Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Ten reasons to buy a newspaper

As a journalist, people seem to think I know everything. It's pretty common for people to start a sentence with, "You work for the newspaper, so you know everything, so I'll bet you can tell me why ..." Here is a little secret: You, too, could "know everything," for the amazingly low price of whatever your local newspaper charges for a subscription.

I'm always amazed at the number of bright people I know who can talk at length about presidential politics but have no clue about things going on in their own town that affect them directly. It gets really annoying when people are like "Wait I can't do what anymore?! We have to go complain and get them to change their minds! You need to write a story about how unfair that is!" when I already wrote like a billion articles about public hearings on the issue back before a decision was made. Everyone has been complaining this year that the school district is making elementary school kids who live within a mile radius of their school walk to school. Guess who wrote a story about that decision months before it went into effect? Me.

Here are some of the other reasons you should (shameless self-promotion alert) subscribe to the local newspaper wherever you live:

1) So you know how your tax money is being wasted, whether it's buying expensive equipment that will rarely be used, creating an extra position for the spouse of a current employee, sending people to trainings on on the east coast for things they should already know how to do or paying more than your annual salary to a consultant who will tell them a) what they already know, b) something anyone on the street could have told them in five seconds, or c) something that will prove to be completely inaccurate down the road. My next job is going to be as a consultant so I, too, can be presented with a large check in return for a report containing the number I got after handing my calculator to a three year old to play with, combined with the fortune from my last fortune cookie and whatever my magic eight ball told me. "Well, madam chair, based on my calculations 10,978 people will vote for the bond measure. If you embark on a journey you will find a pleasant surprise awaits, meaning that if you go out for a bond the chances of it passing are definitely yes."

2) So your entertainment life consists of more than watching TV and going to the movies. If I had a dollar for every time someone said "Wow, I really wish I had known about that event because I totally would have gone. Why didn't they advertise it more?" and we had put a preview story on the community page and had it in our entertainment listings and carried paid advertising ... I could buy myself a few gallons of ice cream at the very least. People who say there is nothing to do in their town obviously don't read the newspaper, because there are so many concerts, dances, forums, fundraisers, sporting events, poetry readings, book signings, documentary screenings, bands playing in bars, talent shows, guest lectures, contests, holiday parties and other events--many of them free or a couple of dollars--that sometimes we don't have room for them all.

3) So you know when people are dead. Seriously. More than once I've talked to someone who doesn't read the obituaries who was shocked to find out someone like a business owner or former teacher had been dead for several weeks. It can lead to awkward situations, like when someone I know asked a co-worker how their weekend was and the person said "Umm... I guess you didn't hear my [fill in the blank with a close relative] was murdered this weekend." Trust me, it's worth a few bucks a month to avoid that.

4) So you know what people you know got arrested. Proofreading the police beat often produces statements from people in our office like "So that's why my mechanic wasn't in yesterday when I went to get my oil changed!" You also might want to know if your neighbor was arrested for public indecency, if the babysitter you use most often was charged with driving under the influence or if there has been a pattern of burglaries in your neighborhood. There are also some entries that are pure entertainment, like the man who stumbled up to the road with broken bones and asked to be taken to the hospital because he had fallen down a cliff. He wasn't wearing any underwear or pants. When police searched the area they discovered a pair of women's underwear and other women's clothing. That must have been a tough choice...

5) So you know which people not to talk politics with. Sometimes people who otherwise seem totally normal can write letters to the editor containing some pretty out-there opinions. Letters to the editor can produce all sorts of insights, like which of your neighbors are in favor of legalizing marijuana because they smoke it all the time and they're fine.

6) So you can stop being curious about why all those police cars rushed past your house this morning. Chances are good a reporter rushed past right after them and took stalker photos from across the street, so you'll have a nice shot of the accident or the armed standoff to appease your curiosity.

7) So you know who to vote for. In the last election, the county commission candidate for our county who won the primary run-off by a landslide lost in the general election. Why? It might be because we published a story in which he admitted upon confrontation that he has a side job as an unlicensed, unbonded contractor who often doesn't get permits for his work either.

8) So you know about new rules and regulations. We tell people when the city council is putting together a city ordinance to ban yard sale signs or to make everyone who sells things to a consignment store get fingerprinted or to ban burn barrels in the city limits so it's not a surprise when the fire department shows up to tell you that you have to dump the yard waste you're in the process of burning out of the barrel or they will put it out.

9) So you know lots of weird stories and facts to bring up when the conversation around you is dying. For example, a local farmer owns a camel and the camel loves Wheat Thins more than anything, so they're trying to get Wheat Thins to feature their camel in a commercial. If a tomb guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier ever fumbles his rifle, stumbles or messes up in any other way while on duty his bags will be packed for him by the time he gets back. And the local animal control officer who just retired said one of his worst nights on the job was when a drunk guy got rushed to the hospital after being bitten by his pet cobra and the animal control guy spent the next couple of hours rounding up the rest of the poisonous snakes loose in the house.

10) So I don't have to become a public relations person.

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