Tag Archives: publishing

35 Years on Staff

March 1, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

Omaha Magazine began with Todd Lemke in 1983. Over the subsequent 35 years, additional staff in operations, sales, editorial, and design have joined the publishing family (including other Lemke relatives). Meet our team. Our mission is to serve the community of Omaha with the best city magazine possible. Our company motto, “It’s About All of Us,” is our promise to every resident of our shared city. Thanks for reading!

Todd Lemke, Publisher

View the team’s favorite Omaha Magazine covers from the past 35 years here: http://omahamagazine.com/articles/35-years-of-omaha-magazine-covers/

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Omaha Star

October 24, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha Star publisher Dr. Marguerita Washington will tell you the goal of the Omaha Star over its 75 years of covering events in north Omaha always has been “to print only the good news.”

“Not crime, not the things that bring the community down,” she says. “Other media outlets can do that. Television loves that stuff. Our goal is to show the good things that are happening all around us.”

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At first glance, Washington’s mission statement might make it sound like the Star has been a 75-year-long puff piece. Longtime readers, though, know that is not the case. When Washington says “only good news,” that description includes a vast catalog of stories and opinion pieces that have documented and driven more than seven decades of the battle for civil rights in Omaha.

As such, the Star was part of a nationwide network of community newspapers that were integral to the push for equality across America.

“When the mainstream media had policies of disenfranchising and alienating the so-called ‘black community,’ these other papers [such as the Star] brought stories and news to light,” says Sharif Liwaru, president of the board of the Malcolm X 
Memorial Foundation.

“The Omaha Star was where top African- American journalists were sharpened and prepared to compete in even the toxic racial climate of other media outlets,” he says.

“There has been a lot of discrimination in this city over the years,” Washington adds. “It was the job of the Star to report on cases of discrimination and push for an end to the injustices.”

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There have been several events this year celebrating the newspaper’s birthday, including a gala celebration in late April. On July 9—exactly 75 years after the first copy of the Star hit newsstands—Rep. Lee Terry honored the newspaper in a speech in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Dr. Washington has guided the Star for the last quarter century. It was her aunt, Mildred Brown, who was the paper’s guiding force for its first half century.

In 1937, Brown moved from Sioux City to take a job selling advertisements for the Omaha Guide. A year later, she opened her own newspaper.

“She pretty quickly decided she wanted to go into business for herself,” Washington says. “She was a very driven woman. She was just sure she’d be able to compete with her former employer.”

The Guide perished. The Star lived on. Brown quickly became a leader in the black community. Soon, Brown and her paper were kingmakers in North Omaha.

The Star arguably was at the height of its importance during the tumult of the 1960s.

“Local black owned and operated, often small papers like the Omaha Star played a pivotal role in spreading the ideas of leaders such as Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey,” Liwaru says.

Washington was an educator, having spent time teaching in Scotland and, later, the Omaha Public Schools. But Brown wanted Washington to be her successor. Washington says she was not fully prepared to take over the paper when her aunt died suddenly in late 1989. “But we did what we had to do.”

The Star continues to publish about 30,000 newspapers that are sent to subscribers in all 50 states. It remains a force in the community. But, like many newspapers in the country, “it hasn’t always been easy to keep the presses running,” Washington says.

“Honestly, it can be an emotional 
roller-coaster,” she adds. “We ride along with the economy of the community.”

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And the Star, she says, must change with the times to survive. Already the newspaper’s vast archive of stories, photos, and opinion pieces are being digitized for internet access. Washington admits the Star has been slow to get current content accessible online. Like so many other publications trying to survive in the internet age, Washington will have to find the right recipe for generating advertising revenue from a website.

But Washington plans to keep publishing for as long as she can. When it comes time, she hopes another person will step up—as she did—to keep the historic paper alive for decades to come.

“I don’t have any children, but I do have a few thoughts about who might take up the paper after I’m finished,” she says. “I’m just not sure if they’d be crazy enough to take this job. All I can do is hope.”

From Lightbulb Sales to Magazine Tales

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Todd Lemke discovered the art of the deal as an eight-year-old growing up in Papillion. One day, his father, Raymond—who believed that allowances should be earned, not given—drove the family station wagon to the old Skaggs store and loaded up on dozens of discounted lightbulbs. When he got home, he got out a map of Papillion, divided it into three sectors (one for each of his children), and told his boys to fan out and sell the lightbulbs. Young Todd dutifully knocked on doors. The exchange with the homeowner would go something like this:

“Are you with the Boy Scouts?”

“No.”

“Are you with a church group?”

“No.”

“Well, who are you with?”

“Just myself.”

(Pause)

“Okay, show me what you have.”

More times than not, he sold a lightbulb.

In many ways, the bulbs shined a light on the path Lemke would take in the future. The youngster with a natural gift for sales became an adult with a knack for creative promotion. Just two years out of college, Lemke combined his skills and launched what would become Omaha Magazine.

Now celebrating its 30th year, Omaha Magazine remains at the top of its game, boasting 36,000 subscriptions—remarkable for a city this size. It’s sold at Barnes and Noble and other bookstores. Additionally, a copy of the publication can be found in every hotel room in the metropolitan area, reaching a half-million visitors to the Midlands per month.

Like many success stories, Omaha Magazine started humbly and underwent several transformations. Lemke, the owner and publisher, guided every stage.

