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Set priorities if you want to keep your sanity.

HOW THE EDITORS who run solo shops do it, I'll never know. Budget their time, that is.

For an 80,000-circulation daily, the staff here is of (just) adequate size: two full-time and one part-time editorial writers, a five-eighths-time copy editor and me. (No cartoonist, but hope springs eternal.)

Even so, it wouldn't be a bed of roses if we weren't seasoned (average career about 20 years) and pretty efficient. We have three editorials each day; also, we cover local and state topics vigorously, and those are the most labor-intensive ones.

The main problem (surprise!) is one of attention-robbing interruptions. Having phone calls held is not an option, not that we want it. We welcome community input. Still, as an example, I have kept track: this short piece was written in eight takes. Getting on and off the train of thought becomes easier with each passing year -- experience and a thick skin count.

As regards outside interviews, we dodge a substantial bullet: We are among the few newspapers that don't endorse political candidates. There's no room here to discuss the pros and cons of that philosophy, but it does mean that a lot of pols feel free to stop in and chat at varied times, instead of homing like vultures in March and September.

Elections aside, there are still plenty of issues and agendas looking for an editorial board ear. We try to grant nearly all. If possible, we set them for a time of day when we normally have our copy in the composing room and are awaiting page proofs. This makes good use of a period when we may be a little too tired to write the freshest prose, but can still handle a decent interview.

Lots of latitude

Fortunately, the management style here is to focus intently on who is selected for a job and then give him or her a lot of latitude. In my case that means drawing up my own budget; having my own discretion on buying columns, op-eds, and cartoons; planning departmental travel and the like. The freedom to make timely decisions without endless committee wrangles goes a long way toward easing the time squeeze.

Then there's the writing. Drawn by this or that topic, I may do more of it than I should. I probably turn in about 20% of the editorials that go before our readers, in addition to the normal administrative duties most of us know well. Oh, yes, and handling the bulk of the op-ed decisions. And, on the day this was written, the publisher suggested he might like me to start a weekly column. That may be the breaking point -- fewer editorials from me, dropping my already-loose reins over the letters column.

The key, I guess, is adaptability and the ability to set priorities. Someone is always going on vacation or taking sick, or the paper undergoes a redesign. Knowing what must be done versus what would be nice to do is central to keeping what sanity most of us have left.

So many ideas, so little time. To steal from Churchill, this is the worst job in the world . . . except for all the others.

NCEW membeer Charles Reinken is editorial page editor of the Fayetteville Observer-Times in North Carolina.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Conference of Editorial Writers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:The Masthead Symposium: Managing Time and Money; time and financial management
Author:Reinkin, Charles
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Sep 22, 1993
Words:542
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