Growing pains

I recently published Issue 21 of the Hiawatha Advocate. I’m finding out what works and what doesn’t.

Issue 21 of the Hiawatha Advocate

Some of my findings are not surprising, but others are more challenging than I thought they would be.

I think the interesting thing I have learned has to do with the people of Hiawatha, their habits, how they think, and how knowing those things will make this newspaper a success.

I started this paper not knowing much about business or how to start a newspaper. I’ve learned more than I ever thought I could, not just about the newspaper business, but also about people of Hiawatha.

I thought the residents of Hiawatha would appreciate having a newspaper of their own. I imagined that the businesses would be beating my door down to get ads in my newspaper and I could spend my days working exclusively on the newspaper.

But that has yet to happen.

Since I gotten to know Hiawatha more, I’ve learned there are three groups of people within the community; those who take ownership of their community, who are proud it, and do what they can to make it better. Most of these are the older folks, who are either retired or close to it, and are very community-minded. They love the community newspaper and tell me every chance they get. Unfortunately, they are in the minority.

There are also those who are in their 30s, who have children in the schools and like the idea of a smaller community to raise their family. However, these people (who are in the majority) are so busy they don’t have time to read the newspaper. They like it, they just don’t have time for it.

Then we have the people who live in Hiawatha, maybe because of convenience, maybe just because their homes happen to be in Hiawatha. They don’t think much about their community. They don’t care what goes on here and would just as soon live in Cedar Rapids or Marion. They are usually young and single, and don’t pay attention about what happens at the city council meetings or what businesses are moving in the neighborhood, or even what events are happening over the weekend. They are too busy doing their own thing.

When I started the paper five months ago, I stated that one of the reasons I thought Hiawatha needed its own newspaper because it would help strengthen ties within the community. It’s proving t be tougher than I imagined. I didn’t realize that I would actually have to change the mindset of thousands of people.

So here comes my biggest challenge yet: How do I do that?

Most people in Hiawatha fit in the middle group I mentioned. Busy families with children in school. I have to figure out a way to get them to slow down long enough to want to read the paper.

The older people I have talked to believe that many people in the community are not community-minded, they don’t actively participate in volunteer opportunities, or are members of civic clubs, and they don’t think of Hiawatha as their responsibility. I have written editorials about the subject but if people aren’t reading the paper, how can I get the message to them?

People tell me that everything is going to the web. That’s true; I have a website that I am actively sending people to. But I still think Hiawatha needs a printed edition, too. There are still quite a few people who like reading their news in paper form. And until I have exhausted every effort, I will do my best to change Hiawatha residents’ way of thinking about the newspaper.

Do I believe it’s possible?

Yes, anything is possible. But it depends on many things, especially if I can make enough to cover operating costs. We have already cut from 12 to eight pages and the number of issues we order every week, so we are saving a little money, but it may not be enough.

When I started the paper, I told myself that I would do everything possible to make this newspaper a success. I still believe it can be. I just hope the growing pains subside soon.

Take time to enjoy life

I spent Saturday with two of my grandchildren. The past few years we have taken a

Thomas and Isabelle

day in April to celebrate our birthdays. Thomas turns 7 today, while Isabelle turned 6 on Monday, They are cousins, born almost a year apart. They are also my two oldest grandchildren, and though I know we aren’t supposed to have favorites, they do hold a special place in my heart because of it.

My daughter, Lori, is also getting married the end of May in Las Vegas. We went out Sunday to pick out her dress. And even though these events put me a little bit behind in my newspaper production for the week, I wouldn’t have missed them for anything.

The bride-to-be

I knew I was going to be busy when I started this venture. However, I also don’t want to become a workaholic. I truly love what I do, but my life is more than that. I have kids, grandkids, my other job, my mother, my boyfriend, and my piano…all the thing I love and am not ready to give up. I think all aspects of my life can co-exist peacefully.

This past weekend was hectic and kind of a blur, but I know that when push comes to shove, I can get the job done. And the paper isn’t half-bad. There are a few typos, but every week it gets better.

Can you imagine what my paper would be like if I had more time to do it? I could even be able to go up against the big newspapers….maybe.

My life didn’t stop just because I decided to start this new project, and I never expected it to. I really believe that once I find a balance, I will be able to enjoy all the parts of my life, without stressing out so much.

I’m getting there, but for now, I’ll just take it a day at a time.

Patience and faith just might be the key to my success

My blog writing is suffering. I knew it would. I’m noticing that every minute of every day are accounted for, and even then, its seems like there’s never enough time to do what I want to do. But I knew that would happen, too.

