"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The year I attended the Appleton fair

We have just completed the very hot Stevens County Fair for 2015. Back in 2006, when I had just left the newspaper, I did not attend the fair. Instead I went to the Appleton Fair, a pleasant little affair. I went mainly because Sherwin Linton was performing there. There was a cover charge for entering the grounds.
I didn't attend the Stevens County Fair because I knew I'd be bombarded with questions about why I left the paper. As it turned out, I was bombarded even at the Appleton fair. God bless the people who were curious.
I had no desire to become unemployed. The proprietor of the Cyrus Cafe asked me about my move. I paused, then she answered the question for me: "You just couldn't take it anymore."
I bumped into Fritz Schmidt one day, a man with wisdom gained through his World War II experience. Our family first got to know Fritz when he was the attendant at the warming house for the old skating rink along Atlantic Atlantic. Fritz looked at me and said: "You had too much to do." I suppose I sought a substantial workload in order to justify time reported on my timesheets. Looking back, I see timesheets as really having been the bane of my existence. (Remember Eddie Bane, the Twins pitcher?)
Timesheets have been the downfall of many workers - Postal workers come to mind - who get forced into unrealistic situations and in desperation try to adjust in a way that is untenable. It's water over the bridge for me now.
Fairly late in my career, I was handed the obituary department. I have hesitated writing a whole blog post about the frustrations of dealing with obits, because I might leave something out.
I wish I could have left many obits alone, running them just as they were submitted. However, the Sun Tribune wanted editorial control. Information was supposed to be presented in a certain order. Listing survivors could be thorny with the semicolons, parentheses etc. Was a name in a parenthesis a husband or boyfriend? I won't specify all the frustrations in processing obits. It would be too "inside baseball," but you get the point.
Today? I'm informed that newspapers no longer have obituary departments. They don't have to, because funeral homes have taken over complete responsibility for submitting them. In fact, newspapers aren't even allowed to edit them! Not only that, newspapers get paid for running them. I have a real problem ethically with that. But anyway, this final resolution was a total "win/win" for newspapers. Not only don't they have to pay a staff person to write obits, they get paid to publish them. This is a prime example of how newspapers have survived in the Internet age.
Why couldn't funeral homes have taken total control of obits before? Obits used to come at newspapers in a variety of shapes and forms. We'd get faxed obits where the edges of the text were "shaved off." We'd get obits from funeral homes about 30 miles away, for people who had no connection to Stevens County. We had to weed them out all the time. Jim Morrison would say "those funeral homes just want to get their names in the paper."
I spent the equivalent of a full work day each week doing newsstand collections. We'd collect (small change, really) for the papers sold at various stores. I took over that job from Howard Moser when he phased into retirement. These collections had to be done in Cyrus and Hancock. Collecting in Cyrus was no problem when the paper was printed at Quinco Press in Lowry. I'd pass through Cyrus all the time anyway. I don't know why we had to leave Quinco. But we switched to Willmar where Forum Communications had a base. I tried phasing out the Cyrus newsstand collection on my own - it seemed pointless. But then I was told to get my rear end back over there.
My brain showed stress fatigue in so many ways in those last 3-4 months trying to hang with the Morris paper. If it wasn't one thing, it was something else.
I remember writing two articles where I took the article to the source people and they approved, 100 percent, but then, back at that dreary Sun Tribune, there were issues. In one case, I had made a totally routine and inconsequential typographical error, fairly deep into the story. Phyllis Peterson, former employee, stopped by the office and with me sitting right there, made a big, loud production out of commenting on the typo. Is this what my work had been reduced to? Having to type through a mountain of stuff each day without being permitted a simple typo even?
We received a rather odd email from a student athlete named Aaron Lund. I always proofed my sports material with great intensity and focus, so much so I might start talking to myself or murmuring to myself. We were dealing with deadlines. I proofread track and field articles "holding copy" and paying attention to each decimal point. Lund complained that his name had been omitted for winning the 1600 meters at a meet. He did not specify the location for the meet in question. He gave a date but it made no sense because it was a Wednesday. Track meets aren't held on Wednesday. Had it been held on the most recent Wednesday, the next edition of the paper would not have been published yet. I assumed he was referring to the Wednesday edition of the paper. (The Morris paper no longer publishes on Wednesday.) That Wednesday edition had a review of a meet in Pelican Rapids. I talked to coach Dale Henrich, out taking a walk with his daughter. Dale said Aaron Lund didn't even run the 1600m at Pelican Rapids. He was not aware of any reporting error.
Aaron's email on the matter got forwarded up. This was a typical "s--t sandwich" for a working person like me. Many of you can relate?
As for that incident with Phyllis Peterson, I had spent my own money sending flowers for her husband Jack's funeral. I assure you I will never do anything like that again. I guess we're all out to watch our own backs, and that's a shame.
I don't know how Sun Tribune management could live with themselves in that period around 2006, a period in which all newspapers were realizing they had to live with retrenchment. Profits would only stay decent with draconian moves.
Maybe today the Sun Tribune is doing fine. Remember, they don't have to pay for an obit department anymore. Instead, families get fleeced by the death industry, paying for their newspaper obit along with myriad other things that push the cost of a funeral to an unreasonable level. Even if you can afford a funeral, why separate yourself from all that money? Why not, as an alternative, make substantial memorial contributions to various worthy causes around town? If I had my father's death to deal with again, I'd go that route.
When a person dies, his soul leaves this existence. All that remains is a dead body, a body which, in my father's case, had been failing him at the end. A dignified disposal of the body is all that's needed. Now that I'm aware of the "keep out!" attitude of our local cemetery, I regret having had anything to do with the traditional funeral and burial process. Summit Cemetery foisted those chimes on this community for many years. UMM cannot expand to the west because of the cemetery. The names of so many of the deceased are getting lost in time, meaningless to us. Cemeteries will become obsolete. Maybe newspapers will too. It's just taking too long.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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