I had just kicked my feet up on the desk, signifying the completed task of another weekly newspaper on the streets, when the phone rang.
As is my custom, I answered it.
On the other line was one of my favorite convenience store clerks.
“We’ve run out of papers,” she said.
“Huh?” was my quick-witted response.
“We’ve run out of papers,” she repeated. “Can you bring some more down here?”
“I just put them there less than 12 hours ago,” I muttered to myself, but aloud.
“Well, they’ve sold out,” she said. “If you have any more papers, I think we can keep on selling them.”
As I told her I would be down there in a little bit with more papers, I grabbed the edition I had delivered to the convenience stores just hours earlier. Why would I sell out in a day when it usually takes seven days to sell out – on a good week?
I perused the front page: A story about the county commission discussing what to do about trash bill collection. An ongoing issue, but nothing sensational. A story about Relay for Life, and a photo of the grand opening of a new business were also on the front page. Nope and nope. At top, above the fold, was a story and photo about a field of marijuana plants being found south of town. The pic was of the Sheriff standing among the pot plants, which were as tall as him.
“Bingo. That’s got to be it,” I said to myself.
We nearly sold every paper we printed that week. Two years later, after I begged the Sheriff to take me the next time they went looking for marijuana plants, they did. I wrote a story, complete with my own photographs, of another marijuana crop growing east of town. My thesis proved correct: We almost sold out of every copy on the newstand.
It’s a formula that since has proven successful in boosting single-copy sales, with one caveat: You can’t just write a story about law enforcement finding marijuana plants. There has to be an accompanying photograph.
Why? I have no idea. I can’t understand why people want to buy newspapers with pictures of an illegal drug in its botanical form. What are they looking at? Are they trying to figure out if it’s theirs? Are they looking for some clue as how to grow it? What’s the allure? I’ve printed pics of cute kids, fires, old ladies falling down, a referee calling a touchdown that clearly wasn’t – these great snapshots didn’t possess folks to buy newspapers in droves. But throw a blurry photo of the wacky weed on the cover, and people will throw down 75 cents with reckless abandon – of which I’m thankful. More paper sales means more people see our ads, which means happy customers.
So, last week, when the editor of our newspaper in Lanier County said she had a story about four pounds of marijuana being confiscated, being the sage newspaperman that I am, I asked the money question: “Do you have a photo?”
Yes, she answered, but the pot is packaged, not of the leaf. That will have to do.
“Put it above the fold,” I told her. “And let’s see what happens.”
The call came about 30 hours after the papers hit the streets.
“Hey, one of the convenience stores called and said they are already out of papers.”
Not a week later, I answered the phone again.
“Hey, Len, we found some marijuana plants last week. I have the info if you’d like it,” said the Sheriff’s Department investigator this Monday afternoon.
“Do you have a photograph?,” I asked in breathless anticipation.
“Yes, I do,” he replied.
If I didn’t know better, I would think that I am living right.
“Hey, call the press and tell them to print 200 more papers this week,” I immediately told my office manager. “I’ve got a feeling we may need them.”
© Len Robbins 2012