Pictures of critters are only part of the job for a newspaperman

It is truly an honor to serve as TPA president, but I must admit that it is difficult at times to write the president’s monthly column. It’s not that I mind the writing process. It’s only that as publisher of two small weekly newspapers, I struggle with finding ideas that are relevant to publishers at larger newspapers, especially the dailies.

You see, life is different at a small-town weekly. One of the biggest differences is the photos we are expected to take.

To begin with, there are the photos I call the dead critter shots — everything from deer to rattlesnakes and from coyotes to feral hogs. People have posed with all of them in front of our office, where we record them for posterity.

Thankfully, not all the animals we photograph are dead. There was an injured red-tailed hawk that was nursed back to health, and we were there when it was released back into the wild. 

There were baby birds trapped in a chimney, a runaway emu that a deputy sheriff tried to rope from horseback, a pet monkey at a wedding, a longhorn steer with a Texas-shaped marking on its face, and a confused burro that thought it was a sheep.

Just when we think we’ve seen it all, the phone rings or someone comes through the door to prove otherwise.

There are also the garden pics — large carrots, cucumbers, pumpkins and cantaloupes. My father even posed one year standing beside his gigantic tomato bush.

Then there was the photo of an enormous misshapen potato that, after closer inspection, I chose not to publish.

It is not unusual for someone to enter the office, walk right past the front counter and make their way to my desk, where they present a memory card or a thumb drive laden with photos. Then they stand over me as I dig through a few hundred images looking for a particular shot they want for an anniversary notice or a birth announcement.

I learned a few years ago to make eye contact with the person and ask firmly if there are any photos that they don’t want me to see.

Trust me, you really need to ask the question prior to accessing the images, not only as a kindness to the other person, who could be spared from potential embarrassment, but as a kindness to yourself because there really are things you can’t unsee.

Of course, the larger newspapers deal with many of the same things, but at smaller newspapers we have to wear so many different hats. The person who takes and edits the photos also sells and builds ads, covers and reports the news, lays out the paper and sends it to press. In addition, they answer the phone, handle accounts payable and receivable, update the website, maintain the subscription list and deliver the papers to newsracks and the post office.

My friend Skip Nichols once told me that after many years at a daily newspaper in the Pacific Northwest, he wanted to semi-retire, move back to Texas and buy a weekly newspaper. So he did.

Just as I was getting into the business in 1994, Skip was realizing that owning and publishing the Crane News was not the dream job he had envisioned. He said the work was harder than he had ever imagined.

Before long, Skip sold the Crane News and went to work for Roy Eaton at the Wise County Messenger before eventually moving back to the northwest and taking a job at the East Oregonian.

I heard just the other day that Skip had retired again, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I might be able to entice him to come back to Texas and take over the photo desk at The Eldorado Success. Maybe he could also advise me on material for my next column.