Keeping all the people happy

Very early in my writing career, I learned to dread Thursdays.

136410_4758 In those days, I worked as the editor of a small weekly newspaper in a rural community that knew not only everyone’s name, but how they were related to one another and who had dated in high school. Our entire circulation was under 1,000 subscribers and our office smaller than some living rooms.  A secretary went through the mail and handled the financial side of things. The reporting staff consisted of me.

The newspaper hit most people’s mailboxes by Thursday morning each week. Shortly after lunch on a particular Thursday, a white-haired woman with a bright polyester dress and heavy jewelry pushed her way through the front door and leaned over the front counter. My desk sat furthest from the front but the secretary ducked her head, leaving me exposed to our readers.

“I want to talk to you,” Mrs. White-hair said. Tone of voice was everything in how quickly I moved from my desk. When she spoke, I bolted.

“How may I help you?” Maybe politeness would stem the flood.

“I just got my paper,” she said. “And our club news wasn’t in the social section. I am very disappointed.” How could the word very drip like icicles?

“We were short on room but it will be in next week.”

Her eyes narrowed and she leaned in. “You had room for the sports section. Who do you think wants to read about the football game? You had two pictures of that game. Two big pictures. We are very disappointed. This is a sorry state for our newspaper.”

And she shook her shoulders, gathered her bulging purse, and stomped out the door.

An hour later, the door opened to welcome a man in a polo shirt and sweat pants who leaned over the front counter. “I have a complaint,” he said.

My feet were like lead as I walked to the front of our office. “How may I help you?”

“I just got my paper,” he said. “And there are no pictures of the junior high football game. No pictures. How are these boys supposed to feel like we support them if you can’t even cover their games?”

“We were short on room–”

“You have room for all that club news. Who cares about the clubs? Nobody. We need better stories of our sports. Got that?”

Yep. On that Thursday, I got it.


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