Running with the pack on a tour of the Post
Combine one introverted newspaper editor with five hyperactive Cub Scouts, and what do you get?
Comedy or tragedy — depends on your perspective, I guess.
This week, I had the pleasure of leading the boys of Cub Scout Pack 306 on a tour of the Salisbury Post.
Now, I’ve led these tours in the past to decidedly mixed reviews, if glazed-over eyes can be considered a review. This one seemed to go fairly well. Maybe I’ve gotten better at it. Or, maybe I’ve just learned to focus on the positives, like the fact that I don’t need to worry about holding their attention for very long, because, apparently, nothing holds their attention for very long.
Since we start on the first floor, that’s where I start to explain the departments that make up the Post and what the people in each of them do.
First, I point out circulation. The people who work in this department, I say, are in charge of getting the newspaper to all the places it needs to go. Why is it called circulation? Because the newspapers circulate throughout our coverage area every day, just like blood circulates through your body. Cub Scouts have all had basic anatomy, right?
Next, I ask how they think the newspaper makes most of the money it needs to pay its employees and bills.
“You give them the paper, and they give you money?” one ventures. Yes, that’s true, but paper sales don’t make up most of our income.
“People line up and give it to you?” another guesses. Yes, that is the preferred business model. Please tell your friends and family to support it.
Finally, I explain to the boys that advertising makes up the bulk of our revenue and encourage them to support our advertisers in the hopes, I guess, that they’ll need to buy a car soon, or furniture, or a hearing aid.
My knowledge of the first floor more than exhausted, we head upstairs, past the second floor (“where the boring business stuff happens,” I tell them) to the third floor (“where I work, and all the fun stuff happens.”)
We stop at one of my favorite artifacts and an opportunity to show the boys just how much things have changed in newspaper production. Sitting between the stairs and elevator is a Salisbury Post front page plate from the days when hot metal was poured into molds to form letters, words and sentences. This particular page is from 1971.
But first, we have to shepherd back a couple of boys who’ve wandered into the adjacent break room.
“Are you more fascinated with the Coke machine than the tour?” I ask.
“I’m fascinated with the couch,” one boy answers.
It is a comfortable couch.
I ask the boys what they notice about the plate. We talk about the fact that all the words are backwards, because it would be used to make a negative. What else?
“This is rough,” says one, running his hand over the metal type.
“This looks like a whistle,” another says, describing a National Education Week symbol on the page that has come unglued from the plate.
“It’s a penny,” says another. “Can I have it?”
No, but you can tell me what you notice about this, I say, pointing to the lone, relatively small photo on the page, a photo of a man who appears to be in his 40s. In 1971.
“Is that you?” asks one.
Moving on, we head to the newsroom, where the boys seem impressed by the array of cubicles and computers.
“Can you touch things in here?” one asks.
“I can touch everything,” I say.
“Are you the boss?” he asks.
During the academic year, fourth-grade classes tour the Post, and I sometimes show them a desk decoration bequeathed to me by a former managing editor. It’s a rubber alligator with its jaws clamped down on a furry toy mouse. This symbolizes the relationship — I tell them, as was told to me — between reporter and editor. Guess which one is me. (Hint: I am not the alligator.)
Unsure these guys would appreciate the iconography of this or that my spirit animal is a helpless toy mouse, and thankful to pawn off part of the tour, I just introduce them to one of my bosses, reporter Shavonne Potts.
Shavonne, whose beat involves sirens and flashing lights and things kids typically get a charge out of when they visit us, tells the boys what she does and explains why its important for newspaper reporters to use Twitter, Facebook and a website in addition to the printed page. Then she asks them to look around her cubicle and identify some of the tools she uses in her job.
“A camera?” guesses one.
“A coffee cup?”
Oh, yes. We all use coffee cups.
After explaining how news stories get to the page, and giving them a sneak peek at the next day’s front page (which is blank), we head to another place kids always find fascinating: the plate room.
Unlike the old hot-metal plate we saw earlier, this room uses computers and lasers and has cool yellow lighting, and Tom Marts explains the entire process that — if there’s nobody in the plate room to explain — I typically attribute to “magic.”
A visit to the mail room (“No, you cannot have the Sunday comics early. I know there are stacks of them in here, but still …”) and a look at the press complete the our rounds. I apologize that the press is idle. If they’d like to see it running, I tell the boys, have their parents bring them back around 1 a.m. The parents don’t seem as enthusiastic about this as some of the boys do.
Before we part, I tell the Scouts I hope they enjoyed the tour and learned something. I know I did. I do every time.
Scott Jenkins is news editor of the Salisbury Post.