A few weeks ago I was browsing through the book section at Abba’s Thrift Store in King when a small book with newsprint for a backdrop caught my eye.
The title alone intrigued me, so I purchased “My Affair With A Weekly” by Weimar Jones in hopes of enjoying a few moments of humorous reading material. The book did not disappoint.
Written several decades ago, the book details experiences of a newspaper editor who returned to his hometown to run the weekly newspaper. As a young editor who returned to her hometown a little over a year ago, I could still easily relate to his writing.
As Jones put it, at a country weekly, “your readers are likely to be your neighbors and friends (or occasionally, enemies); so weekly journalism is a succession of experiences — sometimes delightful, often moving, and frequently hilarious — in the field of human relations.”
I thought I had learned a lot about journalism while working for a daily newspaper, but running your hometown newspaper is a different job entirely with a whole new set of lessons, and I am learning more everyday.
Here are a few things I’ve learned the hard way:
• You are never “off work.” I always laugh when people ask me to list my work hours. Is it even possible to separate my work from everyday life? I’ve been handed press releases from the police chief while eating lunch with my grandma at a local grill. I’ve collected community calendar items while getting a cup of coffee at a nearby café. I’ve raced off to cover a fire after receiving a tip over the phone while preparing for a movie night with my cousin. The news never stops.
• People will hurt you without even realizing it. They will make jokes about the paper coming in handy when they are out of toilet paper. Or someone will say they don’t take the paper anymore because they just don’t read it. I imagine the feeling I get is somewhat akin to what a new mother would feel if someone made a comment in passing about her baby being ugly or not appearing all that intelligent. This paper is my baby, and it keeps me up many nights. Even if it’s ugly sometimes, I love this paper dearly, so think before you criticize my offspring to my face.
• You will never please everybody. For every story that I write, I am held accountable, and rightly so. It is my duty to ensure that the facts are accurate and as many sides of the story are presented as possible. That being said, even if I do the best job I can do, there will still be someone who is not pleased and wants to call and chew me out. There will still be public officials who accuse me of taking something out of context when they have misgivings about making a controversial statement. You learn to take it all in stride.
• Caffeine is a necessity. I’ve heard that most journalists are addicted to caffeine, and it’s certainly true of me. When you sit at a desk conducting research and interviews for half the day, sometimes the only thing that keeps you focused and energized is a pot of coffee. Yes, I mean an entire pot. Or two.
• Rituals are unavoidable. Every press night that I can remember I have walked outside to buy a 45-cent Pibb Xtra from the vending machine between our office and Hicks Pharmacy. I can’t even tell you how the ritual got started. It just happened. Imagine my surprise when I saw a man removing that machine last week and replacing it with a new one. As soon as I made a comment about the change on Facebook, old and current Stokes News employees alike began responding with their surprise — for they, too, had taken advantage of the old machine countless times over the years.
• You can no longer make plans. I’ve learned that if I think I will be done by 4 p.m., then I should really tell friends that I can meet them at 7 p.m., because things always come up. Trying to leave a newsroom is like trying to escape a labyrinth. Every time you think you have found the way out, something diverts you. Things always get in the way of you and the door, whether they are really important or not. (Most of the time they are not.)
• But above all, the job is never boring. Despite all of the stress I sometimes encounter, I have to say that this job never ceases to intrigue me. You never know what to expect, and you are always learning about new things. And that is what I love — meeting new people and seeing what interests them.
While this life is not for everyone, it sure keeps me intrigued and leaves me feeling like I’ve accomplished something. And at the end of the day, I guess that’s what makes my side of journalism a lot closer to heaven than hell.