“If you want to know what makes Omaha tick, then you have to know its people. And we do a better job talking about people than any other medium in town. It’s people, people, people, and then food. This town loves food.” – Todd Lemke, publisher

“I graduated from UNL in 1981 with a degree in journalism. I weighed my options and decided to sell homes,” Lemke deadpans, knowing his career choice came out of left field. He explains, “My mother and father sold real estate when I was growing up, and I got my real estate license in 1977 when I was still in high school.”

Lemke may have opted for sales, but he believed in the power of promotion. He advertised the custom-built homes in a weekly alternative newspaper called City Slicker and lured first-time homebuyers to view the models using a P.T. Barnum approach. Newlyweds Greg and Terese Bruns checked out Lemke’s block party one weekend.

“We went out there, and here is Todd dressed up in a clown suit,” says Bruns. “He had bands playing. He was handing out candy and balloons and pop. It was a carnival. And the next thing you know, we’re signing papers for a new house. That’s how we met.”

One day, the owners of City Slicker offered to sell the paper to Lemke. Flush with cash from his real estate deals, Lemke took them up on their offer. It was 1983.

“The first thing I did was turn City Slicker into a glossy, four-color magazine. I did that for three years,” says Lemke. But he discovered that the ad-buying community wanted a readership that was “past the party age.” So he literally dumped City Slicker one day and started another magazine the next day called Omaha Today, distributed free around town.

Seeking to stabilize his investment, Lemke went to a competitor who owned a monthly publication, Our City. It listed all the local shopping, eating, and entertainment hot spots. Lemke thought it would be a good merger “because he had a magazine that was in all the hotels.” The marriage went through in 1987. But there was still a missing piece to the puzzle.

“The name [Our City] didn’t do much for me,” says Bruns, who by this time was working with Lemke selling ads. “I mean, I’d call a business and say, ‘Hi, this is Greg Bruns from Our City,’ and they’d go, ‘Huh? Never heard of it.’ I said to Todd, ‘Why can’t we change this?’”

In 1989, Our City and Omaha Today became Omaha Magazine.

Magazines pulled from Omaha Publications' archives.

Magazines pulled from Omaha Publications’ archives.

“The name carried so much more meaning with people,” says Bruns, who soon became the vice president and Lemke’s business partner. “People became more willing to talk with me.”

As the ads increased, so did the content of the magazine. In addition to a thorough restaurant and entertainment guide, Omaha Magazine upped its profiles of people who make this community work.

“Over the course of 30 years, we have done thousands and thousands of great, positive people stories,” Lemke points out with pride. “If you want to know what makes Omaha tick, then you have to know its people. And we do a better job talking about people than any other medium in town. It’s people, people, people, and then food. This town loves food.”

The look of the magazine also sets it apart: thick, glossy, and beautifully photographed. An innovation that really put Omaha Magazine on the map is its annual “Best of Omaha™” edition.

“We started that in 1992,” says Bruns. “It’s absolutely huge and gets bigger every year.”

Lemke, an optimist by nature, says he wakes up every morning with ideas that he can’t wait to bounce off his editors, photographer, graphic designers, and sales staff. His business sense, however, has kept the ship afloat. He expanded his publishing business to include B2B Omaha, a business quarterly; The Encounter, a magazine focusesd on downtown; HerLiving, with articles devoted to women; Family Spectrum, featuring helpful stories on kids, education, and family; and the Old Market Directory, a guide to business and events in the historic district. Equally important, Lemke doesn’t shy away from innovation.

“Print publications have to embrace social media and the internet,” he says. “You can read all our magazines online, and we link everything.”

Lemke never forgets the lessons from long ago, when he sold lightbulbs door-to-door. He learned to look a customer in the eye. He learned to listen to what they had to say. For 30 years now, he’s been listening to what Omaha wants and needs—and chronicling it.

“I’m fortunate. I picked an occupation that I can do for a long time.”

Happy anniversary.

Leo Adam Biga Releases Book about Alexander Payne

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by John Gawley

“Most of us are familiar with the actors who’ve come from here,” says Leo Biga, local journalist, author, blogger, and Omaha Publications freelancer. “Fred Astaire, Robert Taylor, Montgomery Clift. There are very few non-actors in the film industry from Nebraska. There’s Darryl Zanuck. Harold Lloyd. Then there’s a long pause, and we get Joan Micklin Silver. And now there’s Alexander Payne.”

Biga’s newly released book, Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film – A Reporter’s Perspective 1998-2012, is a compilation of the journalist’s many articles about the filmmaker from Omaha. “This is not a biography at all,” Biga says of the first book written about the famous director. “I almost never intrude on his life. There are tidbits there, but mostly it shows the arc of his film career.”

A native Omahan and movie buff himself with years of film programming under his belt, Biga was intrigued by Payne from the first he’d heard of him. “I read an article about this young filmmaker who’d done something called The Passion of Martin,” Biga recalls. The local journalist observed the director as he rose in the industry, finally calling on him in 1997 as Payne prepared to shoot his second feature, Election, in Omaha.

“We met at McFoster’s Natural Kind Café,” Biga says. “We talked about his creative process, the characters, the settings, the editing. Everything.” When 2003 rolled around and Payne was shooting Sideways, the director gave Biga full access to the set. “The red carpet was rolled out for me,” the author remembers. “The exclusivity of it was so unique.”

Even though the book is finished, Biga continues his years-long conversation with Payne as the director prepares for Nebraska, his fourth feature shot in his home state. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Biga says. “It’s the fact that I was there. I’ve seized the opportunity.”

Readers interested in purchasing the book can visit The BookWorm (8702 Pacific St.) or alexanderpaynethebook.com

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.