Bored of Estimates

Our newspaper’s weekly circulation was a closely guarded exaggeration. The circulation manager knew the number, the editorial department knew it, the advertising manager knew it. The newspaper’s circulation was about 2000 copies per week. And now you know it, too.

The pliability of the words “circulation,” “copies,” “newspaper,” and “week” was tested with every ad sales phone call. This is because if we told an advertiser the (correct) 2000-per-week number, that advertiser might have asked us to pay them for the honor of placing their ads; thus, our ad sales manager gave them a number 10 times larger. More often than not, they were told that over 20,000 pairs of eyes “saw” any given issue of the newspaper. Actually, in a laudable effort at a specificity that would grant our numbers legitimacy, they were given a figure of “21,000 readers.”
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An Angry Man

The greatest newspaper—ever!—is and was the Weekly World News. Its presence next to every grocery store checkout lane is thoroughly missed by every non-Bat Boy walking among us.

Most American boys who grew up in the 1970s and ’80s, and by most, I mean me, made this progression in our reading: from Cracked magazine, which quickly revealed itself to be a pale imitation of Mad magazine, to Mad magazine, which was brilliant but I (we) stopped looking at it around age 14, through a wasteland of our teen years and the New York Times and homework—heck, the Times and all newspapers everywhere just feel like permanent homework, don’t they? AmIRight?—to, finally, the discovery that the Weekly World News existed.

It is a three-word title and only one of those three words is true: Weekly.
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Statistics and Other Things

Our newspaper’s weekly circulation was a closely guarded exaggeration. The circulation manager knew the number, the editorial department knew it, the advertising manager knew it. The newspaper’s circulation was about 2000 copies per week. And now you know it, too.

The pliability of the words “circulation,” “copies,” “newspaper,” and “week” was tested with every ad sales phone call. This is because if we told an advertiser the (correct) 2000-per-week number, that advertiser might have asked us to pay them for the honor of placing their ads; thus, our ad sales manager gave them a number 10 times larger. More often than not, they were told that over 20,000 pairs of eyes “saw” any given issue of the newspaper. Actually, in a laudable effort at a specificity that would grant our numbers legitimacy, they were given a figure of “21,000 readers.”
Read More

Statistics

The newspaper’s weekly circulation was a closely guarded exaggeration. The circulation manager knew the number, the editorial department knew it, the advertising manager knew it. The newspaper’s circulation was about 2000 copies per week. Now you know.

The pliability of the words “circulation,” “copies,” “newspaper,” and “week” was tested regularly. This is because if the advertisers had been told the 2000-per-week number, they might have asked the newspaper to pay them for the honor of placing their ads; thus, they were given a number 10 times larger. More often than not, they were told that over 20,000 pairs of eyes “saw” any given issue of the newspaper. Actually, in an effort at a specificity that would grant legitimacy, they were given a figure of “21,000 readers.”
Read More

Anger, Nothing But Ed Anger

The greatest newspaper—ever!—is and was the Weekly World News. Its presence next to every grocery store checkout lane is thoroughly missed by every non-Bat Boy walking among us.

Most American boys who grew up in the 1970s and ’80s, and by most, I mean me, made this progression in our reading: from Cracked magazine, which quickly revealed itself to be a weak imitation of Mad magazine, to Mad magazine, which was brilliant but I (we) stopped looking at it around age 14, through a wasteland of our teen years and the New York Times and homework—heck, the Times and all newspapers everywhere just feel like permanent homework, don’t they? AmIRight?—to the discovery that the Weekly World News existed.

It is a three-word title and only one of those three words is correct: Weekly. Is this terrible? No. That is a .333 average and a career batting average like that would result in the hitter being elected to the Hall of Fame. So, weekly, yes. World? A printing press in central Florida certainly is on the globe. But “world” is an exaggeration. News? Well, upon finishing every article I would say out loud, “It’s news to me.”

An alien named P’lod regularly visited the White House and advised presidents Clinton and Bush? News to me. Where is CNN? Someone call somebody. There’s a boy abused by his own shadow? That’s a heartbreaking slice of life story. (An admission: When I was young, my own shadow was faster than me, too. It was only when lights were behind me, but still.) Bat Boy? You can’t make this stuff up … because why would anyone? That is why everything the WWN reported had to be true … ish … or, okay, not at all.

WWNtwinkieTwinkies are a superfood? In my life, on occasion, ‘deed they were. (I have now been sober for almost five years.) I love this article, TWINKIES: THE NEW SUPERFOOD!, by the way; look at that photo. How small a staff works there now? How small is the budget? Once upon a time, the reported paid circulation was a quarter-million readers, and of course, all of the Men in Black. The staff could not afford the minutes to leave the office and spend two dollars on some real fruit and berries and real Twinkies, so they had to copy-and-paste a clip-art photo of a broken Twinkie over a photo of some fruit? Even in the name of truth or comedy? You can see the white border around the middle Twinkie.

