Sunday, February 11, 2018

Grab the rug, and pull!

Back on Jan. 28 I mentioned how I got my first long-term newspaper job in Texas, and how it brought me to the city where I met and married Patricia.

I noted that when I became managing editor of The Cedar Hill Chronicle on July 4, 1987, I followed an editor who quit and essentially stole everything at the paper, with a mind to starting his own. He also persuaded the staff to follow him.

He was arrogant and didn't think his importance hadn't been properly acknowledged by the owners. I knew what he was like and I expected him to do what he did. I took it as an opportunity to start fresh and put my own stamp on the paper.

I mentioned that in the fall after he started his own newspaper I essentially sank it with a clever little ploy I improvised. For brevity's sake I did go into that on Jan. 28, but at least a couple of you said at the time you'd also like to hear that story, so here it is.

This guy called his business a newspaper and typesetting business - remember, this is before desktop publishing was common - and that tipped me off he planned to get some extra money from other sources.

Like many journalists with inflated egos, he overestimated how much people valued him as opposed to how much they valued the newspaper.

I assumed when he started the paper that he planned to get his "friends" in the local athletic booster club to pay him to typeset the fall football program. He could pick up hundreds of dollars for that.

I had no idea how to prevent that - it was a private group and not obligated to go out to bid or anything like that.

Then one day a member of the booster club called me at my newspaper and asked if we wanted to buy an ad in the program. They were calling all the businesses in town.

Inspiration struck. I suggested that, rather than give them fifty or a hundred dollars for an ad, I could contribute much more, by typesetting the program for them myself, for free.

They thought it was a generous offer, and accepted it. It took working extra hours at night and on weekends, but I did it.

As I suspected, in only a month or so the competing newspaper went away. He had counted on that money for typesetting the football program, and I pulled the rug out from under him. I didn't get the money, but neither did he, and I calculated correctly that while my newspaper could survive without it, his couldn't.

One final note: I always believe in having pride in your work. In composing the football program, I wanted to bring some cohesion to the pages, which had been a jumble of photos and ads. I came up with the idea of making a template of each page, consisting of a border with the school mascot bracketed at the top of each page.

That organized the pages better and brought some consistency to the whole. It looked good.

I followed through and typeset the football program - at no cost - for the local booster club for the next few years. Then I eventually moved on to another paper.

Some years later, the team from the city where I worked at the time played Cedar Hill at Cedar Hill. When I arrived at the game and got a copy of the program, I saw they still used the format I had invented years earlier, with the border and the mascot at the top of each page.

Made me feel proud.

Anyway, that's my story of how thinking fast, and strategically - instead of just looking for the bottom line - produced most welcome results.

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