Two Kansans included in '25 under 35' E&P honors

Posted April 7, 2014

Tommy Felts of the Ottawa Herald and Matt Tait of the Lawrence Journal-World are among those being honored this year by Editor & Publisher magazine as recipients of the "25 under 35" awards.

Felts, 31, is managing editor of the Herald. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Texas A&M University in Commerce.

Tait, 35, is an editor and beat writer for the Journal-World and He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas.

Here are profiles and Q&A's on the two from E&P:

Tommy Felts

Felts joined The Ottawa Herald’s news staff in 2005 as its pagination editor. In 2009, Felts was promoted to managing editor in an effort by upper management to lead the newspaper down a new path with a renewed focus on design and reporting, as well as digital/multimedia efforts.  

“His leadership was immeasurable as he transitioned his newsroom and creative services teams from a century old evening publication to a morning one when we converted our delivery method from carriers to same-day delivery via U.S. mail, and again when circumstances dictated a reduction in print publishing days from five to three,” said editor and publisher Jeanny Sharp.

She added, “(Felts) boldly accepts new challenges and the many hats he must wear in our small newspaper including video, e-newsletters, social media and more…he literally wears his pride for the newspaper on his personally-purchased company polo shirts daily though he knows wearing it often may invite as many critiques as it does praise from the public.”

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?

Embrace the idea of community journalism. Newspapers are at their best when covering the local news that most impacts readers. Not only does a local focus provide consumers with news they often can’t get anywhere else, but it helps build a sense of community among readers.

Don’t ignore journalism industry trends, but don’t follow them blindly either. Today’s newspapers shouldn’t abandon their print products in lieu of online models that appear more cost-effective. The future for our industry likely is in disseminating information to different audiences using different media platforms—that includes a marriage of print, online, social media, mobile technology, email blasts and other multimedia venues.   

What kind of reactions do you get from people when you wear your company polo shirts out of the office?

Identifying myself as a member of The Herald’s staff garners mixed reactions when I’m out and about in the community. Some folks see it as an opportunity to tell a representative of the newspaper about every typo they’ve noticed in the publication, every beef they’ve had with an editorial writer’s opinion and every story we should or shouldn’t have written.

More often, however, members of the public are excited to see someone from the newspaper engaging in the community. They use it as an opportunity to offer kudos and news tips, delighted to play a role in the news-gathering process. I’m proud to serve as a conduit between readers and the newspaper, just as I’m proud of the job our team at The Herald does every day.

Matt Tait

Matt Tait was brought into the Journal-World newsroom seven years ago after editors saw his strong work at one of the weekly newspapers the company owns. Said sports editor Tom Keegan: “I have watched him grow into one of the key leaders in the newsroom. Very much the modern journalist, Matt has led our transition to digital-first by drawing huge audiences to his blog, ‘Tale of the Tait,’ and by showing others how to do the same with their blogs.” Managing editor Julie Wright said, “Matt never checks to see if there is space in the paper before reporting and writing because he knows there is always cyberspace and an audience that checks back frequently for fear they will miss something. He doesn’t ask how much time he has to finish a story because he knows that in the modern world the answer always is ‘as soon as possible.’ ”

What advice do you have for other young professionals in the newspaper industry?

I think it’s so important for young journalists to be well rounded in all aspects of the business and to understand the value of starting small and grinding, building and earning your way to promotions, more responsibilities and bigger and better beats through hard work and a team-first mentality. Two of the best pieces of advice I ever received were: 1) Show your dedication by doing the little things that no one else wants to do and by taking pride in the way you do them and making them unique, no matter how small; and 2) Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that you’re writing for your readers. If something is important to them you should make it important to you.

What do you set out to accomplish with your Tale of the Tait blog?

The number one goal of the blog when I started it was to provide a place where our readers could get more about the stories, athletes and topics they follow than just the traditional who, what, when, where, why of a basic news story. Because of that, the entries evolved into a more casual and conversational format while maintaining the standard of accuracy, factual content and quality reporting. Beyond that, I always strive to make each blog fun, interesting and entertaining and really try to give its readers the feeling that they’re getting a little more. One of the best ways to accomplish this is through engagement with the readers in the comments section. They really seem to enjoy the interaction and appreciate the fact that their thoughts, opinions and questions become a part of the blog. One of the best tools I use when trying to think of blog entries is to turn any conversations I have about my beat with others into blogs. Sometimes that means I talk to a fan about a certain player and spit out four or five paragraphs. Other times I get more in-depth or detailed ideas from off-the-record chats with administrators, athletes or coaches.

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