‘Are you crazy?’ asked a friend. ‘Is your wife still with you?’ asked another
By John Addyman
It was a moment of weakness and I knew it. Deep down inside, the rational part of me was screaming, “What the heck do you think you’re doing?”
But the irrational, impulsive part of me was already on the glide path to perdition.
“Oh, yes, John! Do it! Don’t hesitate! Don’t hold back! Jump right in there!” he said.
It was Christmastime, three years ago. I had been writing stories for a small Wayne County newspaper, the “Sun & Record,” which covered Ontario, Williamson and Sodus. It had been around for 140 years in one form or another, with name changes along the way.
Our editor, Wilma, a solid member of the community with a huge heart, wanted to retire and run the Young Sommer Winery operations and fruit farm with her husband, Herm. She had produced the newspaper out of her living room and dining room for years. She’d been there and done that.
At her annual Christmas get-together in the tasting room of the winery, she said she was retiring and someone else would be taking over the newspaper that year…
Then she looked straight at me.
“Oh, nooooo…” I said. But then I started to think about it. And I thought about it some more. And the more I thought about it, the more I figured I could easily be nuts enough to actually do it. I made Wilma and her partner an offer, they gave me a generous financing package, and I took over.
I let a few of my friends know what I’d done.
Jay, whom I went to high school with, asked, “Are you crazy?”
Al, my brother-in-law, first asked me if my wife knew I had done such a harebrained thing.
“Sure, she knows,” I told him.
“Is she still living with you?” he wrote in an email.
I went downstairs to check: yep, she was still here.
When I worked for Wilma, on a busy week I’d work three days.
The first lesson I learned about being the editor of a newspaper was that you don’t have days off.
Oh, and there were many more lessons to learn.
First, this is not something to do if you want to make a lot of money…in fact, if you want to make any money. When I asked my bookkeeper, Linda, if we were turning a profit, she’d say, “Well, it’s complicated.” That meant, “No, and what possessed you to do this nutball thing?”
Second, when you own a paper, the buck stops in your lap. In town board meetings. At basketball games. At the gas station. On the phone. In email. Oh, and on Facebook, too. In our first year, because I’d changed a bit of the editorial direction of the paper, I got hate mail, and some correspondents even sent hate mail to other people about me and one of my columnists.
When I was a reporter and somebody complained, I’d send them to the editor. Now when someone comes into the office to complain, I turn around and look for someone else to respond to this person, but I’m looking at a blank wall.
Third, you really can’t do what you wanted to do in the first place. In a paper as tiny as ours, I empty the trash cans. I travel 130 miles to deliver the paper to stores once a week. I get the mail. I edit almost every word in print. I take photos and process them for the paper and Facebook. I lay out pages. I work with our landlord. I deal with insurance people. Insurance people deal with me. I pick up supplies. I pay my writers and one employee and my bookkeeper and tax accountant. I try to assist every chamber of commerce effort. I am careful with the bank and cash flow. I’m religious about shopping locally. I’m not any different than any small businessperson.
As much as I enjoy in-depth stories, I don’t have the time to research and write them anymore. And I’m working 60-hour weeks normally; much more than that at busy times. I love to work, but I retired nine years ago…
So what’s the fun about owning a newspaper?
I ask that because every morning when I leave the house my wife says to me, “Go have fun!”
This 55-Plus magazine is a wonderful source for stories about senior citizens, and we have an underlying philosophy: the years after you reach 55 are a lot more meaningful, enjoyable…fun — if you stay physically active, mentally challenged, and have social contacts.
And frankly, that’s what I have. I’m not sitting home. Every day is a challenge, and I’m dealing with all kinds of people — most of whom I really like.
But there’s one more thing. I’ve interviewed and had casual conversations with a lot of people who are enjoying life and thriving after 65. There are also those who are approaching retirement with some fears — mostly professional people who don’t know what their next move in life is.
They fall into Eric Ericson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development: they are at the integrity or despair stage in life. They want to have value in their family and wider community, be recognized as a contributor in some way, and feel that they can still accomplish things. For some, it’s important that their lives have had meaning — integrity.
If people don’t feel connected and wonder if their lives had meaning to others, then they are in the despair realm, and can get caught in a vortex of feeling sorry for themselves. Life is not so sweet.
I may be working my tushy off (you should see it, it’s really a lot smaller than it used to be), but every time our little newspaper lands in someone’s hands, I know I’ve contributed and have a value to others.
Just today, I was in a store and the woman in front of me bought a copy or our paper.
“Thank you for buying the ‘Sun & Record/Wayne County Mail,’” I told her.
“You’re welcome,” she said, smiling. “I appreciate it.”
“Thank you for saying that,” I said. “We appreciate it that you appreciate us.” And before things got too weird, we both walked off, smiling.
Nobody forced her to buy that paper. She didn’t know who I am and I didn’t know who she was. But she took the time to purchase the product of my labors (and those of so many other people who write and sell ads and take pictures and write columns for us).
“I appreciate it,” went a long way toward making my steps lighter today.