"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding watercolor, metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

'Shake a Leg at Stumpy's'--the talk of the town

Chapter 4
The  twice-a-week  newspaper had been struggling to survive the rural economic woes and the town's declining population for years. Darling, on the banks of the Canadian River  at the edge of caprock and prairie, had only about 3,000 people left. 
When he first came back, Greg wanted to cut it back to a weekly. His dad, an old-time newspaperman who was owned by the paper more than he owned it, refused to consider the idea, just as he'd refused to consider selling it to the Donrey chain.
"The Index has been in this family since 1904. It won't be Don Caldwell who sells our birthright and our town to those bottom -line boys at Donrey," he'd yelled when Greg suggested letting the paper go.

"You should retire, Dad."
"Hell, no. Shitfire, no! Son, the paper is more than in my blood. It is my blood. And yours too."
Greg was trapped. He'd quickly learned that a hurry-up lifestyle, excellent writing and idealistic journalistic standards wouldn't save the paper, at least in a small town. He'd grudgingly began to concentrate on advertising.
 That's when he had scandalized the town as he starting running ads from Stumpy's Spur, after a conversation of coffee on Sunday mornings.  His dad, a tee-totaling Methodist, wouldn't run ads having to do with liquor.

Facing declining advertising with more stores boarded up, The Darling Index needed the money. After the first half-page ad appeared featuring a local band and with a big bold headline,  "Shake a Leg at Stumpy's," right underneath the obituaries, the town started talking. The Ministerial Alliance had called to protest what they saw as a newcomer changing the paper and endangering morals. Greg ignored them, reminding them they all wanted 20 percent discounts for their small church ads, and were often late paying.
Stumpy always paid cash, pulling out a thick roll of bills and flipping out the twenties until the half-page-a-week ad was paid for. Greg wondered why Stumpy agreed to advertise in the first place, and had asked.

"Respectability," Stumpy said, winking. "And maybe just to irritate some people."
Greg had already managed to do that in the first six months with his editorials too.

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