Another day in the office: Reporter's Notebook


Dear readers, you probably already know we are a weekly paper with a very, very small staff. Or maybe you don’t. Come to think of it, the time I visited the digital media arts middle schoolers at AMS (who were starting their own publication), they were shocked when I passed around that inky square thing once known as a “newspaper.”
One of the sweet seventh-graders said, “Oh yeah! I know that thing. My grandma reads one of those!”
We are trying to have more of an online presence, and we’re ‘innovating,’ but after recently interviewing the vlogger Christian Garcia (story next week), and learning about ‘influencers’ and famousbirthdays.com, ‘likes’ and all those snazzy social media inventions, I realize our world of print is just as foreign to the next generation of their world of Internet information spreading (wrong term for this, I am certain). 
I’m glad we still have grandmas reading our print version, and I’ll tell you why. They sometimes send me hand-written thank you cards. And I love getting mail. Real letters with stamps are on my Julie Andrews list of favorite things. 
When I started as a staff reporter last summer, we had an editorial staff of five: Our editor Luke Phillips, who writes most of the City Council stories for Paso and Atascadero, takes amazing photographs and pioneers the layout on InDesign; his wife Liz Enriquez-Phillips, a former State Parks employee who handles the crime beat and obituaries (Liz is so kind and empathetic, we coworkers say her tombstone will simply read, ‘Aww”); Madeline Vail, who took most of the Paso stories (since she and her family lived there); Connor Allen, our beloved sports reporter with the million-dollar smile who will one day be stolen from us to become a TV sports anchor; and myself, who had just moved my family from Templeton to Atascadero and was given the Atascadero beat. Eventually, I took over the school beat for all three North County districts and most of the arts and entertainment stories because I just love to be entertained. That’s it though. Five of us. 
We were all working on stories for Morro Bay Life and Equine Enthusiast as well (our kid brother papers) and Vino Magazine. We have a wonderful new freelance photographer named P.J. Sawyer who helps with that. 
A reporter named Ruth Ann Angus doesn’t work out of our office in Atascadero — she’s in Morro Bay — and she’s been pretty much a one-gal show since I maxed out on story overload and could no longer write for our beachy little production.
We also have columnists: the charming Barbie Butz, who personally associates with angels and other do-gooders, who brings us candy and compliments and writes about what’s happening in the community each week, and we have a combination of regular opinion writers, as well as a few writers for our “meditations” page (a.k.a. “Religion”). Then there is Lee Pitts, whom I’ve never met, but makes Liz and I laugh with all his irreverent country living-themed columns. 
Beautiful Madeline Vail left the paper about two months ago to fulfill her acting career. We finally were able to hire another reporter, and now Camas Frank, who joined us part-time a couple editions ago, is taking on most of the Paso stories. He came in the first week with a laptop under one arm and a big brown bag of coffee under the other, so he’s one of us. Connor will not accept the idea of ‘coffee as life’ and somehow runs on sports stats and the wisdom of Malcolm Gladwell, but we all want to squeeze him anyway. I should mention his dad, Vice Principal of Atascadero High School will start writing movie reviews again as soon as school takes summer recess. 
On any given day, our editorial department is a goulash of activity. Our middle-of-the-office desk zone is set at the temperature of a restaurant walk-in until the heater kicks in three hours later. We have the scent of coffee, the ring of phones (state-of-the art from the Jurassic period), the sound of a police scanner and the ‘pit-pit’ of Macintosh keyboards, and office banter that always includes word nerd stuff that we could look up but we’d rather debate, like, for instance, “Is Tri-Tip capitalized?” or “What’s AP style for marijuana? Can I say ‘pot?’” 
“How do you spell finagle?” 
So much is always going on, Thursdays are nuts, because it’s production day, and Luke and Liz print out proofs for me to edit after they’ve given it a go, and I have pre-nightmares about missing any errors like a misspelled name or title or (worse) the wrong year on the dateline or front page (never again!). Errors happen way more than any of us are comfortable with, and I will tell you, I lose sleep over commas dumped like abandoned puppies outside of quotation marks. 
But we do the best we can with what we have. I know some newsrooms, like the dailies, have editorial staffs the size of government think-tanks, and they have an editor for every section of the paper. Whatever. Hot shots. 
Liz and I joke that our newsroom is nothing near that of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. It’s more like the sitcom “The Office” and I’m supposed to be either Pam or Angela. But Liz and I agree, if you came over to see us, you might think we were more like the scene in “The Wizard of Oz,” when you peel away the curtain and Oz is just this little guy on a stool with a microphone. 
Yet we keep turning the crank, spending every Friday meeting and deciding which stories will be in next week’s paper. The hard part is deciding what news we have time for. To complicate things, news to one person (for example the winners of an elementary school spelling bee) may not be news to another person, especially someone who lives outside the North County, but as a community newspaper with a little staff, we try to cover meaningful news to all people. We have plenty of work to do always, so much so, when Luke took his first vacation in five years the rest of us looked up at the sky and only saw locusts. He’s not allowed to do that again. So if we forgot to cover something, it doesn’t mean it’s not news, so help us out and let us know if something really needs to be covered. We’ll try our best. 

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