editors edited, writers wrote, and photographers took pictures. Copy editors and designers took care of writing the headlines and cutlines, and laying out the pages.
As our staff has shrunk, the demand for content has grown. We learned how to take our own pictures and video. When copy editors were laid off, we started writing the headlines and cutlines ourselves. I have always enjoyed working closely with designers, so this has been fun for me, and it gives editors more control of the whole package. It’s stressful, though, juggling all the pieces on deadline.
So that’s the print part.
As for digital, we write and take photos for our food blog, “Colorado Table“. I run the Post’s Food section Facebook page. We all tweet. We are expected to post breaking news stories online before we work on them for print. All this requires that we learn new systems and move nimbly among the various programs, which can be challenging when you still have a beat to cover and stories to write. I find I spend more time and energy fussing with technology, when I’d rather be testing a recipe or interviewing a chef.
This transition has been wrenching for many of us who are 20+ years into our careers. We know how to do our jobs, but wonder if our analytical and writing skills are valued as more and more emphasis is placed on “feeding the beast” and generating clicks.
But, we get stories done more quickly, and we write more of them, and we spread them around beyond the printed page. We want to stay in the conversation, so we adapt. We learn to cultivate our own creativity, to shield ourselves from the never-ending stress of meeting ’round-the-clock deadlines. We talk about this more at work now; how it’s more important than ever to protect what is at the center of our craft, to write stories that touch our readers, to connect.