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Stepping outside the comfort zone

By Jeremy D. Wells

Carter County Times

There are lots of things I’m not very good at. Usually that’s ok. I either muddle on through, and call it good enough, or I get someone who is good at those things to do them for me. But sometimes you can’t find – or can’t afford – someone who is good at the things you aren’t. And sometimes muddling through, and hoping you can call it good enough, just isn’t good enough. 

When my partner and I decided to try this newspaper venture, I knew there were things that I didn’t normally have to do that I would have to learn. The writing end of things I wasn’t worried about. I’ve been writing professionally, in one capacity or another, for 20 years now. The writing I can practically do in my sleep. Once you’ve written several dozen election stories, covered several hundred city council meetings, and penned more features than you can shake a stick at, you can almost write them before they’re finished. Not a big deal. 

The distribution end of things was new to me, but it hasn’t been too hard to figure out. Nicole, bless her soul, handled all the bureaucracy for us. I just have to wake up at 5 in the morning and take papers to the post offices and retail distributors. My coffee habit has nearly doubled as a result, but it hasn’t been hard to figure out. 

Then there are the ad sales. Heaven help me, but I’m a horrible ad salesman. I don’t really have a pitch. I know why our paper is valuable. But turning that value into a reason to buy an ad just doesn’t seem to flow from me naturally. 

My first attempt at an email ad pitch ended up being too long. A later ad pitch, pointing out how good our web views were going, fared no better. They were both failures at attracting the attention I wanted – and this was with writing, something I’m comfortable with. Imagine, then, how poorly my in-person ad pitches go. 

There is a reason, after all, that I write. I’ve always been more confident in my ability to express an idea in writing than I have verbally. I’d rather text someone than speak on the phone any day. While in college I could barely make it through a speech class. Today I have no real problem speaking extemporaneously on subjects I’m familiar with. But ad sales aren’t something I’m comfortable with. 

Despite this lack of comfort with ads, they’re something we need to make this paper self-sufficient. I know why this paper is valuable, and I assume you do too since you are holding a copy in your hands (or reading online). But rack sales and subscriptions don’t pay for the cost of printing. Subscriptions barely cover the cost of shipping. Paper sales aren’t as high as they were 20 years ago, and they were already declining then. Print journalism is a changing business, and it’s not one you’re going to get rich in. But it needs to pay for itself, at least. The irony is that while we need to bring on someone with experience to sell ads for us, we can’t afford to do that until I can start selling ads. It’s a fantastic Catch 22, and I’m not sure what the answer is. But I am going to need to get comfortable with it real quick. 

I don’t want to see this paper fill up with more ads than content. That isn’t why we started this newspaper. But there needs to be a good balance, so we can keep going. That means this duck needs to get comfortable being out of water sooner than later. 

So… Wanna buy an ad? 

Jeremy D. Wells can be reached at editor@cartercountytimes.com



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