Inside the Newsroom #5 — How the sausage is made

BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS, EVIL LIBERAL MEDIA TYCOON

It is imperative to retaining my sanity that I explain, in great detail, how the Boyne City Gazette is made each week.

I’ve been doing this a few years now and I’ve noticed some patterns in how the public perceives its news organizations.

I’ve also picked up on a number of recurring questions and assumptions that many folks seem to have concerning the news business.

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: we in this business do lousy job of explaining what it is we do and why it is we do it.

I get it. No professional wants to be second-guessed.

It’s not fair that someone with a seventh-grade education balks at the prescribed manner of care a licensed physician recommends.

But, we’re a curious species.

And, the more informed we are with accurate information, the happier and safer society should be.

So, it is with the public good—and my fragile nerves—that I share the following.

About the 50th time someone wanders into the office on a Wednesday morning to ask about getting something into that Wednesday’s newspaper, I have to make somewhat of a difficult decision:

  1. I can spend the next 45 minutes explaining to a skeptical and often cantankerous patron that it is not physically (or spiritually or magically or hypothetically) possible to include the information printed on the sweaty flyer—they’re now waving angrily at me—in that Wednesday’s newspaper.
  2. Or, I can leap across my desk to throttle said customer while cackling maniacally … and spend my remaining days stamping license plates in one of Michigan’s fine hospitals for insane journalists.

Being far too dainty for prison life, I’ve decided to give you a look at our process, from camera and notepad to the final product in your mailbox.

Monday

1 p.m. – This week’s paper is being printed up at the Petoskey News-Review.

I use this time to set up next week’s paper in the design program I use to create it.

I also start putting my story list together based on upcoming public meetings, holidays, public events, any investigative pieces we may be working on, etc.

Meanwhile, Chris is selling ads for next week’s paper, taking care of customers who visit the office, dealing with correspondence, bookkeeping, and other general office stuff.

When Chris gets an ad sold, he sends me the information and, if I don’t already have them on file, product photos, logos, etc.

I design your advertisement and send it to Chris, who looks it over for accuracy before taking it back to the advertiser for final approval.

In the old days, we did business with a handshake and a verbal agreement—and, for some of our longtime customers, we still do that—but many of you have probably noticed that we now require a contract to be signed before your ad can run.
This protects you as much as it protects us.

“Just keeping honest people honest,” as the old hardware store clerk once told me.

3-4 p.m. – PNR delivers bundles of the Boyne City Gazette to our Boyne City office.

Chris gets them ready for delivery and then heads out around Boyne City and makes his way up to Petoskey, where we have several sales locations.

At this point, I’m still setting up the paper, gathering several days worth of press releases, correspondence, ads, obituaries, classifieds, and the like that came in over the weekend while I was putting this week’s paper together.

I take all that information and save it for the following week’s paper.

I also make story assignments to our writers, if we have any for them at the time.

This is pretty much how we spend the rest of the evening.

Quitting time varies depending on workload and whether we need to meet to discuss sales or news or some other assorted business.

Tuesday

7:10 a.m. – I’m sifting through e-mails, looking for information that matters to our readers.

Stuff local to Charlevoix County goes into a folder for the paper.

Stuff with regional and state emphasis mostly goes into a folder marked “Web Only” because it’s only for our website. (Clever, huh?)

The really crazy stuff, like the dirty sock or the hand-drawn postcard from the guy who believes the U.S. Government implanted his inner ear with a two-way radio, goes into my “this-might-come-in-handy-some-day” file.

Once I get caught up on filing whatever photos and text I have by then, I begin plotting where I’m going to put these items in the design program I use to make the paper.

At some point on Tuesday morning—depending on meetings, photo opps, or whether he’s rolled his car into another ditch—Chris delivers the rest of the newspapers to Charlevoix and East Jordan.

The rest of the day goes pretty much the same as Monday afternoon: Chris selling ads and helping walk-in customers, attending photo opps and then taking home-delivery papers to the United States Post Office; me filing information that comes in, and placing text and photos into the newspaper program.

I also interview folks for stories, transcribe meeting recordings, post pictures on the company Facebook page, add stories to boynegazette.com and other miscellaneous matters.

Wednesday and Thursday

Other than the fact that the newspaper is delivered to homes and businesses on this day, Wednesdays go pretty much like Mondays and Tuesdays; we sell ads, we write stories, we answer phone calls from folks wondering where to find a campsite or when some event is occurring or to report a Sasquatch sighting.

Friday

Friday is deadline day for you and for us.

For me to be able to fit pictures of your kid’s softball game or granny’s obituary or your blowout sale into next week’s paper, I need copious time to make space. (This is a two-man operation, after all.)

Likewise, if your advertisements are to make it into the next edition, Chris needs to have your ad copy, logos and any photos of your products so I can design the ad and you can approve it—preferably well prior to 5 p.m. on Friday.

Although we can, and often do, design ads for folks right up to our final print deadline, this can be problematic.

