I was thinking the other day on how long I have been a part of the newspaper industry; it turns out that this will be my 50th year, having spent one year working with mentally challenged adults and two years working with people going into their final sunset, through hospice.
Along the way I have been a newspaper carrier, a circulation manager, a publisher and a newspaper owner.
I have always believed in performing those jobs, even as a young carrier, that I needed to be involved in the community.
During all of these years I have probably been a member of or have had the honor of being the head of every organized nonprofit that has ever existed. I never have regretted any of that service; in fact I enjoyed it.
I have a basement full of plaques and proclamations and pictures signed by people, some I don’t even remember. Recently, Molly convinced me to throw it all away, because when I died nobody would want my collection.
I poured a glass of wine went to the basement and started to throw away my treasures; I got so emotional that I had to have another glass of wine and then another.
I gave up, and when I head west someday, as my father is fond of saying, someone is going to have the chore of disposing the relics of my life; too bad for them.
During those years and including now, I have always made myself accessible to the public. When folks called to speak to the publisher, I always have standing orders that no one was to be asked their name or what their business is, there were just to be sent through. My cell phone number is on my business card.
If a person didn’t like something in the paper, they can always call me directly or come by and pop into my office at any time, and many have.
During this time I have had an opportunity to meet people of fame and movers and shakers that still control policy in this country.
I have had the opportunity to publish or own 20 community newspapers across the country and serve in a circulation capacity at five others.
In fact, at a few papers where I had considerable problems with delivery, printing and coverage, I actually think some of my former employees would take great delight in seeing me squirm as our loyal readers expressed their concerns, sometimes not in the nicest terms.
Occasionally, I actually have received calls of praise, and to this very day I personally remember the names of those five people and I am grateful for their kindness.
The main reason I have been accessible is because I had had the good fortune of publishing small community papers. When one publishes a paper in a small community, one can’t hide.
Sometimes I envy the newspaper publishers of large metro papers. It would be an extremely rare event to see a metro publisher out and about, and probably most of the people who work for them never have had the benefit of their readers’ guidance and support because their subscribers had no access to the newspaper leader.
Every once in a while, readers really do want to see the publisher or the editor, and they want him to be accountable for his paper’s actions. The large papers have long ago forgotten that concept.
The large metro publisher’s answer to this dilemma is to hire a person who writes well, actually fooling the readers into thinking that the publisher really cares. That person is called an ombudsman.
When Molly and I owned our paper in Orange County, Ca., he flagship newspaper of Freedom Newspapers at the time, the Orange County Register, had an ombudsman.
He wrote a column every Sunday about how the Register was listening to its readers and how concerned the paper was about their concerns. From his picture, he looked like a friendly, down-to-earth type of guy. He was probably smiling because he made lots of money being the publisher’s front man.
I have to admit, I had become jealous of the Register’s ombudsman.
I thought that besides being the publisher, the editor, the advertising manager the circulation director and the sanitation manager at times, I also wanted to have the title of ombudsman.
So I have given myself that title, so for our loyal readers, I have agreed to occasionally answer some questions just like an ombudsman would, fairly and honestly and with great caring and feeling.
Here are a few of the questions that, as the new ombudsman and publisher of the News, I am proud to answer.
Who writes the editorials at the News?
Now that is a very good question. If you like the editorial, the publisher writes them. If you don’t, a guy named Harry is currently writing them.
I promise, acting in my new capacity as ombudsman, if I get enough complaints about Harry, I will write a story on how bad we feel that Harry was so mean and I will suggest that the editor fire him.
In the past we have had a Frank, a Lloyd, a George and a Nancy who have written bad editorials. Because we care about the complaints of our readers, they all have been fired.
So keep me abreast of your thoughts on Harry.
Are the police logs real?
They are. We couldn’t ever make up this stuff, which proves the point that most crooks are really quite stupid.
Who really is in charge at the News?
I am going to let you in on a big secret: the person in charge of small community newspapers is the person whose name appears second in the staff box. The major responsibility of that person is to make the person whose name is first in the box feel that he is the one running things.
How about the spelling errors in the newspaper?
I would like to blame our news department for all of the errors, and occasionally I do, but we honestly try to proofread every article. However, at the end of a long publishing day, eyes do get weary.
We have another culprit, his name is Spell Check. Truthfully, I have never seen him, but he hides deep inside our computers. Sometimes he makes the mistakes. I would replace him, but I can’t find him.
You seem to have many contributors.
I am going to let you in on another secret: the publisher of this paper subscribes to the P.T. Barnum School of management. He has convinced these fine people that he can’t pay them much, but he will provide them with a staff ID card and has further convinced them that they might get into things free with this ID card.
That’s why from time to time our contributors’ names change, because they have come to realize that cash in hand is better than almost getting to see a free show or enjoying a free meal.
How come the publisher’s picture is always in the paper?
Well, the publisher of this paper is a very important man (at least he thinks so). But the real truth is that his mother and father live in Pennsylvania and his sister in West Virginia and they subscribe to the paper, and they like to see his picture to see how he is doing.
The moral of this column is this: we live in a small community, a community whose paper does not have an ombudsman, but a real live editor of its paper whom you can reach and talk to. In fact I talk to my editors all the time, I give them the benefit of my advice on how we should run this newspaper. They usually nod and smile and tell me thank you, and I am sure that they makes it a priority to change everything I want changed.
I hope this personal contact never changes. My biggest fear is that someday that you might call the paper ask for the publisher or the editor or the circulation director and you’re going to get someone in India or China or even California who is going to pretend just like the ombudsman that they care
T. Pat Cavanaugh is the publisher of The News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org