Happy birthday to the Redoubt Reporter, which this week celebrates the anniversary of its inaugural printing — the first Wednesday in August 2008. With this edition, the paper turns the big 0-4. (Oy, those measles and tetanus immunizations.) In start-up business years, that’s about 60. (Oy, those bunions and acid-reflux episodes.)
I sometimes wonder, in the spirit of introspective naval-gazing that birthdays and anniversaries tend to inspire, where has the time gone? I’m afraid to know the answer. I suspect a distressingly large percentage has gone to tasks I never anticipating spending much time on:
- Compiling calendars, formatting photos, considering ways to shave a few words/bucks off classified ads and re-typing submitted content that came in with the journalistically verboten sins of ALL CAPS LETTERING and extraneous, pompous (;) or overly enthusiastic (!) punctuation.
- Looking up, for the 100th time, the difference between lie, lay, lying and laying. (Seriously, English, why so difficult?)
- Printing subscription labels, affixing stamps and standing in line at the post office.
- Driving around in the wee hours of Wednesday mornings, scheming shortcuts through parking lots to shave fractions of seconds off a paper delivery route that unavoidably takes at least eight hours, a tank of gas and an espresso sludge cup to complete.
- Bandaging paper cuts and massaging carpal-tunnel claw hands (hazard of the trade).
- Scrubbing newsprint ink off my skin, clothes, furniture, car upholstery (a lost cause) and even my hair (on the bright side — I won’t need hair dye for a good, long while).
- Rebooting computer programs when, in a time-crunched frenzy or brain-dead lethargy, I hit the keyboard shortcut for “quit” instead of “save.”
- Screaming and crying in a fit befitting a 4-year-old, usually after a “command-quit” episode.
- Slugging terrible coffee.
- Doing my ritual Tuesday afternoon press deadline “load-please-load-please-load-please-load” chant and frustrated/frantic dance while watching the online file transfer site sloooooowly transmit the paper to the printer. (It looks a little like a “gotta pee” jig, which might be partially true. See preceding bullet.)
- Fielding calls from people wanting a copy of the paper that has the story about, “That thing that happened that one day, with that guy … you know the one.” This usually turns out to be something that ran in the Dispatch, the other free-circulation publication that comes out on Wednesdays. At least karma’s with me on this one. I hear from Merrill Sikorski, the correspondent for the Dispatch, that he gets just as many calls from people looking for a story that printed in the Reporter.
- Willing my phone to ring.
- Dreading my phone ringing.
- Bushwhacking through emails. Holy over-capacity inbox, Batman, the sheer volume of emails!
- Starting a task, then another, and another, eventually taking three times as long to accomplish anything as it would have taken to just focus on one.
- Comparing the relative design merits of Bell Gothic versus Tahoma, before inevitably returning to my true love — Myriad Pro, the official font of the Redoubt Reporter.
- Scribbling to-do lists.
- Excavating the to-do list I accidentally buried under subsequent to-do-lists, then wondering what the heck the entry of “golf cannibals” was about. (If anyone out there is or knows of a golf cannibal whom I was perhaps supposed to contact, please accept my apology.)
- Pondering why, exactly, I thought starting and running a newspaper was within the realm of reason and the scope of my abilities.
All that and more comprises the time that drags by, making the paper’s existence seem like it’s been 40 years instead of 4. The unavoidably long hours made interminable by my penchant for inefficiency, when I’d rather be off hiking, camping, skiing, organizing my sock drawer, spending time with friends or even having time to make a friend with which to then spend time.
But then there are the cherished hours, days and even-tolerable all-nighters spent doing the things I truly love about journalism:
- Finding and developing stories. For the obnoxiously curious, such as myself, nothing is as antithetically exciting yet soothing as being able to quell the never-ending stream-of-consciousness questioning looping through my head: “Why? Who? What? How? When? Huh?”
- Being a reporter affords access to information not granted to most folks. I get to impose on the time of mayors, senators, experts, heads of industry, pillars of the community, decision makers, power brokers, blue-collar laborers, busy professionals, even-busier mothers, coaches, teachers, artists, shy teenagers, kids on the playground, fishermen on the river and loiterers at the coffee shop (all of which, I might point out, are equally important). And I get the leeway to ask them whatever I want, as my job lends social acceptance to me being an incorrigible snoop. Even I can’t believe some of the questions I get away with asking sometimes.
- Being mindful of the responsibility that comes with this leeway. Responsibility might sound more con than pro, but for me it’s an important part of the job. Though, most days, I still don’t understand how this happened, I am nevertheless entrusted with the opportunity to tell people’s stories — to share their thoughts, words, experiences and opinions in unchangeable, out-there-for-everybody-to-see print. In exchange for being granted that access, it’s incumbent on me to do so as honestly, fairly, accurately, engagingly and respectfully as I can. As nerve-racking, ulcer-inducing, sleep-depriving and nausea-inducing as that responsibility may be, the cold sweat I break out in when sending a paper to press, or the queasy feeling I get when encountering someone I recently wrote about is a grounding reminder to me that I had better take this responsibility seriously, and take myself much less so.
- Indulging in information. I love learning about something new. It’s a wonder I ever graduated any level of schooling, as I’m a student of everything, proficient at nothing. I truly enjoy getting to know my community and the people in it, and sharing that information with others.
- Writing. I don’t spend as much time on this as I could or should, but I enjoy what writing time I do squeeze in. With a few exceptions (those dratted iterations of lie and lay), I like words. I don’t always like spelling them or abiding by rules of grammar dictating in which order they should go, but I like stringing them together. I like conveying ideas, exploring flip sides, making people laugh, challenging their assumptions and evoking some kind of feeling, good or bad. Most of all I like landing a one-liner that gets somebody to snort a beverage out their nose, but I’ll settle for just writing something that somebody, somewhere felt it worth their while to read.
- Working with the rest of the Redoubt Reporter family. As unreal as it often seems that I have the job I do, the caliber of people helping with this endeavor is far more unbelievable. The writers, editors, advertisers, designers, salespeople, deliverers and general supporters the paper is lucky to have never cease to amaze and humble me. The time, effort and talent they bring to the paper inspires far more emotion in me than I could ever hope to evoke in a reader. And, I’ll be honest, it’s been the cause of a coffee snort or two.
- Remembering why, exactly, I wanted to start and run a paper, reason and assumed boundaries of ability be damned.
Jenny Neyman is the editor, publisher and a reporter for the Redoubt Reporter. She sincerely apologizes for neglecting to complete whatever task was required in relation to any golf cannibals out there — whomever and whatever they may be. Perhaps by year five, she’ll have figured that out.