Sure, we can take information as late as 10 a.m. on Monday but, by then, the paper is 99 percent complete. If everyone brought their information to us on Monday, we’d never get the paper out in time … and the lovely folks up at the PNR would have extremely frowny faces and tummy aches when we sent them our newspaper file 12 hours late.

Saturday and Sunday

With the workweek behind us, Chris and I retire to our liberal media-funded high-rise condos on Lake Charlevoix to sip martinis and scoff at the dirty-cheeked rabble below. (A boy can dream, can’t he?)

The weekends are pretty much exactly like the weekdays except Chris usually takes a lot more pictures and I spend most of my time laying out the newspaper and editing whatever stories me and my writers have produced throughout the week.

On a side note: people throw around that phrase “laying out the paper” but what the hell does it mean?

Well, I create the newspaper solely on a high-powered laptop with a program called “InDesign CS 5.5.”

Imagine Microsoft Word on steroids after consuming moonshine and being struck by lightning.

If you’re into publishing any kind of reports or books or magazines or designing anything from logos and postcards to resumes and pamphlets it’s pretty much the most amazing software you could use.

Yes, it’s expensive and also very complex.

But, if an uneducated bum like me can get the hang of it, then you should be able to figure it out.

By Sunday evening, the newspaper is usually finished all but for an editorial or a couple photos we can’t get until Monday morning along with a couple last-minute advertisements that won’t arrive until just before we go to print.

Serving stragglers is the name of the game. (Actually, “Newspaper Deadline” would probably be the worst board game since Mattel’s “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.” Yes, this is a real game.)

I then send a digital copy of the newspaper to Chris and go pour a big cup of coffee while he begins to proof it.

By now, I usually need to take a couple hours off and let my eyes rest by watching the new episode of The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones or, if the wife insists, Sister Wives.

Chris then sends me whatever corrections and stylistic changes he thinks need to be made to the paper.

I input the corrections and put the document away until the morrow.

Monday again already?

7:10 a.m. – I read the paper over from beginning to end. This usually takes me in the neighborhood of two hours because I am a slow reader and I have to stop to make notes of errors I find so I can fix them later in the morning. (And also because I have to yell at the TV because MSNBC’s Morning Joe is on.)

8:30 a.m. – Chris calls. He’s finished billing and other clerical work for the week.

We discuss the upcoming week and try to nail down any final items this week’s paper is missing.

9 a.m. – I go back to proofreading the paper while Chris gets started on sales for the week.

9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. – Final ads or photos come trickling in.

Sometimes we get a last-minute obituary or classified.

I quickly (and oh-so-cheerfully without swearing a lot) rearrange a page or delete some less-important item—like a stand-alone photo or an unpaid press release—so I may include the paid item in the paper. (We are a business, after all.)

10:45 a.m. or thereabouts – I render a final PDF copy of the newspaper and send it to Chris for one last look-see.

Once we’re convinced the paper is good to go, I fill out a bit of required information so our printer knows how many pages, where color will appear, whether we have any inserts (usually fast-food coupons or hospital pamphlets but rarely gopher-inspired propaganda.)

11 a.m. – I e-mail this week’s edition of the Boyne City Gazette to the department at the Petoskey News-Review that handles the printing of our paper. (I like to pretend their press room looks like the Bat Cave inside. It doesn’t but it’s fun to pretend.)

11:01 a.m. – Coffee time.

I sigh in relief but also cringe at the thought I may have missed a big typo or referred to Boyne as “Bone City” or left the “o” out of the word “County” or any other of a thousand mistakes I could have made that I will later blame on Obama.

11: 15 – Back to work.

While Chris is selling ads, I send the e-Gazette—a lower resolution e-mail-friendly PDF of this week’s paper—to our paid subscribers. I then load the e-Gazette onto boynegazette.com. I also begin posting this week’s stories and photos on the website.

Some stories show up immediately and some are scheduled to appear later in the week. This really helps, especially with such a small staff, to keep news and photos appearing on our website throughout the week. (I don’t know why I’m explaining basic website functions to you but it’s probably Obama’s fault.)

Once I get the digital versions of the newspaper out and our website and Facebook page updated, I usually take an extended lunch break to look through the want ads … that is, if Chris doesn’t already have a pile of advertisements for me to design.

1 p.m. – I get started on next week’s paper as a new week begins.

Epilogue (I think)

I hope those of you who stuck around for every excruciating detail now have a better picture of what we do every week.

I know there’s some things we do I’m forgetting but that’s the gist of our little business.

If Chris wants to give you a more intimate peek at his weekly exploits, he’ll have to write about. (Actually, he told me he’s going to do just that in next week’s paper.”

Ultimately, we’re here to serve the community and put food on our tables.

You don’t do this job unless you love it and are obsessed with it … and we are.

When we say we’re really busy, we’re not just blowing smoke rings.

When we say we’re tight on space, it’s because we have so much great content.

When we say we need to stick to our deadlines, it’s not just to be mean. (Being mean is only part of the reason.)

But, as long as your request is remotely within our ability (and relatively reasonable) we’ll go well out of our way to work with you.

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