St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Rambling out of the Newspaper

Rambling out of the Leader

Thank you to all of you who let me know you read the column after last week when I rambled all over trying to decide about doing it for another year. With that encouragement, and an offer to run an advertisement to support the column for the next several months, I had pretty much decided to continue into year number eight of the column.

However, on the way to that decision, I came up against a set of Leader newspaper management policies that changed my mind in the opposite direction. As a result of this, the column will continue, however, not in the Leader.

I think writers who are published in a newspaper should be rewarded for their work just as much as a secretary in the front office, the person who drives the forklift or the reporter who covers a county board meeting or a football game.

The Leader, an organization that prides itself on its grass roots beginnings and cooperative history does not treat some people who write for the paper reasonably. It expects them to write for free.

Certainly writers plugging the Festival Theatre, the Fort, Caregivers, animal shelters and political press release should not be paid. These articles are worth a great deal to the sponsoring organization and in fact probably should be considered advertising and charged for the space.

However, I am of the opinion that regular columnists who are not in it primarily to plug a business, are in a different category. I think they should get paid. Some years back they did get paid. Nowadays it appears local newspapers don’t believe anything is worth publishing from local writers unless it is obtained free.

In my own case, I never got paid, but was allowed leeway to plug some events, books, the River Road Ramble, and, if I could find a sponsor, to sell an advertisement that got printed with the column and I got the money. It didn’t happen very often, but at least I felt I could get some money if I went out selling ads—so I felt paid.

I learned in 2011, some of this just last week, that no longer could I do the plugs, the ads or anything that was like an advertisement in the column. A new policy that says writers who are not on the staff are not worth paying in any way, including a free subscription, and they better tread carefully so they don’t infringe on the really important people in the newspaper, those who sell the advertisements.

As an alternative to the ads, which I had occasionally sold to Anderson Maple for $25 redeemable in merchandise at the store (and had lined up for Jan – April 2012), I asked the Leader for $25 per column payment in 2012 all to be paid to the Luck Historical Society as a donation. The museum is my favorite non-profit and although I give a lot of time to it, I don’t have much money to help them.

Not possible was the response; if we pay you then other columnists will want to be paid too—and our policy is no payments to writers of your type. Management, the Co-op Board and the Business Manager, Douglas Panek, appear to have come down hard on columnists like me, who thought their columns were worth something.

I spend at least 6 hours a week writing the RRR column with the reward mostly some small amount of fame and my platform for plugging things I like. The fame is not important—I don’t allow my photo with the column to make sure I am mostly anonymous on the street. I do like to visit with you each week, but I am not so vain as to assume removing my column will hurt the Leader.

I encourage my fellow columnists who are not writing to publicize an organization to take a stand. Assume there are 5 unpaid columnists of my type. It would cost the Leader $125 per week to pay them each $25 (and some, like me, might even find their own sponsors). Divided among the 7000 papers sold each week, that amounts to under 2 cents per newspaper. You can put in your 2 cents by contacting the Leader if you agree with me. The cost of RRR split among the 7000 papers is about one-third of a penny each week. Seems pretty darn cheap to me.

The manager of the Leader is Douglas Panek. You can email him at The Co-op Board includes: Janet Oachs, Charles Johnson, Ann Fawver, Merlin Johnson and Carolyn Wedin. They are in the phone book. I think you should tell them that it is a reasonable thing to pay some non-Leader staff for articles, even if it is just the pittance I asked for!

I doubt anyone on the Leader staff could have written as good an article as the one Boyd Sutton wrote last week on the responsibilities of carrying a concealed weapon. It surely would be worth $25!

For a donation of $25 per week payable to the Luck Museum, the RRR column is up for sale to any newspaper including the Leader. The column continues regularly on the Internet. If you are interested in what we are doing or the history research underway go to and catch up with Margo and me.

If you don’t do the Internet ask a friend to print it out or go to the public library and read it, or use your persuasion with your local newspaper manager or board member!

The Internet is liberating. There is no limit of pictures that can be added to the column, no limit of a once the week publishing date, and no editor chopping of sentences, changing the words and screwing up the photos!

Margo and I hope you have a good 2012. We will see you online, if not anywhere else. Russ Hanson, The River Road Rambler is now appearing in full color and expanded from at It has been an interesting seven years and Margo and I will miss all of you. I like the idea of going out thinking I am doing it on principle!