I would like to think that someone spent extra time to make this photomontage look this sloppy, in the same way that I like to think, for approximately six seconds, that every word in the newspaper is true.

The newspaper—and yes, only half of that term is correct, in that the publication was in fact printed on paper—the paper ran into hard times and only exists online now. It is there that you will find a few, a precious few, examples of the paper’s opinion writer, Ed Anger, who appeared in its pages from 1979 till around a few years ago. The title of his book, “Let’s Pave the Stupid Rainforests & Give School Teachers Stun Guns: And Other Ways to Save America,” gives a taste of his typical opinion.

Ed Anger was a creation of a staff writer named Rafe Klinger and then was the pet project of the editor, a man named Eddie Clontz. After Clontz died, several writers have revealed that they took turns editorializing as Ed Anger in the years since. Klinger sued the WWN, arguing that the paper could not continue to run the angry Anger editorials, but he lost. Thus, there was some real anger animating Ed Anger’s anger.

Ed Anger hates everything and everyone, especially Democrats, foreigners, religions other than his, wild animals that somehow need protection even though they have claws, complicated foods, and most television programming. Each editorial begins with, “I’m madder than a” and then promptly becomes less funny over the subsequent four hundred words or so.

Ed Anger amused me because I remembered a real Ed Anger in my hometown when I was growing up. I do not remember the gentleman’s name, but people in Dutchess County, New York, may remember in the 1970s a self-published newspaper—a blog, but on paper—by a writer who devoted pages to convincing his readers that all people of color were bad, that all Democrats were Communists, that the local Democrats were Satanists, that his new tin-foil hat was protecting him. Now, anyone can think anything they like and hate anything they want to, can write inspiringly dull sentences outlining their many hatreds, can self-publish those sentences in a newspaper or blog, can spend money getting copies printed and distributed, but this man, the real-life Ed Anger of my youth, he had advertising in his local production! His racist and anti-semitic, single-note, single-theme weekly newspaper, which was basically an eight-page run-on sentence interrupted by headlines, had ads in it. There were local businesses whose owners maybe did not want to rile people up by publicizing their political leanings, but they paid for ads in this one man’s hate-filled quirk.

As Ed Anger might have written: “You know what I think of that?” It is not printable in a family blog.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for January 11 asks, “Pick a contentious issue about which you care deeply—it could be the same-sex marriage debate, or just a disagreement you’re having with a friend. Write a post defending the opposite position, and then reflect on what it was like to do that.”

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Message in a Bottle

Everyone who writes has an imaginary friend.

There is an ideal reader in my imagination, a figure who finds even my shopping lists and notes in the margins of books interesting. I have not yet actually met anyone who fits this description, but I keep writing, just in case.

Rarely have I written something while in the presence of the person I was writing to. The only exceptions to this would be times I have sent a note or a text to the person sitting next to me, but these were done for one of two reasons: 1. We needed to be silent, or 2. I wanted to elicit an ironic smirk when we needed to be silent.

So everyone who writes has a figure, real or imagined, who is supposed to be the reader of the message. For me, this person has changed over time, and even changes from piece to piece.

In the 1990s, when I wrote for a weekly newspaper, I rarely learned which articles or columns were actually read.

I covered school sports, which has a couple of rules: Cram in the names of every participant on the field and even every benchsitter, without mentioning the bench. (Unless the bench was locally made and recently delivered, in which case it was a good idea to include the names of the lumberyard and the furniture maker along with a quote about its bench-y comfort from someone sitting on it.) When both schools are local, simultaneously downplay and up-play the final score. Describe good performances from both sides. Cram in a few more names: the coaches, the refs, some of those in attendance.

A compliment from a reader of one of those articles was a thank you from a parent purchasing an extra copy to send to the grandparents–if I ran into them at the grocery store while they were purchasing that extra copy.

I also had a humor column (guess its name) and I once wrote something controversial in it. Now, this was done out of an idiotic frustration that I felt from my perceived lack of feedback. “How do I know what people think?” I said to no one out loud, and so I put on my explorer costume and ventured forth without leaving my desk to find out. If I had said it out loud, my editor probably would have dissuaded me.

My column was on page 4, and on page 3 was a column written by an elderly man who had spent a lifetime in newspapers, local newspapers; his entire four-decade-long career had been spent in the same county we were covering. It is possible that he had written something about every single building in the county and more than a few open fields. Not one piece of mail had come into the newspaper office about my column, even when I had requested feedback from readers, but there was a letter every single week about the old man’s column. “He should retire already” or “May he never quit” were the only two themes, but one of these arrived every week!

