Tuesday, December 8, 2009

All work and no play... ah, forget it, I need more coffee

In the spirit of this blog's title, let me address coffee for a moment. Apparently my roommate made a second pot of coffee yesterday and drank one cup. When I picked up the coffee pot this morning, it felt full so I assumed it was fresh. I poured it in my travel mug left for work. I typically don't drink coffee in the car on the way to work because I just brushed my teeth and I'm waiting for the toothpaste taste to settle. So I get to work, get some stuff done quickly then go for my first sip of coffee for the day. It's cold. Great way to start things off. Around 9:30 a.m. I mosey over to the coffee shop, pay for my coffee with a debit card then pull out my frequent-buyer card. I'm due a free one, but the card has already been swiped. I take that coffee to my office. It's now 10:35 a.m. I haven't been too busy to drink coffee, in fact I've done little of anything, and my coffee is already cold. That's pretty much a summary of the past couple weeks.

Let's get into the community journalist side of things now that we've got that anecdote out of the way. (One more side note, for some reason I've been saying "anecdote" lately when I mean to say "antidote." Anecdote = a humorous story. Antidote = medicine for poison. One of my favorite Ron White jokes is "My friend Billy would still be alive if I had known the difference between antidote and anecdote. He got bit by a snake and I kept reading him stories from 'Readers Digest.'")

OK, I digress, again. You've got to love a little word humor.

It's been a crazy few weeks around here. The football team won its state championship. We went all out. We had a four-page wrap around the sports section and made it the A-section. We bumped "A1" to "B1." We did a photo page in the double truck of the wrap and sold ads around it. We sold out. Overall, a pretty successful venture.

Of course, you've got cynical me ready to point out the problems.

1. We have a sticky note ad on the front page. I loathe sticky note ads. I abhor them so much that I did an informal study last year on various papers and front page ads. My results are another blog on another day. So, this sticky note ad. The only word above the fold (besides the flag) is "CHAMPS!" with a celebration photo spanning the front and back of the section (it folds out to be a poster). The sticky note is slightly off center, covering part of the only word on the front page. The word we put on the front page to sell the newspaper. As I look at the front page now, all I can think is it must say "CHUMPS!" or "CHIMPS!" under that ad.

2. There are many photos in the sports section, several side bars to the main story, stats, etc. Everything you'd want in a commemorative edition, right? Except a roster. Or maybe team photo. One parent complained, despite her son being in the celebration shot on the front, he was nowhere to be found inside. She said he flipped through the paper, put it down and said, "It's like I wasn't even there." I'm sure he was being over dramatic and I'm sure the mother amplified that drama, but it raises a good point.

3. I went to the game to work on a couple sidebars. I told our sports writer I was not driving across the state the day after Thanksgiving if we didn't need or have a good place for what I was going to do. He said if I wrote something, it would get in. I was sure it would. And it did. But we've got a mediocre crowd shot (compared to what I saw at the game) with a small story I wrote about fans making the trip to the game. And there's a petty column by me about the experience at the game. It's pushed back to A8 run alongside my fan story and on the same page as "other" sports news. We had two non-state-football stories: a baseball college signing and girls basketball season opener. I felt like my work just got shoved to the back. And I'm not complaining because it's "me." It's because we could have filled that space with something better and I could have lounged on the couch eating turkey instead of driving four hours, sitting through a three hour game then driving four hours home.

So those are my complaints. Would you like to hear what some in the community think? You betcha! Compliments were scarce. Criticism ruled. Especially from cross country parents. The girls cross country team won its first state title. We did a lot for it. We could have done more. But the cross country parents think they deserved a wrap. I disagree. I'm grappling with the best way to tell the following (in a polite and professional manner):

1. We are responding to what the public wants. We are not dictating what the public should read. Several of those cross country parents who are complaining are at the football games. Don't they look around? How many of those thousands do they see at their kids' cross country meets? Thousands turn out for the game. When the football team had a playoff game 2 1/2 hours away, the school sent a spirit bus and city chartered two fan buses. When the football team went to state, the school sent spirit buses and the city sold out of tickets for four 55-passenger buses within 24 hours. Thousands attended the game four hours away. Following the victory, the mayor made proclamation to declare it Bulldog Day and the school held a pep rally.
Cross country got none of this. While it is a great accomplishment, it's not what the readers want. It's not a spectator-friendly sport for many reasons. It doesn't impact as many people. In football, about 30 players on a 100-man roster are on the field for more than two snaps during each game. Think about how many parents, friends and relatives that affects. In cross country, you have five runners and an alternate compete in state. You don't have more than 10 on varsity running in a race. The impact is less.
It's not there fault. It's an admirable sport. It takes guts and endurance. I know. I ran cross country and track in middle school and high school. I've completed four marathons. I know about running. I empathize with runners.

2. It's not a money maker. We sold out of football state coverage sponsorship within a couple days: 30 spots at $35 a pop surrounding a photo page. Could we have sold that for cross country? I doubt it.

3. There's not that many diverse photo opportunities in cross country.

Those are the top three reasons. I'm sure I can think of more if I put my mind to it.

So that's just some of the issues we're facing.

The holiday season is upon us. That means everybody wants us to cover their holiday-related event in the next three weeks. If we say no, even if we ask them to submit photos, it's like we're Scrooge saying "Bah! Humbug!" to the holidays. A full-time writer/editor (that's me!), a part-time writer and a shared (with other weekly newspapers in the region) photo staff of two. Apparently as editor of a small-town newspaper, you are not allowed to have weekends off. Or weekdays. Or any time, really. You should be ready to go to any event that pops up at any time or write any feature story someone suggests and if you can't do it you should have a staff ready to deploy at a moment's notice.

By the way, many of these same people making these demands have cut back on their advertising, yet don't understand our budget woes.

As you can tell, I'm a little disgruntled, cynical and grumpy about everything that's going on in this town, at this publication (there's issues with staff disagreements that can be another blog), in this business (again, a whole other blog) and everything else around it in general.

I didn't even want to be at the city council meeting last night! I follow municipal government like some people follow sports. And they were talking TIF with upset residents. That's like the playoffs for me! But I just wanted to go home and crawl in bed.

Don't worry, the holidays are almost here! Yay! My family defines awkward holidays. We wrote the book on boring. So I'm not really looking forward to a few days off. It just means I have to get more than usual done in a shorter amount of time then play catch up when I get back. Ugh.

So there's my long, ranting blog. Glad I got it off my chest. I think I've got a ribbon cutting or something like that to go cover.

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