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Proof is in the Printing
by Ethel Geary
I lived in a small town with two weekly newspapers. A friend who worked for one of the papers mentioned that they were trying to increase their readership and be more competitive with the other paper. The two newspapers were opposite in reporting style, one more interpretive and the other leaning toward providing facts with little interpretation, but among the people I talked to, it wasn't the reporting style that drew them. It was the social column they looked forward to reading. Here they saw their name and that of their family and kept up on the activities of their friends and other community members. That's it (insert small light bulb)! The less read paper needs a social column. As an active member of my community, who could write a decent sentence, and needed to make a little extra household money, I would solve their problem and mine. (Oh, the arrogance of the inexperienced.)
Some months earlier, the editor of the less read paper personally interviewed me and later gave me the paper's endorsement in my run for a seat on the school board. I knew I could get an appointment with him, and, of course, he would be delighted when he heard my solution to his readership problem, and he would realize that I was qualified to write such a column.
He did meet with me and without hesitation, turned me down flat. He was not the least bit interested in the idea, the social climate of the community, or me. I was crest fallen, and feeling foolish as I maneuvered my car out of the parking lot and headed for home. However, the idea simply wouldn't go away. I was more convinced then ever that I was right and he was wrong. The next morning I got on the phone and called anyone I knew who had hosted or attended a major social event in the last seven days. I developed very short descriptions of each event, while dropping as many names as possible into it. I quit at 14 column inches.
I wrestled with whether to call the editor for an appointment or just show up. I opted to just show up. As I hoped, the editor was too polite to refuse to see me. I handed him my work and said, "These 45 people will want to see your next issue." He shrugged. I asked what he had to lose, pointing out that I was not charging him, and I kept the column short. He should be able to find space. Rising from his chair, he beckoned me to the door, said he would think about it, but "don't count on it." I again went home feeling foolish and rejected.
Three days later the weekly edition of the paper hit my driveway. I threw it on a table by the front door and ignored it. Several hours later my phone rang. On the other end was one of the people I interviewed gushing over the write-up on her family's reunion. As soon as I got her off the phone, I grabbed the paper, and literally screamed, "Oh my God!"
There was my column which I had titled "View from the Hill," because I lived on the highest hill in the community. I wasn't sure what to do next. Do I make more calls and write another column? Should I call the editor? "Sleep on it," I told myself. The next day the editor called and asked me to come to his office to talk about the column. He told me the newspaper had received several calls from people wanting to know how to get their event in the column, and he was hopeful this interest would open some other doors for readership and advertisers. He wanted to give it a try - with pay. I was hired at a wealth-creating rate of ten cents per column inch - retroactive to my first column. My first check was around $6.60. I was delighted.
Over the five years I produced material for that paper, my responsibilities grew. In addition to the social column, I eventually became the "ambulance chaser" covering police and fire department happenings, and finally the planning commission and city hall with free reign to submit anything else I found newsworthy. What started as a rejection, then a minuscule part-time gig developed into a near fulltime position and of course my rate of pay increased to a respectable rate.
I'd like to say that I went on to become a star reporter on a major newspaper, but I didn't. Being a reporter was wild and fun, but later, as a single mother I had to have more structured employment. This experience did, however, give me the confidence I needed to pursue other avenues in the writing world and to eventually create my own business contracting with companies and individuals to write and edit advertising pieces, newsletters, professional letters, manuscripts, company manuals, and just about anything involving the written word.
© Copyright 2009, Ethel Geary
Ethel Geary began her career as a small town journalist in the San Francisco Bay area. Suddenly a single mother of three, she founded Affordable Office Support, a full service provider of secretarial, advertising, copy editing, proofing reading and bookkeeping for small for-profit and nonprofit organizations. Semi-retired, Ethel now lives in CO where she writes for publication, assists with the operation of the office via internet and is the bookkeeper for her son's antique store in Brighton, CO.
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