(He passed away about 15 years ago and the newspaper, which I had by then left, continued to run his columns as a weekly “Best of …” tribute; I am certain the paper still received the “He should retire” and “May he never quit” letters every week.)

But I was the target of no such letters and I envied the old man his passionate readership. The one time that I wrote something controversial, controversy followed: Our music columnist used his weekly space to rebut my column and publicly declare that not only had he not ever read me but he was going to continue to not read me, which seemed a neat trick. He did not send a letter to the editor; instead he wasted his own column inches to disagree with me. I told him, in person, in my job as assistant editor, that we still needed his music review that week and we would run the complaint in the letters section, which needed a letter as we had received not even one that week. He insisted on using his space to not review music in that issue, though.

Times are different now, says everyone who has lived long enough to learn to talk, and this blog, which is almost a year old now, has readers who are also writers and who like to give feedback. “The Gad About Town” has a small readership, so far, but a feedback-y sort of readership, for which I am grateful. I do not need to generate controversy just to do so. I also do not need to cram in the names of a lumberyard and furniture store.

Everything we write is a message in a bottle, and I no longer attempt to steer the currents to shore for my messages.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for October 22 asks, “Many of us had imaginary friends as young children. If your imaginary friend grew up alongside you, what would his/her/its life be like today? (Didn’t have one? write about a non-imaginary friend you haven’t seen since childhood.)”

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Lies, Damn Lies, and Ad Sales

The newspaper’s weekly circulation was a closely guarded exaggeration. The circulation manager knew the number, the editorial department knew it, the advertising manager knew it. The newspaper’s circulation was about 2000 copies per week. Now you know.

The pliability of the words “circulation,” “copies,” “newspaper,” and “week” was tested regularly. This is because if the advertisers had been told the 2000-per-week number, they might have asked the newspaper to pay them for the honor of placing their ads; thus, they were given a number 10 times larger. More often than not, they were told that over 20,000 pairs of eyes “saw” any given issue of the newspaper. Actually, in an effort at a specificity that would grant legitimacy, they were given a figure of “21,000 readers.”

The word we used was not “subscribers,” it was “readers,” and I may have been the reason for this taint of honesty: even though I was the assistant editor, I was given many tasks over my time there in order to learn the newspaper business, and one week I placed ad calls. I knew that 21,000 was an exaggeration akin to harvests in Soviet provinces distant from Moscow and could not bring myself to repeat it. We did not have 21,000 subscribers: We ordered fewer than 5000 copies from the printer each week. But “readers”? I saw people manhandling copies on line at the supermarket only to return them to the newsstand. They counted, right?

We started to claim 21,000 readers. Each of the four or five communities we covered had populations under 1000, so the only way one could legitimately claim 21,000 anything was by including pets and livestock.

Sometimes, the word was “readership.” We had a “total readership” of 21,000.

Many of our ads were from the local car dealers, so my pang of an honest twinge was not met with an equal bout of honesty from them. They tended to pay late.

Our ad manager was remarkably creative with the set of facts that he made up from the facts that we had. It was a case of a “known known” being treated with the delicate hands of a diamond-cutter. If one fact yields 20 different perspectives, many facets, well, then it is no longer one fact: It is 20 facts. And facts are knowledge, and knowledge is power, so the more facts one knows, the smarter one is.

And math always grants the deployer of facts a sheen of certitude, or in my case when making the phone calls, the nervous luster of flop sweat.

We started the magical addition with the 2000 paid subscriptions, quite a few of which were free, but whatever, these were 2000 real subscriptions and Shhhhh. Each house has an average of three members, so we can assume there are more readers right there. Quite a few of our subscriptions went to doctors’ offices, and who knows how many people thumb through an average issue in those, amIright? These two estimates, home and office, brought us to five digit figure land.

Further, we distributed about three thousand copies to X number of stores and sold quite a few each week through those outlets (in Reality Land, that number varied wildly from week to week). The population in the several counties that these stores were in was Y. Surveying the gas station and grocery store owners at which we sold our newspaper, our ad manager learned their estimates of the average number of customers they deal with each week. Their estimates. Their own exaggerations, um, estimates.

Our ad manager hated when we only came up with enough news to produce a one-section paper. The irrefutable logic was that a multi-section newspaper gets split up, doubling or even tripling the potential readership for that issue.

When I look at my page views and metrics on the website here, I sometimes think about my 21,000-circulation newspaper that covered life in a profoundly rural part of the world. Then I remember one fact, one single fact, that has never been broken up into 20 different facets or perspectives by anyone: I loved that job.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for October 10 asks, “Time to confess: tell us about a time when you used a word whose meaning you didn’t actually know (or were very wrong about, in retrospect).”