Dear Readers for October 16, 2008

I always have so many things I want to tell you about our newspaper that I never know where to start. This team here at Blount Today lives and breathes this newspaper day-after-day. Maybe we are so close to it that we think it is more interesting than you do. I have found, however, that many folks are fascinated by newspapers, how they work, why they work and how decisions are made. After many years -- maybe too many years! -- of living the life of a journalist, we take so many things for granted.

We expect, for instance, readers to always know the difference between an “Ad” and a “Story.” In reality, most don’t. I talk to folks every week -- nice, intelligent folks -- who don’t know the difference between what someone pays to put in the paper and what is just the week-to-week coverage a newspaper does “for free.” Marty Millsaps, our ad director, says I offer that “free” avenue way to often, but then, I would expect the “muscle” part of our team to flex a little. He and his crew are responsible for keeping the lights on and the babies fed, so they are much more focused on collecting ad revenue than passing out free stories.

Lance and Stefan, our editor and sports editor, won’t let you pay them for anything. Matter-of-fact, they will probably find even the suggestion downright insulting. It takes an act of congress and the assurance that Blount Today “bought” the ticket to get them to eat a meal at luncheons and dinners they have to cover. It’s a journalist thing. Not that they really believe anyone is foolish enough to think they can curry favor with a chicken dinner, but it’s just something journalist are kind-of sensitive about.

Even though I am now a publisher and walk that dual line between editorial and sales, I still have a lot of that old journalist just under the surface. The sweet folks at the Heritage Center tried to give me a discount on a purchase I bought up there when I went to judge the Best Pie in the Cove contest. The sweet lady behind the counter must have thought I misunderstood her and thought she was trying to give me a rattlesnake.

So, if you don’t know, here’s a short primer in what’s what in the newspaper -- or at least this newspaper. Most ads are paid advertisement promoting something someone wants you to buy, believe, attend or visit. The customer with the cash has the last say on what the ad says, within reason, legal limits and good taste, regardless of what the newspaper would like. Our designers often cringe as they watch a beautiful ad they have worked hard on under the red pen of the customer. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if the beholder has the cash, whatever he or she wants is beautiful.

Now that’s not to say we don’t offer advice, and, sometimes it’s taken. And sometimes, there is a mutual sharing of a little of this, a little of that, and the whole ad turns out better than one head could have designed. But the bottom line in advertising is that you’re buying the space, so the decisions are yours.

Where the ad is placed is rarely the customer’s decision unless he or she has paid extra for a certain spot. All newspapers have their “most popular” places. Some are pretty standard. You can’t get any better than the front page. And a close second is any back section. Pages 2 and 3 are prime space. Beyond that, it depends on what the most popular spots in the individual newspaper are. That can vary. A few of our “A list” spots, for example, may not even get a blink in another paper. Our readers look for certain things in our paper every week, so those are popular pages: Chat Room, Snapshots, Crossword Puzzle.

Beyond paying for special placement, the rest of the ad placement is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The page designer and, in the case of Blount Today, the publisher sit down and figure it all out on production day. If we did it six times, it would probably look different each time.

Like anyone in business, we want to keep our customers happy, so we always try to offer the best quality we can and to be fair. We don’t always succeed, and we make our fair share of mistakes, but our hearts are always in the right place.

And our “muscle” makes lots of noise when we mess it up!

Next week, I’ll tell you about editorial, and something called “deadheads” that I think you will find interesting.

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