Interviewing the Interviewer

Looking back on a long career as a journalist, Geoff Yuda is finally finding the time to reflect during his final year at the Pennsylvania Bar Association. His career path brought him to the PBA as a strong-minded journalist in his 30s, then to the state Capital as an editor for a committee newsletter, and back to the PBA as the editor of the Pennsylvania Lawyer magazine. It has been a unique and rewarding journey, one that began with his first paid journalistic position at the Pocono Record newspaper when he was fresh out of college.

“First you have to have a great command of the AP style of writing. Second, you are fact checking everything, even cases of law,” Yuda declared while describing some of the main aspects of an editor’s role. “You always want to protect the writer,” said Yuda, and added, “This clientele is all lawyers and they are all writers, but they don’t write for space.” Lawyers may write a “brief” that can be many pages in length which will explain their position and defend against potential questions. Many times an editor will “distill” multiple pages into a few sentences without losing the concept of the original brief.

Working for attorneys will make an editor want to go the extra mile, verifying every fact, case citation, and quote. The editor is the “fact checker of last resort” for the magazine. The majority of the interviews he conducts are with lawyers and are almost exclusively performed utilizing email. There are many rounds of emails going back and forth between Yuda and his interview subject.

“The interviews are designed in this manner so there should never be a misunderstanding when quoting a lawyer,” Yuda stated. An editor is “honor bound” to get facts right the first time.

Even though Yuda is not a lawyer, he spends quite a bit of time verifying information within submitted articles using online legal research tools like LexisNexis. Lawyers, like writers, can make mistakes that get past their own eyes. A mistake in a magazine will be much more widespread than a mistake in a courtroom. The potential for a mistake can make a lawyer “anxious” after the article are submitted for the magazine because it is read and reviewed by their peers. When a writer’s mistake is found, Yuda will verify with two online sources, attach both sources to a paper copy of the article, and submit it to his boss. He will wait for the communications director to sign off on the correction before permitting the original article to go to press. “In our case, if you get something wrong, it’s wrong 26,000 times, and it is read by 24,000 lawyers,” he warned then added “That’s the terror hanging over you.”

As a contributing writer for the bimonthly lawyer magazine, he found that he always needs another “fresh set of eyes” on his own articles. He felt that “letting go” of his own work was sometimes the hardest aspect of his work, but he knows it is a critical for the success of a journalist. “There is a definite gap between the eyes and the brain, it’s why people make bad witnesses, it’s why you shouldn’t hold onto something you’ve written,” he added. When he writes an article, he has a minimum of two others in the communications department review his articles. Yuda’s editorial pieces go through the same editorial scrutiny so he finds himself in the same position as writers that need to “let go” of their articles.

The most difficult task of his job is to getting lawyers to submit their articles on time in order to meet the magazine deadlines. Yuda stated “Lawyers can be wordy and that doesn’t lend well to deadlines.” Lawyers who are on staff at the Bar, as well as attorneys who write guest articles, are guilty of being tardy with deadlines. As deadlines loom, he finds himself hounding the delinquent writers.

The inability to motivate writers to submit articles on time was the main reason Yuda left the state government. “They wouldn’t do it…that was frustrating,” he stated.

Yuda knew he was destined for a career in communications after his first journalism class at Shippensburg. During this class, he said it “just clicked.” His Journalism 101 professor was a free-lance writer who constantly encouraged his students by emphatically stating, “You can do this!” As a non-traditional student, he felt being older gave him an added advantage over his peers. He felt the other communications majors did not have any real world experience in navigating the politics in finding journalistic work that would pay money. This proved critical as he graduated in the mid-1970s during a recession. He believes his paid communication internship at a small public relations firm was instrumental in landing his first paying job “in print.” The practical “real world” experience benefitted him more than the theory he learned in the classroom. He would also like to see colleges have “better placement procedures for journalism majors.”

During his reflection, Yuda is amazed how much technology has changed during his tenure as an editor. “My first lawyer edition was laid out on a wax galley from the printer. Using a template, you would cut out the articles, arrange them onto the wax paper inside of the template cutouts, and this was a long, tedious process,” Yuda described. Today the same work is done on computers while the large computer files are passed back and forth utilizing an application called Dropbox. The old fashioned scissors and glue “cut and paste” has been replaced with the online cut and paste. One drawback to the new technology in journalism is the long hours spent staring at a computer screen. “The eye strain is one of the few things I dislike about technology.” Yuda is also tasked with being the state Bar’s web site editor which adds addition hours in front of a computer monitor.

As editor for the magazine, he is also charged with acquiring artwork for each article. “In the past, this required us to pay individual artists to design a cover,” said Yuda. “We had an art budget of $500 per edition.”

Now the communications department subscribes to an online art “clipping” subscription which is like “having the world at your fingertips.” This subscription allows him to quickly find art based on category and download up to 100 different images each month.

When asked if he had a chance to do anything over in his college or journalism career, he immediately declared that each section along the way has supplied him with the knowledge he would use later in his life. He emphatically admitted, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” After retirement, you should be able to find Geoff Yuda at his local water hole sipping on a cold Heineken beer.

Final Submission – Student Survey Draws Interest Around College Campus

A recent Susquehanna University student questionnaire survey is drawing interest from various administrative departments as they enhance their communication strategies.

The students in Communications 131 conducted surveys asking what news items draw students attention and what methods they use to access this news. As the results were analyzed, other campus departments became intent to learn if their communication methods towards students are successful.

The Information Technology department immediately showed interest in the survey results since they support the “mySU” campus portal. Webmaster Eric Knepp was delighted to learn the continual enhancing of the portal experience properly aligns with the results of the survey. In an interview, he explained how the portal is a campus news aggregator for the university community and that it uses multiple ways to reach specific groups, such as students. “The mySU portal uses both constituencies and audiences as ways to target information directly to students,” he said.

Another department showing attentiveness is the office of University Communications. This department relies heavily on mass emails to disseminate critical messages to specific groups around campus. Many times these critical email messages are also posted on the campus portal under the “News Extra” section. A staff member of University Communications was disappointed that email was not specifically defined as one of the survey choices. A recent switch in cloud email solutions by the university has fueled questions about students’ reliance on email as a primary communication tool. University Communications has a valid desire to know if emailing is still a successful communication method for younger audiences or if they need to intensify their social media outreach.

The tangible results of the survey show a mix of some traditional news outlets, like television, are still utilized by students. However, newer technology proves to be the most popular method students use to consume news. Technology like the internet and social media are by far the most popular methods used by students. The most important information being consumed by college students is weather or traffic conditions, followed by entertainment.

After campus departments complete their analysis, there could be communication methodology changes by various departments as they continue provide information designed specifically for students.



Initial Submission – Student Survey Draws Interest

A recent Susquehanna University student questionnaire survey has started to draw interest from various campus departments. The students in Communications 131 conducted surveys asking what news items interest students and how they access this news. As the results were being analyzed, other campus departments became interested to learn if their communication methods towards students are […]