Monday, July 9, 2012

Reinventing Mary Jane

Where I’ve been ...

In mid-February I stopped to buy gas at a station near my home.  The owner, a friend, came rushing over and said he and some other investors were starting a community newspaper … would I like to be the editor.
This had been a dream of mine for a long time, but I knew it would take over my life.  After much soul searching, I went for it – jumping out of the fairly mundane life of freelance writer on a retirement salary – into the 60-70 hour workweek of an editor.
In the next few weeks I spent hundreds of hours learning why newspapers are in trouble today and how to format a newspaper for today’s market.  I learned the importance of the Internet to a newspaper and tips for a successful launch.
That first paper was a struggle.  We had three employees, a marketing and sales person, a graphic designer, and me.  After deciding on tabloid size and finding a printer who could print the entire paper in full color for just pennies more than conventional black and white … I had to fill the darn thing up … all 16 pages of it.
Knowing that one failing of a small newspaper is for one person to do all the writing, I begged for, and was given, a small budget each week for correspondents.  Having been one for the Spokesman-Review a couple of years ago, I knew how the organization worked, so I wrote out some guidelines and began looking for correspondents in the various small communities we were trying to reach. 
I found three writers willing to write about their local communities.   Another, one, thank God, stepped up to write the sports report each week.  That is so not my forte!
Now came the fun part.  I okayed stories for the correspondents and then began processing the news that had been collecting on my desk since we had announced we were starting a new paper.
We gave birth to the Panhandle Sun on April 4, 2012.  And, believe me, I felt like it was my baby.  We celebrated briefly then went immediately to work, fine-tuning our content, layout, circulation and delivery – and working on the next issue.
Once we began regular weekly publication, there was no time in my life for anything else.  I would never have thought I could work so many hours – I never had before in my life.  I sat behind my desk for 12 and even 14 hours each day.  I got four or five hours of sleep each night, then got up and started proofing articles or planning new ones.
Many writers, and I’m one of them, wait until the last minute to write.  (That’s why I'm working on this blog at 5 a.m. on the morning it’s due.)  And, as a freelancer, I was able to spend days, or weeks, or even months perfecting a piece before I sent it in.
Boy did I lose that safety net.
With 16 empty pages to fill each week, and an editorial staff of one, I had to churn out those stories and move on to the next.  I worked on 16 articles and briefs in one tough week.  Lesson learned.
I eventually settled into kind of a routine and realized I was still working too many hours.  I decided to sacrifice some of my salary and hire another writer to help me.  I hired a features editor, a bubbly young lady who had been a features editor for the North Idaho College newspaper.  Her "okey-dokey" to all assignments was refreshing. 
By June, things were smoothing out.  My new features editor worked about 10-12 hours each week, giving me some breathing space, and I had found several new columnists and correspondents.  I spent more time now deciding what things to leave out than what to put in, I had so much input. 
Always, though, there were financial problems and the owners eventually put us on life support.  We began publishing on a week-to-week basis through June, which was just enough additional stress that I decided (with a little nudge from both my health and my husband) – I WANT MY LIFE BACK.
So, again with much soul searching, I made a second decision about being the editor of a community newspaper, and tendered my resignation as editor of the Panhandle Sun.   My last issue will be July 18.   
Although I am stepping away, I do not feel like a failure.  In fact I am proud of the paper that I created and nurtured through its infancy.  And I am proud of myself for having taken on the adventure of becoming a newspaper editor and that I am still daring enough to try (and learn) new things. 

In fact, I always seem to reinvent myself every now and then.  I can't wait to see what I become next.

Where am I going?

Stay tuned for MJ's next adventure!


Jennifer Rova said...

What a success you made of the paper in such a short time. In these times of Olympic standards, you are a "10!" Congratulations on (a) doing all the work to start a newspaper and (b) realizing your priorities, needs and desires for this stage in you life and following through on those priorities. Think of all the things you have learned these past months...a gold medal of experience.

Mary Jane Honegger said...

Thanks for the kind words, Jennifer. You're right, it did take nearly as much effort to do the right thing for myself as it did to start the newspaper ... just a different kind of strength was needed. Giving up on a dream is never easy.

Davinder Singh said...

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