Q&A with Nestor Ramos, editor of the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle

by Frank Bi

An editor at Gannett Co.’s former flagship paper, the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle, Nestor Ramos has had an atypical journey through journalism.

Nestor Ramos

After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with a degree in English, Ramos moved to Portland, Ore., where he found a job sorting mail at The Oregonian. As a mail clerk, Ramos sought out opportunities to write for the paper, and he quickly established himself as a trustworthy freelance writer in the newsroom.

From Oregon, he moved to his first Gannett newspaper, the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he worked his way up from an evening general assignment reporter to the senior local news editor.

These days, in addition to his editing duties at the Democrat and Chronicle, Ramos writes a weekly humor column “about life – as he sees it – in the Rochester area.”

Ramos interviewed me before hiring me for my Chips Quinn internship at the Democrat and Chronicle in May 2012. I spoke to him a year later about his career.

Q: Did you have an interest in hard news when you started at The Oregonian?
Not hard news really, that came later. My degree was in English and creative writing, and I thought I wanted to write reviews and that sort of thing. I did some of that working in the arts and entertainment department.

What happened after The Oregonian?
The Oregonian had rules about writing as a non-writing employee, so I quit to freelance. I freelanced for them for a couple of years pretty successfully. That was a good experience, and I got some good clips. Then my wife got a job offer in Rapid City, S.D. I could freelance from pretty much anywhere, so we moved out there, and through acquaintances of hers I got an offer to run a weekly newspaper called the Lakota Journal that covered Indian reservations in South Dakota. I started as a reporter but ended up as the managing editor pretty quickly; it was a small operation. After that I worked for the Argus Leader for about four years.

As a freelance writer, did you get to choose what to write about?
You had to come up with a lot of ideas…and see which ones the editors like. So you pitch a lot (of ideas) that don’t hit, but you get a couple that do. At the point where you become known or have a particular voice, they’ll run ideas by you, sometimes. I was fortunate to have a standing weekly feature in the arts section.

What did you cover?
Restaurant reviews, cover stories for the arts section, coverage of film festivals, some humor pieces.

Who helped you along the way?
The people I met along the way certainly have influenced what I wanted to do next. In Portland, there were editors and newsroom managers who were very encouraging and supportive when I decided to leave and write instead of stay and do calendar listings. In Sioux Falls, I worked for an amazing editor, Randell Beck. He taught me a lot about how to be a great manager and took an interest in my career.

What was the first event you went to for minority journalists?
When I was working for the Lakota Journal around 2007, the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) had an annual event for kids. I would mentor high school kids interested in journalism at Custer State Park, and there would be folks who were either Native American or had a connection with the community who would come from around the country.

How do organizations like NAJA help aspiring journalists?
That particular conference was certainly very encouraging. Of all the minority groups, that one certainly is among the most limited in terms of access to media establishments because of geography and economics, so an organization like NAJA in that instance is able to give young people a glimpse of a possible career path they otherwise would not have thought of.

How important is diversity in a newsroom?
Diversity is critical if you want to fairly and accurately cover a diverse community, which we’re fortunate to have here (in Rochester). We could certainly do better in representing the demographics in the city we cover. …Recently, we’ve had some events in the building where folks from the community would come in and talk about diversity issues.

Frank Bi is a data and interactive intern at the Chronicle of Higher Education in Washington, D.C. He was a Summer 2012 Chips Quinn Scholar for the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle. A computer science graduate of the University of Minnesota, Bi has covered policy, science and technology and has worked on the projects and investigations desk as a senior staff reporter at his school’s newspaper, The Minnesota Daily. He was also a research assistant, studying the intersection of journalism and computer science. A self-described “data nerd,” he is a member of the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting and is always adding new programming languages to his repertoire.


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