Well, I have been editor/publisher of the Saratoga Sun for just over a year now. It has been both a fun and harrowing ride.
I still feel like a bit of a fraud though. You may know I was just the lowly graphic artist here for six years before I was quite abruptly offered the position. The “fraud” part comes in because, while I have an associates degree, it is not in English or even journalism. That degree is in advertising/commercial art. While I have edited several books over the years, mainly due to the jobs I was working at the time, I still am not sure how qualified I actually am for this task. But that’s just me being insecure … I guess.
On the other hand, that is kinda the Wyoming Way. If someone asks you if you can do something, you tell them “yes” and figure it out as you go.
On the plus side, people tell me I am doing a good job and I won the editorial leadership award in my first year as “fearless leader” (or should that be “fearful?”). So that feels good.
I always had a feeling I could write before I began my adventure at the Sun—but I had no idea I could do it on any kind of consistent basis.
The only reason I have been able to write actual news stories is that I have paid attention (kind of) to what the reporters have been doing over the years.
With columns, I feel free to have fun and confusualize my audience with a profuse use of wordageness.
I know that last sentence didn’t make a whole bunch of sense, but I have been trying to figure out how to mess with Norm Heater for a while now.
Norm is a Saratoga resident and verbose curmudgeon who reads my column and has given me a certain amount of good-natured grief for using an array of “big words” that he “has to pull out a dictionary and look up.” My tongue in cheek reply was that I was trying to “learn him.”
While I didn’t think I could make a whole column out of the thing, I do feel the need to screw with him in some way. That being the case, I couldn’t resist making up a few obscure words he wouldn’t find in his dictionary.
Anyway … editor stuff:
This is always an adventure. While I have had a good crew during my tenure as the “boss,” there are always personalities to deal with. Heck, I was one of those “personalities” before they made me chief. I was consistently late to work and the only thing kept me employed was my award-winning work and willingness to stay until the job was done. Same type of thing(s) with my employees now. They are people. People have quirks. You have to deal with that. If you ever find yourself in a leadership position, I suggest you try to remember that and be as forgiving as possible. Don’t forget the job needs to be done and sometimes you have to get on an employee about that. I try not to be mean about it though.
There is also the dilemma of making sure you actually have people. You may have noticed a plethora (real word) of stories I have written lately. That is due to the fact that one of my reporters left for “greener pastures” and the other one was in the hospital. That all leaves … let’s see … me.
I have also been interviewing applicants during this period. I actually offered the job to six different people who, for their own reasons—whatever they were–decided not to take the position.
Fortunately, I got a call from a buddy of mine one day who was asking for contacts for a completely different job situation. Halfway through that call, I realized I had edited one of his books several years before I started at the Sun. The thought “Hey, Mike can write” ran through my mind. The rest is history.
While Mr. Armstrong has been a writer for a while now, he carries the benefit of knowing Saratoga well, having been employed here in a variety of capacities over the years. Being a Hanna resident, he has also proved an invaluable bridge to opening up that area of the county. Local knowledge is something you don’t get with every employee.
Fred Broschart is back to work now. Fred is my “real journalist” guy. Having graduated from the Mizzou journalism program, Fred knows the procedures and tricks a good journalist should.
Having gone on about my reporters, I would be remiss not to mention Amanda Shepherd. Amanda is the person who sells ads for the Sun. She makes the calls and visits that keep the Sun afloat. Turns out Amanda is also very good at building ads and doing layout. She has done everything that has been asked of her and more.
So I am pretty optimistic ... at this particular moment.
Making sure events
Something that has been a jarring experience for me is assigning stories to reporters. It’s not like there is a list of news items we need to cover to work from. Sometimes we get press releases for things we can cover, sometimes there are set events that need to be reported on. Other times, it is just figuring out what needs to be in the paper.
Once you have the story idea, you have to figure out who can write about it. Is this guy better at writing this feature? Should this person write this story? Ultimately, that shouldn’t matter as much—but I try to consider this too.
You also don’t want to overload a particular employee either, so you try to balance the load.
Typoes and other misteaks
We try very hard not to make mistakes, but they happen.
You may have noticed the headline for my last column in which I misspelled “Squawkers.” It was correct in the column—but I mistyped the headline and nobody caught the error. Sometimes we are so focused on reading the guts of a story we miss the obvious mistake hidden in plain sight. While that headline mistake was kind of funny, there was NO humor in this office at all when we didn’t get a name right in a recent obituary headline. We reran the obituary with the headline corrected, but this is something that should not happen (but unfortunately does).
One that was funny (in far hindsight) was the “Anus Beef Sale” that ran years ago. Leave out a “g” and all of a sudden you have a totally different sale.
Every newspaper has this problem no matter the skill level of proofreaders employed.
Another dilemma I ran into was figuring out when certain things need to be covered. Last year, while we were covering fair week, the primary election, hunting season opening and the beginning of fall sports, I missed two of the first basketball games of the season. I learned I need to pay more attention to that, but that brings me to my next topic.
Getting yelled at
When I missed the start of basketball season, a person I consider a friend called and read me the riot act in a way that kind of shocked me. He was right of course, but people get passionate about coverage sometimes.
I have been brought to the carpet over forgetting to put an ad in.
I have had people come into the office and literally scream at me for an opinion I have expressed in one of my columns.
And let’s not forget the dressing down I got for the “April Fools joke” I ran before I was even editor. While several people still stop me today and remind me they thought the “Beaching Disease” thing was hilarious—I learned about possible repercussions in a no-nonsense way that week.
While I am in a constant state of panic nowadays, I have found that to actually panic doesn’t do any good at all.
If I can leave you with a piece of advice for your work—or even your life, that would be at least part of it.