Life Between the Deadlines

Published 4:55 pm Thursday, December 28, 2017

Tryon Daily Bulletin turns 90

don’t know how you do it!” I exclaimed. “Five days a week, year around, and 90 years old on January 31. I really think there’s a story here.”

At her desk, Claire Sachse, managing editor, leaned forward. Her smile shifted from an amused “you’re kidding me” to a bemused “you’re serious.” I surmised it would take some convincing to overcome her misgivings about running a story about the Tryon Daily Bulletin in the sister publication of Foothills Magazine.

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But it was my belief that at 16 North Trade Street in Tryon, a lean staff of our neighbors was somehow getting out “The World’s Smallest Daily Newspaper” on routinely claustrophobic deadlines in a tough business. Too few readers knew how it’s done, including me, and I wanted to know.

The first US daily newspaper began publishing in 1784. Growth of the dailies peaked in 1910 at about 2,200 papers. In 1928, the Tryon Daily Bulletin became one of about 1,950 papers. Over the decades, while giant dailies fell, the original Curb Reporter, Seth Vining, Sr., and those who followed, continued to gather news and memories that page by page contributed to a sense of local community and heritage.

To me this is an accomplishment. Consider statistics from the Brookings Institution. Between 1945 and 2014, daily newspaper circulation per capita declined from 35 percent to under 15 percent. The number of dailies in 2014 was down to 1,331. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, newspaper publishers lost more than half their employees from 2001 to 2016, from 412,000 to 174,000.

Despite the turbulence, the Bulletin staff today steadily adds to the nearly unbroken historical record that started with Issue 1, and the front page headline “Tryon Chamber of Commerce Elects New Officers Saturday.” That was not history on the national level with headlines about Coolidge, Lindbergh, or Capone, but history of significance nonetheless for knowing and appreciating the facts and opinions, triumphs and sorrows, and the “daily doings” in the Foothills.

“Everyone here is so wrapped up in the day-to-day commotion that they take for granted what’s being accomplished,” I said. “For example, how does the Friday edition get out?”

Wednesday, 6 a.m., Claire sits in bed, coffee cup on the side table and computer on her lap. First email to download is a story about an upcoming cultural event. Submitted without ticket prices, it’s good to go. Next story unforgivably reads like an ad and the third reports Bigfoot on Melrose. No photos attached. The fourth email is a sweet “thank you” from a recent widow that deserves immediate response. The writer was grateful that the Bulletin, unlike other newspapers, ran the photo of her husband without cropping the military medals on his chest. Before Claire gets to the end of the email list, the dregs of her second cup of coffee are cold.

First stop at the office is the reception desk for a “good morning” and assurance that there are no emergencies … yet. In the conference room across the hall from a sign for 50-cent haircuts, General Manager Kevin Powell huddles with Marketing Consultants Trish Boyter and Magan Etheridge on an advertising sales plan for the day. At the end of the hall, Gwen Ring, graphic designer, works at her computer. A graduate from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she juggles aesthetic responsibilities for the print and online paper, website, social media, Foothills magazine, quarterly visitor’s guides, and special publications such as the Steeplechase insert.

During the day, Claire is expecting emails to fill her inbox with story attachments, challenging her reading speed but easier to process than the typewritten sheets of yesteryear splotched with whiteout. Stories will be inbound from both of her staff reporters. Leah Justice, 17-year veteran with the paper, covers government and crime. Catherine Hunter, another experienced journalist, joined the paper in 2017 to cover business, education, equine, and Landrum. There will also be columns and an uncertain number of community news submissions. About half of the stories come from the community as a continuation of the paper’s unique historic role. No matter the source, every line is proofread for factual errors and missed information such as event dates, and edited if necessary for length. On a routine Wednesday, all copy and digital photos for the Friday edition are uploaded to the server by midnight for retrieval by Gwen Thursday morning.

There are distractions and delays, however, such as pausing to contemplate an accusation of conservative bias after an earlier message complained about a liberal bent. “I must be doing something right if I’m making both sides mad?” Claire asked rhetorically.

All ads are also on the server until Kevin announces two just got pulled. These become worries for Thursday, when among other things, Gwen hustles to finish the newspaper layout while Claire reviews breaking news and obits, and what to give Gwen to replace the missing ads. Fortunately, with InDesign software, modern page make-up is faster than jockeying metal bars of linotype in a wood lock-up around metal photographic engravings. Matrices and other artifacts of the hot type days can still be found on second floor, but now Gwen laser prints a complete proof for Claire to read one more time. A command of old-fashioned proofreader’s marks is still put to the test with such notations as bf for changing to boldface type and # for inserting a space. Submissions for Saturday are also coming in but that’s another story. Friday’s final PDF goes to press production at 3 p.m. Thursday. While the press in the basement prints Friday’s paper, staff has already rolled into production on the weekend edition.

Production at the Bulletin is living history with negatives and metal plates still processed in safety light conditions. Pressroom Manager Jeff Allison started as an ad inserter 15 years ago and learned hands-on how to coax the 1976 offset press into reliable performance. Today with help from Alex Greene, Jamie Lewis, and Conner Peeler, the press starts as usual at 4 p.m. “30 minutes to run,” says Jeff. “With ad supplements, it’s about another four hours for insertion and bagging for the Post Office. Our driver needs about five hours to stock boxes from Saluda to Inman in time for Friday.”

“What do you think?” I tried to nudge Claire to a positive decision. “As a close, you could give your vision for the paper.” She hesitated long enough that I was beginning to think she wasn’t going to answer. Then, “90 years from now, if someone would read today’s paper, I’d want them to get an accurate feeling of this community and who we were.” •

A photo waits in all things, all places, and everyone with a passion has a story to be told. That’s the perspective Vince Verrecchio, lightly retired ad agency creative director, brings as a writer and photographer contributing to Foothills Magazine. He can be reached at