May 052021

When Terry and I first got together, she was shocked by the way I treated the employees at my small town newspaper. No, I wasn’t Simon Legree expecting them to work their fingers to the bone for nothing. If anything, I went to the other extreme. I paid them well, gave them time off when they needed it, and even had a special room full of toys at the office so working mothers could bring their kids with them instead of paying for a babysitter.

One of the things about the newspaper business is that somebody always owes you money and can’t always pay you. Your choices then are taking them to court and maybe getting some money out of them but never getting their business again, or working out a barter arrangement so you get something, and hopefully, they’ll advertise with you again when things are better for them.

So if an employee needed tires on their car or repairs made, or some yard work or home repairs, I usually had somebody with an unpaid bill that I could barter with to get it done. Come Christmas time or birthdays, I gave them gifts like big screen TVs, jewelry, and things like that. For the most part, my people appreciated that. But there are always some who will stab you in the back the first chance they get.

In a past Newspaper Days blog post, I talked about the small newspaper chain I once owned on the Oregon and Washington coasts, and how the papers had small offices with small staffs, and the weekly editions were all composed and put together at our main office in Aberdeen, Washington. At one of my papers on the Oregon coast, I had a young woman working in the office, two salesmen out on the street, and a reporter. They were all well paid, but apparently that wasn’t enough for them, and they got greedy.

I got a call one day that they needed to talk to me, so I drove to the office to see what was going on. The four of them confronted me and told me that they felt they deserved more than what they were getting and that I had two choices. I could make them all equal partners in that paper, or they were all going to quit and start their own newspaper in competition against me.

A man named Gary, one of the salesman, and I’m sure the one who dreamed up this idea, told me that I didn’t really have any choice because I had taught them everything I knew and they were ready to go out on their own. I responded by taking their keys away from them and wishing them good luck with their new enterprise. Then I called two of my nearby papers and had people come in to take their place until I could hire somebody local, never missing an issue.

Gary and crew, on the other hand, never got the first issue of their newspaper out. I wasn’t the least bit surprised by that. I don’t know what happened to the other three, but I know that Gary found work selling ads for a radio station for a while and eventually went to work for another weekly newspaper in Eastern Oregon.

Fast forward a year or two, and I was at a regional newspaper convention and bumped into Gary. We did the handshake and the “How are you doing, no hard feelings thing,” and then he said, “I have to ask you something, Nick. Where did we go wrong? We spent two months planning what we were going to do and we failed miserably.”

I told Gary that there was no question in my mind about their impending failure, and told him that he himself had told me they were not going to make it. He asked me how he did that, and I replied, “You told me that you had it all planned out and that I had taught you everything I know. No, I didn’t. I only taught you everything you know. I’ve been at this business a long time, and I know stuff that you’re never even going to dream of knowing.”

I would like to think that Gary learned a lesson from all of that, but I heard later that he tried to pull the same stunt on the publisher of the newspaper he was working for at the time, and that gentleman kicked him to the curb. He told me the last he had heard of Gary, he was selling used cars in Portland.

And finally, here’s a chuckle to start your day from the collection of funny signs we see in our travels and that our readers share with us.

Thought For The Day – Education is the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty.

Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

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