Illinois news editor loves covering community, helping writers
By Ben Buchnat, NewsNetNebraska
While often overshadowed by the city of Chicago, the suburban communities surrounding it still have news to report. Sometimes, the stories even have the high-stakes drama of the city’s famous political scandals.
Mary Beth Versaci, editor for the Glen Ellyn, Berwyn, La Grange and Wheaton editions of Suburban Life, knows this all too well.
In 2015, College of Dupage, the local community college in Glen Ellyn, had a scandal involving its president Robert Breuder. Breuder fell under federal investigation for questionable spending at the college. Breuder was removed from his job, but his buyout by the college was enormous.
It was a story that shook the community.
“That was a little bit crazy,” Versaci said, in a phone call. “In the past we hadn’t been covering College of Dupage board meetings to that extent, and when that happened we started where we were covering them every week.”
While Versaci didn’t report for this story, she was the editor. She said the story was one of the biggest stories of the year.
“I’d go to a party or something with other people from the suburbs and someone would be like ‘Oh are you covering COD?’ so it’d been like a talking point everywhere I went,” Versaci said.
Versaci grew up in neighboring Lombard and lived in the Chicago suburbs for most of her life. In 2011, she got her undergraduate degree in news-editorial journalism at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. After graduating, she stayed at the university and earned her master’s in journalism.
Less than a month after getting her master’s, Versaci started working at Suburban Life. Originally, she was a reporter covering Glen Ellyn and Wheaton. She continued as a reporter until early 2014, when she was promoted to news editor for Addison, Carol Stream and West Chicago.
Versaci had no qualms about becoming an editor so soon after college graduation
“I was pretty excited that that’s the way things played out,” Versaci said. “I’m pretty proud of that.”
Versaci didn’t stick to the original towns she was assigned to cover for very long. After her first editing job, she quickly changed papers; staying at the Addison edition but moving to the Elmhurst, Lombard and Villa Park papers as well.
When Suburban Life established a paper in Woodridge, she edited there while still working at Addison, Elmhurst, Lombard and Villa Park.
The job change didn’t end there for Versaci, as in October 2015 she became news editor for the Berwyn, La Grange, Glen Ellyn and Wheaton editions. In late 2016 though, her title changed to just editor of these papers. Along with her day-to-day role at Berwyn, La Grange, Glen Ellyn and Wheaton, Versaci also oversees all of Suburban Life’s 16 weekly papers.
With that responsibility, managing content to fit the personality of each town is crucial according to Versaci.
“You do definitely need to understand that the towns are different and that they care about different things,” Versaci said.
Versaci said in Glen Ellyn the residents really care about street projects or sidewalk projects in their neighborhood. Knowing that it’s now easier to guide coverage for that town
Versaci said that it’s easy to get attached to the places she covers, which makes changing from town to town difficult. However, she also said that this allowed her to get experience in many of the areas Suburban Life covers.
“I got a good taste of pretty much most of the towns,” Versaci said. “Pretty much all the ones we focus on I have edited at some point.”
While the towns she is editing may change, her bedrock principles as editor have not.
“I’m very detail-oriented,” Versaci said. “I love grammar and spelling and AP style.”
Versaci also stressed that nothing in editing should be left to chance.
“If I’m not sure I’m definitely going to look it up and not just try to guess,” Versaci said.
Versaci does enjoy being a part of a large story, like the College of Dupage scandal. However, she knows that in these smaller suburbs not every story is going to be as far-reaching.
“Every week isn’t the same. You get some weeks where there are more news or bigger stories than other weeks,” Versaci said. “I just love when you do have that week where you’re like ‘we killed it this week.’”
At Suburban Life, Versaci works with a lot of freelance writers and journalists straight out of college. She said she enjoys being able to guide and mentor these less-experienced writers. It’s one of her favorite parts of being an editor.
“It’s been nice having that mentoring role so I can kind of guide our coverage and help them,” Versaci said.
However, her favorite part might have to been when the paper is finished and out in the community.
“We had to get [the paper] done by deadline and it got thrown to the presses and it comes out and it’s all finished,” Versaci said. “And you look at it and go ‘that was a good paper.’”