Kent Warneke wonders how he will react when the next big story breaks in the Norfolk area.
In his 32 years as editor at the Norfolk Daily News, Warneke has been in the driver’s seat for some of the biggest events in Northeast Nebraska and is conditioned to respond in a way that fits the role of a journalist.
“Your first inclination is to pitch right in and try to help and contribute in some way,” Warneke said.
But Warneke won’t be in the newsroom for the next big story. As of Monday, he will step back from his role as editor of the Daily News and serve instead as editor emeritus. He’s taking on a new position as director of grants and contracts at Northeast Community College in Norfolk. “I’m looking forward to joining the Northeast team. It will be a great new experience,” he said.
As editor emeritus for the Daily News, he will continue to exercise oversight and give input, as well as write some editorials. Undoubtedly, however, the shift in roles will be a big change for Warneke, whose career in journalism goes back to his days in high school.
“My father, Lee Warneke, was the publisher of the Plainview News, where I grew up, so I started doing odd jobs and various things at the Plainview News as I was in school. ... That really is what got my interest going in terms of pursuing journalism as a career,” Warneke said.
After high school, he majored in journalism and political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and had been accepted to law school at the University of Nebraska. Instead, he took a job as a copy editor and reporter at the Omaha World-Herald.
He had begun writing editorials for the World-Herald when Daily News publisher, Jerry Huse, and editor, Emil Reutzel Jr., approached him in the mid-1980s about the idea of coming to Norfolk.
“I enjoyed the World-Herald. I enjoyed the people, but the World-Herald is large enough that they really didn’t want their editorial staff members to be involved in the community, whereas a paper the size of Norfolk or smaller, being involved in civic affairs is not only welcomed but almost expected,” he said.
Coming to Norfolk — first as the managing editor and then as the editor — afforded him the opportunity to not only lead the newsroom, but also have an impact on Norfolk and the region. Warneke said influence from his father, and later Huse and Reutzel, created a desire in him to become involved in the community as an advocate.
“That’s different than a booster,” he said. “A booster implies that you’re always in favor of everything, and there’s never a negative word said. An advocate, in my opinion, is looking out and trying to figure out what’s best for the community.”
Warneke said the family-owned Daily News’ long history and connection with Northeast and North Central Nebraska made it easy to see early on the sense of shared interest and desire to be a positive force for the area.
“That certainly shaped my career,” he said.
The news stories that have crossed his desk over the years also have played a role in shaping Warneke’s career. The search to find Jill Cutshall was in its early days when he began in Norfolk in 1987.
Since then, he has had a role in disseminating countless news stories, including those about the area’s economic highs and lows, storms, fires, fairs and — of course — floods. But the story that left, perhaps, the greatest impression on him was the US Bank shootings in 2002.
The differing ethnicities between the victims and perpetrators of the crime had the potential to spark hostility between longtime residents of the predominantly white community and the Hispanic population, which was relatively new to the area at the time, Warneke said. Instead, the townspeople came together to grieve as one community.
Warneke said he believes residents of Norfolk should be proud of the way they responded in the face of such a tragic event.
Warneke has received recognition for his leadership in the Daily News’ newsroom. In 2012, he became the youngest person to be inducted to the Nebraska Journalism Hall of Fame at age 52.
Earlier this year, he received the Nebraska Press Association’s highest honor, the Master Editor-Publisher Award, and was named among the inductees of the Omaha Press Club’s Journalists of Excellence Hall of Fame.
“These two are the highest awards you can get in Nebraska journalism, short of the Pulitzer,” Allen Beermann, executive director of the Nebraska Press Association, said of the latter two honors.
Beermann said Warneke is an “editor’s editor,” starting not only with journalism but with ethics, honesty and hard work: “(He) has worked diligently, lived honorably, fought soundly and influenced unselfishly. He’s also a good husband, a good parent and the best kind of citizen you can have in your community.”
“Kent Warneke was the perfect fit for editor in his era,” added Bill Huse, fifth generation publisher of the Daily News. “A man of excellence and detail, Kent’s character and skills enabled him to lead well within the organization, as well as influence with tact and wisdom out in the community. As he eases into the role of editor emeritus, his ongoing oversight and input will help our transition be very smooth. ”
Warneke said he’s confident in the abilities of the “experienced and dedicated staff” at the Daily News. Among those staff members are Jerry Guenther, Jay Prauner and Tim Pearson, who will lead the newsroom going forward.
“They all have many years of experience,” Warneke said. “They’re well-liked, well-respected and well known in the community. They will do an excellent job working with the other staff members, all of whom are more than ready for this kind of transition.”
Huse said he is excited to see Guenther, Prauner and Pearson step into the new editorial leadership structure of a three-man editorial board.
“I believe they will do a great job,” Huse said. “The entire editorial staff is evolving well in providing our readers the information they want, the way they want to receive it, be it print or electronic.”
Warneke will continue to answer questions and provide guidance whenever it is sought, as he remains passionate about the important role news organizations — especially those like the Daily News that are small and independently owned — play in the lives of American citizens.
“(Journalism) has changed from the way it was 30 years ago, when virtually everybody subscribed to a newspaper — whether daily or weekly — but it remains important for every person to stay informed,” Warneke said. “That’s what I really want to stress as we move forward. Whether it’s you still like reading a print product or look for a website or through an app or social media, please stay informed.”
Warneke said he has seen dramatic changes in the journalism over the years, and he believes those changes illustrate the importance of embracing independent news organizations like the Daily News.
“A lot of newspapers are now owned by big chains, and their coverage is dictated by corporate bean counters and, as a result, days of publication are lost, newsroom staffs are gutted,” he said. “Here at the Norfolk Daily News, we’ve been fortunate to maintain a quality product and the intent is to do that in the future. The Daily News is here to stay, and here to be a community partner, a community advocate, and I think that’s important for local and area residents to realize.”