Mar 012022

A college education can be a great thing, but the reality of it is that all too often when you graduate, you end up with a diploma and, more often than not, a huge student loan debt that will take years to pay off, but not much else. Nothing I learned in a college classroom ever prepared me for day-to-day life in a newsroom or taught me the nuts and bolts of how to run a newspaper. You can only learn that with hands-on experience.

Though I had a journalism degree, I didn’t know any of that when I started out. Fortunately for me, when I decided I wanted to start my first newspaper, I approached a gentleman who owned a weekly newspaper several hundred miles away and told him what I planned to do and where I planned to do it, and that I would be no competition to him. He told me to spend 30 days working for him. He said he wouldn’t pay me a nickel, but at the end of that time, he would guarantee I knew how to run a small town newspaper.

That man worked my butt off, sometimes ten and twelve or more hours a day, pretty much seven days a week. But at the end of that month, I knew how to set up and manage a delivery system, how to sell advertising, how to compose an ad, how to layout a newspaper, and everything else I needed to know to get started. I still had a lot to learn, but I had a damned good foundation to start building from.

Because of that, I always welcomed summer interns studying journalism, and I tried to make sure that by the end of the summer, they had learned something that would help them when they graduated from college. Many of those interns went on to have successful careers in the newspaper business, and a couple of them ended up owning their own community newspapers. Another of them wound up being the manager of one of my own publications.

Of course, being young and starry-eyed, they all thought they were going to write blockbuster exposés about something, and many of them were disappointed to learn that the kind of stories we covered were more often about a couple celebrating their golden wedding anniversary or a kid who overcame a lot of obstacles to get an education and make something of himself. Sure, we also covered our share of crimes and small town scandals, but that’s not what community newspapering is about.

Many of those interns were also disappointed when I insisted that they spend time learning the back end of the business first. At least when they were starting out, but most came to understand that the more they knew about every aspect of the business, the more successful they would become.

Unfortunately, not every intern was successful. Some quickly realized that they weren’t going to be the next Woodward or Bernstein and had no interest in covering stories about an old World War II vet finally getting a medal he should have been awarded decades before, or of the grandmother who raised her kids and her grandkids before finally achieving her goal of getting a high school or college diploma. Those interns were usually gone within about a month or so.

And then there was Monica. She came to us as a summer intern at one of my newspapers on the Washington coast, and God love her, Monica was the only human being on this planet more clumsy than I am. She tried, I’ll give her credit for that. She really tried. But no matter what she did, it always seemed to end in disaster.

After her required three weeks in the shop, learning layout and such, and another two weeks writing obituaries and rewriting press releases from local businesses, where she proved she could really turn a word, Monica was chomping at the bit to get out and actually cover a story.

So I sent her out to the charter fishing docks in Westport, Washington, to take pictures of some of the catches the anglers were bringing in. Monica got several fishermen to pose with their very nice salmon, and as she was getting ready to take the picture, she stepped backward right off the dock and into the water. Monica couldn’t swim, so a couple of them had to pull her out, and though she was not injured, she didn’t get the picture either, because the Canon 35 millimeter camera she was using was at the bottom of the harbor.

Another time, Monica went out with the Coast Guard to cover the last routine cruise of a veteran Coastguardsman who was retiring after thirty years, as I recall. It was a calm day, but the Pacific Ocean is never completely calm. She had been advised to take Dramamine, just in case, and I don’t know if she did or not. But if she did, it didn’t work. Monica got seasick and managed to throw up all over the cutter, all over the soon to be retired gentlemen as he was sitting at the helm, and all over her camera. Monica never did have much luck with cameras. To their credit, the crew was very understanding and nice to her, but I was advised by the Coast Guard that they would not be taking any more of my reporters out, ever again.

You would think that was as much mischief as Monica could possibly get into, wouldn’t you? Well, if you did, you’d be wrong. Monica also got bopped in the head by a 2×4 as she was taking pictures of some churchmen building an addition onto their parsonage, got bit on the butt by a Cocker spaniel while taking pictures at the Humane Society for our Pet of the Week feature, and got knocked over by a girl on a horse while covering a 4th of July parade.

I don’t know what became of Monica. We lost track of her after she finished her internship and went back to college in the fall. But wherever she is and whatever she ended up doing, I hope it was something safe. God bless you Monica, you were a trooper. You never complained, and because of you, we got to buy all new cameras at the end of the summer.

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 Work is precious. Save some for tomorrow.

Nick Russell

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

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