Serpentfoot cautiously answered the phone.
That’s her legal name: Serpentfoot. I’m sure she got all sorts of prank calls. That’s why I heard the hesitancy in her voice when I asked to speak with her. But I then identified myself as a reporter, told her I’d like to talk to her for a story, and the conversation went pretty smoothly from there.
In that case, it was a simple act of courtesy and patience on my part to get past those first few moments. In fact, I’ve found that courtesy and patience go a long way, regardless of what kind of job you’re in.
I’ve now been in this job, editor of The Union and Sierra Sun, for a full year. I hit my anniversary on Saturday. Champagne was raised, as was my blood pressure.
The latter, though, is expected. This is a newspaper, after all.
The hurdles seem to get bigger the longer I stay in this business. At the start, almost 20 years ago, the worst was having some editor yell at me. Now most everyone yells. Over email. Over the phone. People yell at me in my dreams. It’s enough to have me keep a flask hidden in the office.
I’m joking. It’s two flasks and a cigarette box full of pre-rolls from the dispensary. This is California, after all. C’est la vie.
It’s OK, though. You go into a job like this with eyes wide open, and a willingness to learn from your mistakes. Those mistakes, often in print, are then delivered to your door.
Here’s a few mistakes I’ve noticed over the past year, and am trying to fix:
Return the phone calls. I try, and regularly fail. Plenty of calls come in, and I endeavor to get to them all. Some slip through, and for that I am sorry.
That’s one reason why I’ve put my email address in my voicemail message. If you don’t get a callback from me, shoot me an email. I want to hear from you. I’m at [email protected]
Typos, typos everywhere. It’s like a death from a thousand cuts. You might think a missing article is no big deal, but then you see someone’s name misspelled. Next it’s an inaccurate address. Pretty soon there’s a 60-point headline with the word “public” missing a letter.
I could give you a bunch of excuses why this happens, but instead I’ll just own up to it — we make errors. We try to catch them all, but there’s always some that will slip through. Chalk it up to being human, and believe me when I say we continue working on this.
Shrinking the news. This isn’t so much a mistake, as an admission of reality. You can see, and feel, the physical size of the newspaper has shrunk over the years. Papers across the country have experienced the compression. And it’s not just the physical paper that’s been reduced. We have fewer people in newsrooms. I once worked at a paper that had a full-time artist on staff, and he would talk about the glory days of when he had a department of artists as his employees.
Those days are gone, swept away like the dinosaurs to make room for the new normal. I feel fortunate to still be in this profession, and doubly fortunate to have the number of reporters we do. Not every paper can boast a full-time photographer. Not every paper has the equivalent of our Prospector section each week.
We’ll continue to make our errors, and keep working toward ensuring they never happen again. And I’ll keep checking my voicemails and returning your calls, regardless of whether there’s someone yelling on the other end, just upset about something or maybe even being complimentary.
All I ask in return is what I like to think someone like Serpentfoot, or any of us, wants — some courtesy.
And, maybe, just a bit of patience.
Alan Riquelmy is the editor of The Union. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 530-477-4249