I put my 6th issue out yesterday and even though there are still a few mistakes, every week it keeps getting better and easier to put together.

I tried a new flag, which I don’t really care for, but I’ll get feedback and adjust accordingly.

I have 30 (yes, 30!) subscribers, which is awesome, considering I started with zero.

I also received my first two advertising customers this week. As I have said before, I knew advertising would be my biggest challenge, but I didn’t realize that it would take so long.

People keep telling me to have patience, but for someone who is naturally impulsive and impatient, it’s very tough. (But, patience is my virtue.)

There is also the matter of being a good leader and taking responsibility for my decisions. I have had some experience with that, but this is a little different because if something goes wrong, it’s all on me; I can’t go running to my adviser and ask for help.  I’m realizing that it’s all about having faith in myself and my ability to make the right choices.

I now have two new student writers; one from Kennedy and one from Xavier. Terin, from Kennedy, is on the newspaper staff, but is only a freshman and is not very experienced in writing, but she is willing to try. Cassie, who is from Xavier, is a writer and photographer for the Xpress, and is in for the running of editor next year. She is thinking about going to Drake after she graduates next year. They will both be great assets to my paper.

So I’ll just keep going, getting more subscribers, putting the paper out every week, and figure out a way to get more advertisers. It’s tough when I work all day, because many businesses close at 5.

Yes, it is everything I had dreamed it would be. It’s still hard to see that sometimes because I’m right in the middle of it. But once in a while, I’ll pause and look at what I’ve accomplished.

It’s a great feeling, indeed.

Hiawatha Advocate

You have to be a little crazy to move the world

Lying in bed Saturday morning, I mentally took note of everything I had to do that day, and the next, and the next.

I must be crazy, I thought. How do I think I’m going to accomplish all this?

I started working again last week, as an office temp in a local trucking company. I wasn’t expecting to work a full-time job, but I have to do what I have to do. My student loans are coming due, and I will do anything to see this newspaper succeed.

But I do have to be a little crazy.

Another person asked me last week how I do it. My reaction was, “I don’t know.”

But I do know. I just put one foot in front of the other and keep going, no matter what.

Maybe that’s what it takes, to just keep moving forward.

Putting out the paper every week is not the problem. The only problem I can see is getting enough advertisers to pay the bills. I still have a lot of Faith and of course, a lot of Hope.

The same person who asked how I do it every week also said, “Well, if it doesn’t take off, it sure won’t be your fault.”

I guess I have to take that comment for what it is; a sincere compliment to my abilities. Besides, as I have said before, I have already succeeded. This is just icing on the cake.

Minor setbacks are OK, as long as they don’t turn into major defeats

I suppose it was just a matter of time before someone pointed out my mistakes in the paper.

He started the e-mail with, “I was at my parent’s reading your newspaper…” I should have stopped there, because up to that point, I was elated that someone was even reading my newspaper.

But, no, I kept on reading.

The entire page was filled with comments about all the typos I made in my last issue.

Ouch.

And even though he said, “I hope this doesn’t hurt your feelings,” it did. For a minute.

I knew I had made a few mistakes in the last issue, but I didn’t realize I had made soooo many. So I sent him back an e-mail thanking him for taking the time to read the paper and for pointing out the typos. I found myself explaining why I didn’t have an editor and realized that I was just making excuses.

But it reminded me of all the times that I had made mistakes at school and just wanted to give up. But I didn’t. I swallowed my pride and listened to the advice and feedback that was being offered. And then I did what I was supposed to, to make the next issue even better.

It’s hard to put out a perfect paper. And though I may come close, I probably never will.

I think he was surprised that I responded so quickly because he e-mailed back and said that he was reluctant to send the e-mail because he wasn’t sure how I would take the feedback.

Then he ended his e-mail with, “I am a professor of education.”

That made me feel better, because then I realized that most people probably wouldn’t even have bothered sending me the e-mail. Though it wasn’t a pleasant lesson to learn, I know it will help me be a better journalist.

And I do want to be a better journalist. All I can do is be open to the suggestions that are offered to me.

Hiawatha Advocate Online

Week 31-Closer to reality

In just 45 days, my community newspaper will become a reality. It’s hard to believe that it all started with an idea and alot of faith.

When I first started talking about my idea to start a newspaper, I’m sure that some thought that I was just dreaming, that it would never really amount to anything. But here we are, more than a year later, planning the first issue and putting the final pieces together.

I was recently asked by someone close to me, “Are you afraid?”

Afraid isn’t the right word, nor is it relevant. At this point, there’s not going back and no giving up. I have put a lot of work into this and I intend to see it through.

