Weekly Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country
of West Texas
Friday, August 4, 2006
By Smokey Briggs
The great newspaper
shortage of ’91
It was a while back. I was a cub reporter at a small daily newspaper, just beginning to practice my craft. What I loved to do was write, and I could not believe I was actually getting paid to write.
I wrote, and with the help of a stern editor, I began to write fairly well.
I had not been employed at this small daily newspaper long before it happened - the circulation manager began to run out of newspapers to sell.
You see, my incredible ability to turn a phrase was in demand. People wanted to read what I wrote, and to read my pithy reporting, they had to buy a newspaper.
And buy newspapers they did.
I was there the day the circulation manager walked into our publisher’s office, nearly crying, head down, to explain that there was a “newspaper shortage.”
The Old Man’s eyebrows went up.
“A shortage?” he asked.
“Yes, but I have a plan,” the circulation manger said. “I was up all night, and I have formulated a conservation plan. By my figures, if every current reader will share his or her paper with another reader, then there should be enough papers to go around.”
“And, if the shortage gets worse,” he said and cut an ugly look at me as I was the cause of his problems, “I have some newspaper rationing ideas - maybe we could cut back on the number of days we publish, or transfer Briggs to the pressroom. Don’t worry, Sir, I’ll make sure this newspaper shortage does not last.”
The Old Man sat at his desk for a moment, puffed his pipe once, and then stood up and shot the circulation manager dead with the pistol he kept in his desk drawer.
He put the pistol back in the drawer while mumbling something about idiots and communists.
“Briggs,” he yelled.
“Sir,” I yelled back, not wanting to be shot.
“Get me the assistant circulation manger, the head pressman, the advertising director, and then get your golden fingers back to that typewriter,” he yelled. (Yes, we were still using typewriters).
The newspaper became a flurry of activity. That night twice as many newspapers rolled off the press. More paper had to be ordered. Advertisers flocked to place ads. Truckloads of paper had to be ordered.
Still it was not enough. The thirst for my sublime scribbling was unquenchable. The press ran day and night, and still we could not keep up with demand.
The next week the Old Man met with his banker. Days later a shiny, huge, new press was delivered and hooked up. Circulation had quintupled. Twice.
I walked back into the pressroom one night, my fingers nearly raw, to find our Publisher exhorting the pressmen to herculian efforts and stuffing hundred dollar bills into their pockets when exhaustion began to overcome them. He saw me and stuffed some in my pocket.
“Back to the typewriter, Briggs. Our customers demand it.” He was tired and wrinkled - and as happy as a puppy with a new tail.
Eventually, we met the demand for my writing. It took some doing. Every reader in five counties was buying two and three copies of each edition.
But we did it. The newspaper bought a new press and tons of paper and barrels of ink. Employees had to be hired. Wages had to go up to attract more pressmen and salesmen, and bookkeepers to count the money.
It was a disaster, right?
I mean, there was a shortage. It should have been the end of the world. The company had to buy a new press and more paper and ink. Payroll went up.
And profits went even higher. And, with the new, more efficient press and mass production, the paper could lower its prices.
Our customers got my erudite editorials they so desired, and got them cheaper than ever before.
You just have to love the free market. Man may not be able to solve the riddle of existence, but he can sure figure out how to make a buck and get people more of what they want in the process. Luckily, we were not in the electricity business. The results, as evidenced by California’s ongoing, yearly shortages, would have been terrible.
Can you imagine, really, a business that has more customers than it can supply, and views it, like the circulation manager, as a problem and not an opportunity?
If we had a newspaper shortage in this town tomorrow I would be whistling Dixie all the way to the bank - you could not wipe the smile off my face.
And yet, in California, the same problem is a disaster.
There is only one material difference between the newspaper business and the electricity business - government involvement.
While I have to put up with petty bureaucrats a little bit, the non-producing ticks actually run the electricity industry. That is why they call it a “public utility.”
Public utility is another word for mismanaged, inefficient, boondoggle.
The only problem with electricity production is that bureaucrats are calling the shots and not regular people interested in making a buck.
Look around. Take any example you want. If the freemarket is left alone, and there is a demand for something, the free market supplies it to everyone’s benefit.
Cell phones used to be the domain of the super rich. Ten years later everybody, and I mean everybody, has at least one. Shoes used to be the most expensive item in a person’s wardrobe. Kids went all summer barefoot because the cost of new shoes was too high.
Now, we go through cheap, comfortable shoes like Kleenex.
Fresh fruit? It used to be a luxury. Now we all eat it, all year round.
And, in every instance, somebody is making a buck. Yet, somehow, the price for you and I gets cheaper. What a deal.
Now, take any example you want in which the government is deeply involved. Electricity is a great example with the “shortage” in California making the news.
Name a government controlled commodity that is cheap and plentiful? The more deeply the government bureaucrats get their silly fingers in, the less there is, and the higher the price gets - or they hide their inefficiency with price caps and make up the difference in higher taxes.
Either way it is inefficient and a waste of our time and effort.
Seriously, can you imagine Smokey Briggs, newspaper publisher extraordinaire, being sad because the town wanted more newspapers than he could supply? Can you imagine me coming up with a plan for “newspaper conservation?”
Heck no. But I bet you can imagine me standing in my pressroom exhorting my employees to superhuman effort, to meet the demand of our customers.
But, I’m a super-cool, high-speed, low-drag kind of businessman, right?
Nope. Just a human being, acting like one, and trying to make my lot in life a little better.
So, the next time there is a “shortage,” take a look and see who is running the show.
I’ll bet you a dollar to a doughnut you find a government bureaucrat right in the middle, like a boweevil in a cotton boil.
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York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 432-445-5475, FAX 432-445-4321
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