The other day, a local business owner and I were talking about what's involved in various industries. Inevitably, our conversation turned to what it takes to publish a newspaper. Not surprisingly, the business owner had very little idea what it takes. After all, it's just a matter of slapping some stories on a page, taking a few photos, sticking in some ads here and there, and then watching the newspapers come off the press. Right? Surely it only takes a couple of people working a day or two to put out a twice-weekly newspaper. Right?
I was as diplomatic as possible in explaining that it's not as easy as it might look.
As a matter of fact, there's even a time each year - National Newspaper Week, through Oct. 8 this year - that celebrates and recognizes the important role of newspapers in their communities. Even with the advent of social networking, newspapers are still the main connectors for most communities.
So what does it take for you to receive your newspaper each Tuesday and Friday?
When it comes to serving Gonzales County, an army of reporters, advertising sales representatives and administrative support staff are needed to turn blank pages into what you now have in your hands. It's a full-time job - and, often, more - for those who have dedicated themselves to ensuring you have the most comprehensive local news coverage and the best resource for marketing your business.
While no two weeks (or even days) are usually the same in the newspaper world, an average week at the Gonzales Inquirer looks a lot like this:
Our office on St. Paul Street is a beehive of activity. It's early on any given morning when office personnel, advertising sales staff, reporters and photographers begin their day.
In the newsroom, reporters pore over information they've jotted down in small spiral notebooks before transforming a blank computer screen into one filled with a story reporting events in and around our community. During the day, the staff will cover several meetings, take a multitude of photographs, conduct interviews, write numerous stories and make a myriad of telephone calls. Along the way, the editor will identify what stories will go on which pages, and will create a front page which will attract not only the attention of the subscriber, but also the reader who peruses the top half of the paper through the window of the newspaper rack before depositing a few quarters.
In the advertising department, representatives have been meeting with potential advertisers since the business owners began arriving at their shops. Once the sales staff makes it to the office, there's some paperwork here, six telephone calls there, two questions from creative services and an impromptu meeting before they're on the run again. And as any sales professional will admit, it's difficult hearing "no" more times than not, yet the staff remains curiously positive and resilient.
In the front office, the staff is busy throughout the day tackling a mountain of paperwork, greeting visitors and answering telephones which never seem to stop ringing. They toil in virtual anonymity, save the acknowledgement by some of the regulars who call or visit. Unlike the recognition received by those in editorial whose name appears atop the stories, most of the remainder of the staff is a faceless, nameless, unnoticed cog in the newspaper machinery. That is, of course, unless something goes wrong, then they go from unknown to well-known. Fifteen minutes of fame can often become 15 minutes of notoriety.
By the time the newspaper is passed along to the pressmen, the staff is already looking ahead to the next issue. At the printing plant, one-thousand-pound rolls of newsprint which stand almost as tall as the pressman, spin on glistening rollers as a continuous strand of paper threads through an intricate roller coaster that runs the length of the large press, snaking its way toward the far end of the press where the paper is cut, collated and folded. The noise is deafening. The pace is a blur. The precision is closely monitored.
It's another typical day for your Gonzales Inquirer.
Each week, we work a miracle. We take blank sheets of paper and create a newspaper. Each issue is the culmination of a finely tuned operation which often teeters on the edge of Armageddon in a not-always-well-harnessed environment of chaos and deadline pressure.
The staff of the Inquirer has paid dearly the price for free speech, although it's a cost we don't count, because we're doing something we enjoy for our readers, our advertisers, our community. It's not everyone's proverbial cup of tea. Although there are numerous amateur journalists who may be quick to claim they could do as well as those charged with putting out the newspaper, it's a daunting task not for the faint of heart or short in resolve. It's a continuous cycle which often occurs at breakneck speed, one repeated 104 times throughout the year.
The Gonzales Inquirer has been Gonzales' No. 1 choice for news since 1853. For 158 years, our readers have trusted us to bring them not only news about Gonzales County, but also about the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln's assassination, the Spanish-American War, the Wright Brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk, the Armistice that ended World War I, the Stock Market Crash of 1929, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, V-E and V-J Day, the Cold War and the true threat of communism and socialism, John Glenn's flight in Friendship 7, Kennedy's assassination, the first man on the moon, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Desert Storm, the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the Gonzales Countians who gave their last full measure for their country and those who returned to their hometown. It's a resume no other media in Gonzales County can match.
All this with only three or four dozen interruptions for telephone calls, special requests, corrections, major disasters, nagging annoyances, visits by subscribers, visits from well-meaning Pulitzer Prize wannabes, more telephone calls, more special requests, more corrections, a few quandaries and conundrums, a last-minute change (no, make that two last-minute changes), new information now available which requires a re-write of a story which was already proofed and believed finished the day before, more telephone calls, more unexpected visitors and, for good measure, another traffic accident.
While we take pride in the miracle we perform, we're reminded by Scarlett O'Hara, who must have been destined to work at a newspaper, tomorrow is another day. And in the newspaper business, tomorrow started even before today ended.
Journalism, it has been observed, is not so much a career as it is a diagnosis. One lives with it, breathes it. In community journalism, the relationships are even more personal. You're likely to bump into the person you write about in an editorial or in a story when you're at the grocery story or at a high school football game. Some are frightened by that challenge; some delight in it.
This is but a brief glimpse at what it takes to produce your community newspaper - the voice of the people - proving yet another time that miracles still happen.
Brenda Adams is publisher for The Gonzales Inquirer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.