More than anything else, I’m excited! How many people get the chance to see their dreams become a reality?

I’ve gotten to know Hiawatha fairly well in the past year. A few developments have come up that have been substantial learning experiences, and I suppose looking at it that way has taken the fear out of it; for the most part, anyway.

I still get a little anxious now and then at the thought of how it will all pan out, but that’s just part of the experience.

Hiawatha Advocate

Week 24–Everyone’s a critic

I have been busy the past few days finalizing projects that will be due in just a couple short weeks. I’m used to deadlines and last minute touch ups, but this time is different. I feel it.

This is my last semester at Mount Mercy University. I planned on finishing my classes early so I could concentrate on my new career as newspaper publisher. I’ll miss the homework, the students, the professors, and the critiquing; yes, even the critiquing.

When I started at Kirkwood Community College three years ago, I opened myself up to new challenges that would help me become a better journalist. It was difficult at first. There was no sugar-coating and I learned to take it like a man, or rather, a woman.

Transferring to Mount Mercy University intimidated me a bit, with more homework and a weekly newspaper, but I dug in and learned as much as I could.

I admit that I cried the first time I was told that my story wasn’t good enough. But after I dried my tears, I vowed that I would take what my teachers told me and do it that way. I still forget to put the most important information first or that I can’t write the way I talk, and that my articles shouldn’t sound like brochure copy, but I’m still learning; I always will be.

I have a big problem. I want my work to be perfect, but it’s not. There is always editing to do, and even when I think it’s “good enough” to go to print, I still find things I could have done differently, things I could have done better. But….

I am ready.

Soon I won’t have that safety net, that person to whom I could turn to when I had a question or concern, or when I wasn’t sure how to do something. Soon I will be on my own. That’s a scary thought.

But I have been taught well and the voices will be there inside my head guiding me when I am unsure of myself.

To those critics who never sugar-coated the truth, encouraged me to be better, and were there when I needed the support, thank you. You have made a difference in my life.

Week 24 has me reflecting on how hard these last three years have been and how I could have never reached my goals without the love and support of the people in my life.

There are a few people who don’t think I have what it takes to start a community newspaper, and so I say to them, “Watch me.”

I have been taught well.

The Hiawatha Advocate

Writing is an art-Week 18

I watched Andy Rooney give his last commentary, “My Lucky Life,” on “60 Minutes” Oct. 2. I found it interesting that a man who started writing for the “Stars and Stripes” during World War II went on to write for radio and TV because he didn’t think the printed word was being read enough.

Andy Rooney-The Hollywood Reporter

So many people have predicted the demise of the printed word in the last few years, but I thought it was because of the influence of the Internet. Listening to Rooney talk reminded me that many things have influenced the decline of the readership of newspapers.

I grew up with Andy Rooney. His distinct voice often caused me to stop and listen to what he had to say. He was a bit controversial and said what he thought.  Though I didn’t agree with everything he said, his points of view gave me something to think about.

Rooney told viewers on his last show that he has lived a lucky life. He was asked, if he hadn’t done all he did, what would he do? Rooney answered that he  would go to war, write for the Star and Stripes, write his own material for radio and TV, and then he would read it.

“That’s what I would do.” In other words, Rooney did what he loved. I admire that.

He really is a lucky man. He did what he wanted to do and had no regrets. Well, mostly.

He did say that he regretted saying something one time that offended some people. He was suspended for two months from the show, but says that he learned a lot from the experience.

One thing that stood out among everything else that Rooney said was, “It’s a writer’s job to tell the truth and if more people were writers, the world would be  a better place.” I couldn’t agree more.

It made me realize that writing is an art. The written word has a magic to it that can persuade the most difficult person to see things in a different way. Words can be arranged in such a way that can be read like a beautiful concerto or a graceful ballet. Writers can take us away to a different world and then bring us back to reality.

The world needs more Andy Rooneys.

Week 18 has me thinking about how the written word has shaped the world. Newspapers are only one way in which that is conveyed. Radio, TV, the Internet, magazines, books, and newspapers can and will co-exist. I think there will be some adjusting as more technology is introduced, but Andy Rooney has reminded me that the thing these all have in common is the writing.

The more needs more writers, if only to keep that art alive.

The Hiawatha Advocate 

Balancing Act: Week Six … and Seven

It’s summer. I should be spending it going to the pool or taking a much-needed vacation, but I can’t. I have way too much to do. And time is zipping by faster than I want it to.

Taking a moment from my busy life to spend time with Isabelle, my new yard work helper.

