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Politically Incorrect

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Have you ever found yourself, around 7:00 am, sitting on your front porch in the sunshine and wondering if it’s too early to drink? That’s where I was at two short weeks ago, when Ernie called on the telephone to say, “Hey, guess what? Our printer’s closed and out of business.”

That’s not a good message to get at any time, but especially not after several 18-hour days putting together the latest issue of a newspaper, at a time when the fruit of that work should be running at high speed through pulleys and gears and barrels of ink.

Darn. No, that’s not what I said.

Ernie, it was obvious, had already done his share of drinking before calling me. The amount of caffeine in his voice had him sounding like a hummingbird, trapped and forced into speech when it desperately needed to do something, anything, to use up the energy filling its body. “So, what do you want me to do?” he asked. “Let me make some calls,” I told him.

I went and put my own coffee on, and began making frantic calls to see if I could get my paper printed that day. “Hey Ernie,” I said when I called him back. “Got your camera in the car? Cause you’re going to Kalispell and Glacier Park should be beautiful about now.” Ernie, god bless him, was off like a shot, I think maybe on foot. I guarantee, all those folks who talk about the evils of coffee don’t work on a newspaper.

The immediate problem in hand (albeit Ernie’s) I now had to consider the long term – what were we going to do when the next issue of the paper had to be printed? Finding a printer isn’t the problem – finding one who can print our exact size newspaper is. If we want to put out a newspaper, a lot of things might have to change.

I dialed the number for Dennis. “Hi, you’ve reached The River Journal office in Noxon,” I heard before slamming down the phone in disgust. Hiking again, I'll bet. He’s taking this quasi-retirement thing a little too far.

Next I called Sandy, another of my editors and advisors. “I need to think about this,” he told me when I explained my dilemma, and no amount of entreaties or blandishments on my part would convince him that his title required him to provide immediate advice.

That dilemma actually began many weeks ago, when the Hagadone Corporation bought a whole bunch of newspapers in western Montana, along with a tiny little printing press in the town of Ronan - my printing press. And the restructuring began. As we learned on that fateful day when Ernie sat in front of a closed building, a ready-to-be printed newspaper in hand, Hagadone didn’t actually buy the business that prints our newspaper – he bought only the equipment, and the business was through.

The folks at the Daily-Interlake, a now Hagadone-owned production, scrambled on our behalf to find a way to print our paper, sending Ernie to Kalispell and finally to Hungry Horse from which he emerged, 522 miles later, with the last issue of The River Journal. They also told us they’d be happy to continue publishing this little compilation of life along the Clark Fork River... as long as we changed our printed paper size and “oh, by the way, you’ll have to start doing your layout work in a different program ‘cause we can’t accept what you bring us anymore. And printing on Wednesday? Don’t think we can do that anymore.”

I was overwhelmed and drinking like a madman. With caffeine screaming through my veins at mach speed, I began making lists of what we would have to do in the next two weeks before another issue of the paper was due to be printed. 

-Completely learn a new computer layout program.

-Rebuild all of our page and advertising templates.

-Reconfigure our delivery system to accommodate printing at a new location.

-Redevelop our advertising rates to accommodate our new ad sizes and changed printing prices.

-Renegotiate every advertising contract to reflect these changes.

Darn. No, that’s not what I said.

Interestingly enough, all this occurred just before the one-year anniversary of the date when I took over production of The River Journal – a birthday, of sorts, and a really good time to sit back and think about what we’ve done over the last year and what we might want to do in the next. If we have to change our format, do we want to change our look? Should we be a paid newspaper or a free one? Can we handle our distribution in a more effective manner? Is it time to go completely digital?

As you already know, because you’re holding this issue of the paper in your hands right now, nothing changed on the surface. We found a new printer who really is a new printer, so to speak – Griffin Publishing in Spokane. For those of you familiar with the printing world, yes, they’re the same Griffins who ran Spokane Print and Mail for so many years and in such high regard, and now they’re running a brand new business. Fortunately for us, that business is one that can handle our format (a 34” web tabloid) so the look of the paper didn’t have to change. But it is still our anniversary, and we are still looking at all those questions about where we’re at and where we want to go.

And that’s where you come in, that person known in Victorian novels as Constant Reader. As those of us who labor over this little newspaper get together in the next few weeks to talk about what we might want to change, and what we definitely want to keep, we’d love to hear from you about what you like about what we’re doing, and what you’d like to see us do differently. All of our phone numbers are printed in the editor’s box on page 2, along with all of our email addresses. Give us a call and let us know what you think, or schedule a time to come visit and give us some feedback. We want to hear from you about how to keep The River Journal a newspaper worth wading through. We’ll put the coffee on.

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Landon Otis

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newspapers, publishing

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