How we did it: Behind the scenes in the 10-year saga of the printed Pioneer
(My wife Therese, who oversees the advertising and bookkeeping, along with the Meet-a-Westsider and What-Do-You-Do columns and the shooting of the odd photo, has her own story that she'll be sharing in next week's paper.)
Setting the scene, the Pioneer creation occurs mainly in a converted bedroom in the front of our Westside house. We once thought that room might just be a starting point, that we could rent office space one day, maybe even hire staffers, but the economics were never there. And anyway, working out of the house was great for raising our second son (Rioux) and finishing raising the first (Travers).
The above-mentioned room is mostly taken up with the desks that Therese and I use. Each has a computer on the top, and my desk, which is slightly bigger (OK, a lot bigger, but no need to get into that, right, Therese? Ah-heh) also holds the printer/scanner/copier.
Because we publish on Thursdays, I'll start the narration on Friday.
Friday, about 7:30 a.m.
Wake up, bleary-eyed, go to the office. (Why bleary-eyed? We'll get to that.) Read the issue that came out Thursday. If any errors are found in stories, fix them in Quark Xpress, the computer program we use to lay out pages. The idea is to have the stories right when Travers archives them online in a week or so.
Friday, 9 a.m.
Deliver papers to two stops that I don't get to on Thursdays. One of these is the donut shop at the Red Rock Center, where a couple of regulars, Morris and Warren, might ask me about a story they saw in the Gazette that morning. I hand them a Pioneer and tell them it should help the eye strain they've probably suffered. I also might buy a couple of donuts, but only because Therese likes them, ha-ha.
Friday, 9:45 a.m.
Back at the office, on the computer, begin setting up page files for the next issue. Therese works on them first, because most advertising comes in (actually needs to come in) sooner than the news each issue. We have developed a fairly efficient system, with networked computers (thank you, Travers) and a “Pages” folder for each issue that gets moved forward. Each page inside it becomes a template for its page number in the coming week.
Start preparing a story list for the new issue. This starts with scrutinizing the list from the just-published issue to see what got used, what was written but held and any story ideas that would still be good to work on. There follows an hour or more of seeking inspiration in recent Pioneers, notes I've taken and e-mails received… because inevitably on a Friday (with all-too-rare exceptions) the story possibilities on the new week's list are way short of being enough to fill a paper for the coming Thursday.
Friday, 10:30 a.m.
Go to High Rise Gourmet Coffee to drop off papers. It's been kind of a semi-joke for years with Toby (the owner) and his son Drew that their roasting business is the last outlet that gets the paper each week. I finally explained once that the real reason I do it that way is that Friday morning at this time is when they have their first pot of coffee brewing (though it's not a restaurant) and coincidentally that is also when my Wednesday-Thursday lag starts to hit, so a cup of their coffee (not just any coffee) is a wonderful thing. And it's true. I put a lid on the cup, take it with me and drink every drop before the day is done.
Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This is basically free time. There could be a speaker at the Old Colorado City History Center or a planned interview or even a visit to the dentist. Because it's right after we publish, Friday always seems like the one day of the week when there's little urgency. But I still try to get in at least one interview or a bit of research or just take a useful photo, to quell the uneasy feeling that I might already be falling behind before the new issue even gets going.
A related chore involves changing out the issue folder. A hanging-folder drawer in my desk contains a physical folder for each weekly newspaper we've put out in the past year. For this week, as an example, I pulled out the “Dec. 13” folder from last year and erased the “3” to make it Dec. 12. Meanwhile, I put the last of the stuff from the Dec. 5 issue into its folder and filed it away.
Each issue folder contains that week's story list, people-to-contact list, meeting notes, printouts, flyers, letters and other paper materials; also that issue's advertising totals and circulation figures. The latter documents are retained in the folder year after year to provide cumulative records, but most of the other stuff is thrown away when a given year cycles around. Pretty streamlined, except that I'll have to come up with a new system when we go online, because there won't be weekly editions anymore!
Saturday often has an event with photo possibilities (sometimes Friday night too), so I have to remember to check our own Happen-ings page to see what's scheduled. Sometimes, when I'm really on my game, I check such things days in advance and dutifully write it in my DayMinder book. This is all really good, except for the times I forget to look at the book. An example was the Saturday about eight years ago when I had been invited to join a luncheon date with Cloyd Barnes, the sculptor of the wonderful Prospector statue at 21st and Highway 24. We value the statue so highly that it's been part of our front-page banner since our first issue. So I eagerly wrote the luncheon date in my DayMinder, checking it now and then to remind myself. But other things came up that Saturday morning and I forgot to go - my brain prankishly recalling it only just after the luncheon ended, leaving me nothing to do but call and apologize.
There are lots of chores involved with putting out a newspaper, and some of them won't change online. Therese and I team up on the Happenings page. We list things up to about a week and a half in advance, so I move up dates as needed and put in events I know about, meetings and such, while she checks through other listings we have, such as for Rock Ledge Ranch and the Bear Creek Nature Center, and calls the local clubs to find out what bands they're going to have.
Go through my online folder that contains e-mails with story possibilities - things like tips from readers, responses to e-mail questions I sent out previously and press releases from local groups or government entities. I have to move things out of my Inbox constantly as I get up to 50 e-mails a day, not counting the spam that our Internet provider filters out (usually).
But really, the weekend typically only requires four to six hours of newspaper work, on average. Like the calm before the storm. I even get to watch Bronco games.
Now it starts to get real. That story list I'd started on Friday? Part of my weekend task was to start thinking about what I needed to do to make each of those stories take shape. Any phone calls or e-mails to move forward on the story list that I did not accomplish on Friday (or even earlier, in some cases) I start accomplishing now.
Every issue is different, so it's hard to give an exact chronology of Monday on, but the basic milestones and procedures stay the same.
Phone calls, e-mails and reading. Strategize the time as much as possible. This week, for example, I had two events on Wednesday, so I needed to get more writing done than usual by the end of Tuesday. If in-person interviews are needed for this week's issue, this is the day to set them up. At some point, I may be heard to say, “It's time to start getting serious about this issue.”
The story list always dictates that some things be checked out “in the field.” Examples are street projects and housing developments. I also go to a few of the large news outlets I'm responsible for (to clean up any messes or add papers, as needed).
I've stumbled onto a number of unexpected things just by driving around the Westside. Recently I ran across a transient-camp fire that came close to spreading. Another example was a year ago on Veterans Day, when I noticed people at work around some big white tents that had been set up alongside the Centennial extension segment south of Fillmore. Turned out that afternoon was the groundbreaking for the new veterans outpatient clinic… and apparently our little newspaper hadn't made the media notification list. (But we were the only one to put the story/photo on Page 1 afterward!)
Another thing about Monday (which won't be changing) is that's the day Therese stays in the office to handle the Classifieds. A fair number of people find their way to our door on Mondays to work with her on the wording and so forth.
Also typical of the news business, people drop by unannounced for various reasons. So we never know who's going to wind up in our little office at the same time. Sometimes it's Mel McFarland, who likes to drop off his columns in person.
Start writing stories. When you're looking to hit 20 articles per issue, give or take, it's a good idea to have at least a quarter of them done (even if it's just briefs) by this point. Sometimes coffee helps.
Sorry to leave such a cliffhanger! This “how we did it” chronology will be completed in our final printed Westside Pioneer Dec. 19.