Husker historian Mike Babcock: Gold standard for Nebraska sports journalism
Story by Blakeney Otte, NewsNetNebraska
If you’re looking for a gold standard for journalism on Nebraska athletics, look no further. Current Hail Varsity Editor Mike Babcock is in his 39th year covering Husker sports, earning him the clout of the “Husker Historian.”
Throughout his career, Babcock has worked in Champaign, Illinois, spent 17 years at the Lincoln Journal Star and freelanced for multiple magazines. He is also the author and editor of a dozen books about Husker athletics, and said he found a unique opportunity in a start-up magazine.
“When the Journal Star merged, I took a buyout because I wanted to freelance and I thought I would do something a little bit different,” Babcock said of his move from newspapers to magazines. “I didn’t really have a good idea of what I wanted to do, but I basically ended up doing the same thing as a freelancer for Huskers Illustrated, which I had done while I was at the Journal Star.”
Over the course of his career at the Lincoln Journal Star, Babcock worked under numerous sports editors. One of them was Aaron Babcock (no relation). After spending five years as a sports editor, Aaron decided it was time to make a change. “He’s a really good photographer and he wanted to put an emphasis on photography, Husker related,” Mike Babcock said of Aaron. “He asked me if I’d be willing to come with him from Huskers illustrated to do this magazine, Hail Varsity.”
“So, he gave me the title of editor of the magazine, and as far as the magazine went it was basically Aaron and I putting out the magazine,” Babcock said of the rather humble beginnings of what would be a hugely successful publication.
Since then, Hail Varsity has expanded its staff, but not by much. The staff is still relatively small, and exemplifies, said Babcock, the “all hands in” modernized newsroom. With eleven staff members, the magazine has become a small, but finely-tuned machine. Managing editor Brandon Vogel and Babcock team up to copy edit the work of the other staff writers.
“So, my responsibility is to write stories, Brandon (Vogel) and I will put up the assignments, who’s going to do the stories, the due dates for the stories and that sort of thing. It could be either one of us that does that, and the stories are pretty clear cut. All the stories that are written by someone other than Brandon or me get edited. Brandon usually does his own stuff, I usually do the copy from the other writers,” Babcock said, summing up his daily duties.
On the writing front, Babcock covers football, writes the “Legends of the Fall” stories for Hail Varsity and covers baseball for their website.
Babcock also stressed the importance of the next step the Hail Varsity staff takes- proofing. “We want as many people possible to go through the stories on the proofing stage so we avoid errors getting in the magazine. My emphasis at that point is to find as many mistakes that slip through to get those corrected in the proofing stage if we didn’t get them in the editing stage so that the magazine is as error-free as we can make it.”
Although Babcock claims he is “more of a writer than an editor,” he cannot hide his expertise. “My understanding of the English language is what in some cases people would consider over the top because I’m pretty particular about how things are done grammatically,” he said. “When I write stories it takes me longer, I’ve never been very good at working with deadlines because I tend to be overly meticulous so I’ll go through a story and rewrite sections.” Careful Mike, your editor is showing.
“If you’re going to be an editor, you have to have an understanding of the language and how it’s put together,” Babcock said on his advice to future editors. “There has to be some standards of the language, and in the editing process you are making it as readable as it can be so you’re thinking about the reader.”
Babcock has also written and edited over a dozen books, all about Husker football except for one about basketball. His favorite so far has been the Nebraska Football Vault, in part because of how well the book was edited.
“The most important thing is what you write, not how you write it,” Babcock said, solidifying that content will always be the most important piece of journalism. “The important thing in writing is you’ve got to have something to say. If you don’t have anything to say, it doesn’t make a difference where you put the commas or how you observe grammar.”