The Whitehall Ledger - Serving Southern Jefferson County in the Great State of Montana

By Jack H. Smith
Ledger Publisher 

COLUMN: A real vacation and local news


January 10, 2018

Trying to take a vacation while owning a weekly newspaper can be tricky.

Not only is it important to get the product out to customers each and every week, I also have a postal permit that requires me to publish even if I had some sort of crazy idea of combining a couple of issues at the end of the year or during the summer.

In the past couple years I have taken a three-day weekend several times, and once took four days in a row off. Despite saying I would be taking time off, I would generally spend an hour or two each day getting stuff ready for the paper. At the end of 2017 I decided I needed a “real” break. I certainly couldn’t afford to go to Hawaii or Mexico for 10 days, but I figured it would be nice to take some time off.

I was going to take five days off and not do anything. I would not answer emails, write stories, or even think of work.

Since I was unable to make to my hometown for Christmas, I decided to spend my vacation in Wyoming and it was a really nice visit. Traveling with cats is always a real pleasure, but I was able to see a lot of people and have a lot of fun. I went to see one friend at his barbershop and ended up not making it back to my moms for several hours. It was a great time catching up with him, but everyone seemed a bit confused I was there that long and never ended up getting a haircut.

Prior to leaving at the crack of dawn last Thursday, I tried to do a little bit of work for the next paper on Wednesday, but nothing was coming together. I had three stories done, but knew if that were all I could get done that Tuesday would be a nightmare. I was correct. It was just one of those days where nothing came together and the fact a paper was published on Wednesday was a surprise to me because there were many times I just wanted to get up and leave or possibly throw the computer outside onto Legion Avenue.

Since I paid no attention to email over the five days, I was blindsided when I went into the office. It must have taken me a couple hours to get through the never-ending emails, and if I had a dollar for every one that was junk I would be eating steak and crab for dinner tonight. I wanted to have six or seven “bylined” stories in the paper and figured it could be possible with some hard work. I try really hard to have as much copy written by myself or submitted by a contributing writer, and try to stay away from press releases unless they are something from a local group like the Rotary Club. Sometimes people will ask me why I don’t have information about stuff going on in Butte or other places not far away, and I simply tell them that those places have their own newspapers with all of that, I’ll stick to this area unless it involves someone local.

I made four or five phone calls on Tuesday morning, but after hours and hours of waiting, only one called back. That was frustrating because it is kind of impossible to write a story if there is nobody to give me information. Sometimes people will get frustrated because certain things are not in the paper, but often times it is not because of a lack of trying.

I decided that since I would only have about five stories, which is really low and I feel bad about; I would make the paper a little smaller than normal instead of filling it with a bunch of press releases or stuff I could find on the Internet. I figured it may be a little smaller, but it still had nothing but local news. No use filling it up and having printing costs higher for non local news.

When it came time to put ads on the pages and then build the pages my computer did not want to participate at all. I reset it several times but I think it might have been pissed at me for taking five days off.

Finally around 6 p.m. I was able to get the newspaper sent to the printer and it was a struggle. I was a little bit worried about the size of the paper and amount of content, but on Wednesday morning I received a nice pick me up when looking at older papers. I usually spend a couple minutes every Wednesday looking at older papers from around the same week. I saw one edition without a “byline” and it made five seem like a big deal for first paper of the year, which in most markets is very small, and not full of many ads or stories.

Although I really enjoy time off, I’m actually looking forward to working this entire week, and might even spend several hours getting stuff done on Saturday and Sunday because I certainly don’t want to have another crazy Tuesday.


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