Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Editorial: The Redoubt Reporter brought about with the help of these fine folks, plus Juan Valdez

Four months. Seventeen editions. One hundred seventy-four stories. And we’re just getting started.

It’s been a wild ride getting this paper going. By far this is the most challenging, exhausting, frightening, yet rewarding thing I’ve ever done. With Thanksgiving upon us, I thought it appropriate to acknowledge some of the many things I’ve been thankful for over the last few months:

Staff. I am blessed to have some of the most talented, hard-working, encouraging and incredibly patient individuals working with me on this venture. Sales staff: Joe Rizzo, who always knows how to make a deal and — more importantly — when to bring me ice cream. And the eternally upbeat Jamie Nelson, who is never in a bad mood, never lacking optimism and never has a bad thing to say about anyone, or if he does, it comes off as constructive criticism.

Chris Jenness, graphic designer extraordinaire, who puts the paper’s news content to shame with how good his ads look. Thanks to a new baby and huge workload, he’s also the only one up late enough to indulge me when my sense of humor and IQ deteriorate.

Clark Fair, freelance reporter. Not only is Clark a talented writer and photographer, he comes up with stories I never knew existed. Reading his stuff every week is an exercise in amazement. Soldotna once erupted in a ball of flames? Huh. Didn’t see that coming.

Contributors. The pages of this paper have been graced with the work of several talented, knowledgeable, creative and (most importantly) timely community members. Thanks to editorial columnists Alan Boraas, the Kenai Watershed Forum, Bill Gronvold and Stephen Stringham, cartoonist James Brown, columnists David Wartinbee, Joseph Kashi, Zirrus Vandervere, Andy Veh and Dave Atcheson, and freelancers Naomi Hagelund, Ben Histand and Matt Tunseth.

The Homer Tribune. Publisher Jane Pascall and reporter Naomi Klouda at Homer’s independent, locally owned newspaper have been wonderful resources for advice, information and moral support, even if it’s just to trade, “you won’t believe the week I’m having” stories.

Family. Not one family member has told me I’m crazy for doing this, and restraint does not run deep in my relatives. Even my parents have learned to play along in their support. They don’t ask specific questions anymore, like how much sleep did you get or whether I’ve eaten anything but cold cereal and bagged salad for the last month. It’s just, “How is everything going?” “Fine.” Then it’s on to the weather.

Friends. I’m shocked I still have any. When I do acknowledge their existences, it’s usually only while they help me move furniture, edit stories, give me food or carry out some bizarre favor I’ve asked of them. It’s a mystery why they don’t start sprinting when I begin a conversation with “Hey, could you … ?”

These days it’s never followed by something simple, like “pass the ketchup” or “save me a seat at the movie.” More like, “Hey, could you … jump in the recycling bin at the landfill for me?” Or: “… take pictures of a room full of pasty Alaskans in swimsuits dancing in giant bubbles? Wait, where are you going? Is that a ‘no,’ then?”

Yet they stick around, dutifully schlepping papers around the community, offering to drive on long trips so I can type or nap, and pointing out when I’ve neglected to change my clothes. Hey, when you work 36 hours straight, it gets hard to tell today from yesterday and dress accordingly. Which brings me to:

Sleep. Sometime in September I lost all ability to regulate my mood. My temperament is now completely dependent on how much sleep and caffeine I’ve had. If I’ve had at least five hours rest the night before and the coffee’s kicked in, I can function normally, or at least fake it well enough that most people don’t seem to notice the difference. If it’s five hours over three days and it’s been a few hours since my last refueling, I’m equally liable to fly into a rage, burst into tears or become semicomatose at any moment. My wildest fantasies these days involve an electric blanket and a nap.

Spare moments. When I think of how much time I used to spend watching TV, surfing the Internet, doing leisure activities or just generally goofing off, it seems in retrospect like I shouldn’t have been able to hold down a job. Now, having to creatively schedule time to go skiing, have dinner or even read a book before bed makes me appreciate the things I like to do more than I ever realized.

Coffee shop ladies. They amaze and motivate me every Wednesday while I’m out delivering papers. If they can be awake, showered, dressed, chipper and able to operate machinery before 6 a.m., surely I can at least drive and try not to drool. The friendliest I’ve met by far is Patty at Jitters Espresso in Sterling. She’s as good a pick-me-up as the coffee.

Soldotna Post Office employees. Training me to do mass mailings would probably be akin to teaching a marmot to juggle. Yet Jeff, Brenda, Steve and everyone else helped me through it, and never once let their faces register what I’m sure they were thinking when they’d see me lug papers through the line. In my defense, though, it’s not exactly an intuitive process. Form 3602ez (nothing “ez” about it) for mass mailings; tub labels with the zip code in the destination line but not, God forbid, in the “sent from” line; newspaper bundles wrapped in not one, but two rubber bands; and don’t even think about paying for that with a credit card, missy! Cash or debit only!

Support. The community has welcomed this paper since the first edition, and I am more grateful for that than I can find words to describe (and I’ve got a big dictionary, so that’s saying something). Talented writers volunteering their services, advertisers seeing value in our product, people willing to tell their stories and readers interested in learning about them.

From our first edition we got notes, letters, e-mails, phone calls and even flowers wishing us well, most from people I’d never even met before (thanks, Arkey’s!). The comments that have meant the most to me are from people who probably didn’t even intend to be complimentary, like the young couple who said they’d never been in a newspaper before, or the lady at a coffee shop in Kasilof who was saving papers because she said she knew someone in every edition.

Enough sleep, a “normal” schedule, time off, a steady salary and actually folding my laundry are a long way off yet, but this paper has already accomplished what I most hoped it would: It proved people do value journalism. In an age when “media” has become a four-letter word, it’s heartening to know the profession I love still has a home, and can be considered a worthy neighbor.

Finally, I am grateful to the ultimate driving force behind the Redoubt Reporter, the bedrock it is built upon, without which it would cease to exist:

Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

Jenny Neyman is the editor and publisher of the Redoubt Reporter.

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