This year marked my 30th writing this column.
The column runs in 150 papers around the country and in Canada. For the most part they can be described as trade publications, or as a smaller weekly or daily papers.
It is impressive to me how many of these publications continue to remain in business when their larger metropolitan counterparts are falling victim to the Internet and 24-hour television and radio news stations.
The obvious reason that the smaller weeklies and dailies weather the storm is that they cover the local news that no one else covers. As is the case in trade publications, that cover a specific topic such as rodeo, horses, farming, feedlots, ranching, stock dogs, purebred anything, regional agriculture, rural living and western style or fashion.
However, in my 30 years of working with these publications, I would say the factor that most affects their success is the editor/publisher’s “love” of the newspaper business. I could use the word dedication, commitment, tenacity or endurance, especially were I able to print them alongside a rogue’s gallery of portraits showing these ink-stained, sleeves-rolled-up, scuffed shoes, stacked desk, tie loose, harried, phone-in-hand, always-behind, captains of their trawler on the high seas of deadline. It really matters to them that their publication is good in content, quality and accuracy.
They routinely seem to be penny pinchers. Thrifty, often suspicious of columnists and cartoonists who seem to place a higher value on their own work than the publisher does.
“Come on,” I say. “I just want to raise it a dollar a week. Postage has gone up again, pencils cost more, my children are in rags, my wife is pregnant, my horse is lame, my dog got run over…”
“That’s over $50 a year, son!” says the editor. “That would feed a dozen photographers for three days, two reporters for a week or pay for one ad salesman’s lunch with a customer! Besides, you’ve been sending your columns by e-mail for three years. I was actually going to deduct the cost of postage and handling from your fee … sort of spread the wealth, so to speak.”
Most editor/publishers I have known have a toughness for negotiation, be it words or wages. I think that comes because they are fiercely possessive of each and every issue that carries their name. Who knows, they think, it might be read on the desk of the Oval Office. Or quoted on Bill O’Reilly, or on the bottom of a bird cage on the space shuttle appropriately opened to my column and placed directly under the parakeet.
My thanks to all those hard-working, deadline-driven, dedicated true believers in the printed word, who keep us honest and informed. I’m proud to be in your bird cage.