I have encountered a few obstacles in my quest to put together a community newspaper, mostly of my own doing. When I was the editor in chief of the Mount Mercy Times, going to school, and working full-time, my life was pretty much planned for me. Now I’m finding that while I still work full-time, I am my own boss and I have to find a way to balance how I spend my time.

I love spending time with my kids and grandkids. It’s my reprieve from a minimum of eight hours a day on the computer, and that’s just during working hours. I spend probably 3-4 more hours on my own time.

In between that time, I have to make time for interviews and cover events for stories I’d like to write. I want to work in the yard and do things around the house that need to be done. My dog deserves some attention, too. How can I do everything I want to do?

One word: BALANCE

I loved the teeter-totter as a kid. But there was a science to it. If there was someone heavier than you on the other side, it just wasn’t any fun. And let’s face it; being off-balance is not fun.

I like an even keel and when something in my life is off-balance, I know it. After a little calculating, I can usually tell if I am devoting too much attention to one thing and then correct whatever it is that’s throwing me off. What I need to do is make a schedule for myself and stick to it (which can be difficult to do when life happens.)

It also comes down to time management. I know it takes me 20 minutes to get to work from my house. I know I can write a blog in 15. I know that my dog will accept 5 minutes of playing ball and that it takes a half hour to weed and water the plants in my yard.

I can do this. I think I just need to make following a schedule a habit. Organization is a challenge for me, but it’s definitely a must. Maybe by becoming organized, the balance will just naturally follow. Let’s hope so anyway.

Living the Dream

There aren’t too many people who can say that their lifelong dreams have been realized.  Some get sidetracked on the way to those dreams.  Maybe their dreams were unattainable or maybe they simply change course.

I have always wanted to be a writer. Since I was a little girl, I wanted to be the one who wrote the wonderful stories that I spent hours reading. I wanted to be the story-teller, the one who captivated the imaginations of innocent minds and made them aspire to be everything they could be.

I wanted to be a writer.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but it became my dream. I knew it’s what I wanted to do when I was in the third grade and wrote,  “If I was on the Mayflower.” A simple story, but it lit a fire within me that could not easily be put out. I needed to write.

I remember spending hours laboriously tapping away on the keys of my father’s old Electra typewriter using write-out to correct the many mistakes I made. (Erasable paper came out while I was in junior high and I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven!) The stories were about everything, anything, and nothing. I was embarrassed because I didn’t think they were any good and ended up throwing the typed pages in the trash.

But my father noticed.  The first time I asked to use his typewriter, my father smiled and carefully took it out of its case and set it gently on the dining room table.  I was surprised because I had the reputation for breaking everything I touched. But he didn’t seem to mind.

“Let me know when you’re done so I can put it away,” was all he said.

Even then I would get lost in my stories.  While the other kids were outside playing, I sat and let my mind wander. Many of the stories were about me and what I would do when I grew up. Some were about things I wanted to do; travel to different lands, become a famous dancer, or save the world.

I showed my dad a few stories and he would tell me how proud he was of me. But I never thought it would take me where it did.

Like many people, my dream got sidetracked with marriage and children, but I never gave up writing. I’d write just to write and when I finally got a computer of my own, I wrote even more. But even though I had a passion for writing, I still didn’t think I had what it took to be a professional writer.

Encouraged by a friend, I decided to go back to school and learn how to be a better writer, not exactly sure where it would take me.

At this point, I had to ask myself, what kind of writer did I want to be?  What was I good at? What was my niche?

I tried my hand at creative writing and found that it really wasn’t my forte. I wrote some poetry, but that too, came up a bit short.

I joined the newspaper at my community college. I had been the editorial editor of my high school newspaper and liked it then; would I like it just as much now?

I didn’t have to wonder for long because soon I was volunteering for the stories that no one wanted. I took pictures whenever I could. I always had my camera with me just in case something interesting happened. I gained the reputation of being a photo-junkie.

I found that I enjoyed the interviews, the writing, the layouts, the photography, even the deadlines.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was preparing myself for my future; I was becoming a journalist.

Everyone has a dream.  This is mine.  I will be graduating from Mount Mercy in December and I’m making plans for my own newspaper. Am I crazy  to think that my dream could actually be coming true?

No, I just consider myself lucky. I have the faith to keep taking that next step, the hope that I will see it happen, and the determination to see it all materialize.

I think everyone has a dream.  Some see it happen early in their lives. Others, it takes a little longer, but it’s always possible.

In the words of Walt Disney, “If you imagine it, you can make it happen.” I believe that now. I believe that anything is possible. I have already succeeded.