Felts named to magazine’s top ‘25 Under 35’ editors list
By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 4/18/2014
Tommy Felts produced his first newspaper when he was 9.
“I remember when I was in third grade drawing a newspaper out with a pen and paper, then going to the Xerox machine and copying it before finally handing it out to the students and teacher in my class,” Felts, Herald managing editor, said. “That kind of was my first experience with production costs too, because I had to pay my mom a nickel for each copy I made.”
Felts’ ability to produce newspapers has extended far beyond that classroom at Dearing (Kan.) Elementary School, as the 31-year-old journalist recently earned national acclaim for his skills as an editor.
Editor & Publisher magazine named Felts one of the top 25 editors under age 35 in the United States.
The magazine’s “25 Under 35” article lauded select editors from across the country, with Felts and Matt Tait, a 35-year-old sports writer with the Lawrence Journal-World, the only representatives from Kansas on the list.
In assembling the list, Editor & Publisher said it was looking for “people who are young, bright, and capable of tackling whatever the changing newspaper climate throws at them. People with business acumen to lead through trying times and vision to implement bold, new strategies to move their newspapers forward.”
Felts, who has received numerous awards for headline writing and page design, as well as column and editorial writing, during his 8 1/2 years at The Herald, was honored to receive the recognition, he said.
“It was nice to know my colleagues at The Herald thought enough of me to nominate me for the ‘25 Under 35’ list,” Felts said. “I feel pretty humbled to be recognized. A lot of awards I’ve earned or have helped earn kind of come on the backs of other people, because the work I do is only as good as what other people — reporters, photographers, graphic designers and others — give me to work with when I’m preparing the paper. That’s why I feel it’s a shared award for the people I work with and for the paper. The reporters really give me the raw material I work with and The Herald gives me the resources to take our paper to the next level, so it’s definitely not a one-man show.”
Jeanny Sharp, Herald editor and publisher, called Felts the consummate perfectionist.
“Producing a quality product — every time — matters greatly to Tommy,” Sharp said. “He goes above and beyond to ensure accuracy and context, as well as to make it visually appealing. He has a good sense of humor that comes through in many of the headlines he writes. He is good at localizing a national and international story so it has relevance locally. He is excellent at connecting the dots, which often is required to put together stories, photos, videos and sources plus putting an oftentimes complex issue into context so readers understand the scope and impact of it.”
Felts, who is known in The Herald office for whipping up sweets and even gumbo, likened editing to cooking.
“I’m preparing the final incarnation of the newspaper, but what develops is only as good as the ingredients that everybody else is giving me,” he said. “If I’m making lasagna, and one person gives me peanut butter and somebody else gives me oranges and apples, it’s not going to be very good. It all depends on the right ingredients and the quality of each piece I put in the newspaper pot. Fortunately, our reporters give me great ingredients to produce a hearty meal for our readers.”
Felts studied journalism and political science at Texas A&M University-Commerce, in Commerce, Texas, where he graduated summa cum laude in 2004. He worked as a business reporter at the Paris (Texas) News before joining the Herald staff as a paginator. He moved up the ranks to designer and then was promoted to managing editor 4 1/2 years ago.
The paper’s success has mirrored Felts’ climb up the ladder. The Herald last week won the sweepstakes award from the Kansas Press Association for being the top newspaper in the Daily Division I category, marking the fourth straight year the paper has taken home the award.
The Herald also has won the Burton W. Marvin Kansas News Enterprise Award for reporting excellence from the University of Kansas four times since Felts has been managing editor, including this year.
“Tommy is very intelligent and has a strong belief in the importance of good journalism,” Sharp said. “He demonstrates those beliefs every day in The Herald through the many ways it delivers the news, which helps build a strong and vibrant community.”
Felts learned the importance of deadlines and the cost of doing business early in his career, he said.
A Paris News page designer who was showing Felts the ropes emphasized the importance of the newspaper being on time.
“‘It doesn’t matter if you create the best looking front page in the world,’ she told me, ‘if you don’t meet your deadline, nobody’s going to see it,’” Felts said.
Another person quizzed Felts early in his career, asking him to identify the most important aspect of a newspaper.
“I came up with all these laudable traits about truth and letting everybody know what’s going on in the community,” Felts said. “He responded with: ‘Advertising. Because without advertising, you don’t have a paper.’
“Those are two of the biggest lessons I learned early on. What we are working on is bigger than any one person, because we have a lot of variables to think about,” he said. “More so than people would imagine. You don’t have one defined area where you focus your worries. There’s a lot that goes into it.”
Editor & Publisher asked Felts what advice he had for other young professionals in the newspaper industry.
“Embrace the idea of community journalism,” Felts said. “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.”