The Thousand Words

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Chapter 8

After meeting with Jane for a few minutes, we decided to charge the customers extra for their special requests on the art prints and hope they wouldn’t cancel their orders. The change in the materials they requested really ate into the profit margins. I was past the point of working at or below cost trying to get my work out there and making a name for myself.

I headed straight downtown after we had come to a decision and headed to the main building located on Elm Street where the local newspaper was headquartered. I parked a few blocks away at one of the remote lots used for the Bengals football games with a much cheaper rate. Paying for parking is one of the reasons why I disliked going to any downtown city. Renting a spot for your car just seemed wrong. Maybe it was because my dad was able to park for free anywhere he went when I was younger. Most likely using his police placard or plates on his car which enabled him to park where ever he felt like for free.

I walked past the football stadium, took a bridge over the freeway and headed up to the main entrance. I could have saved myself fifteen minutes of walking, but the garage in the building charged by the hour and was very expensive. The paper never validated parking.

The lobby inside the building was functional and typical of virtually every office building. I walked up to the reception area and checked in. My agent, Neil Shelton, had already called down saying he was expecting me. This had made the process of getting up to the meeting much easier. It can take some time to track a person down in an office building this large. The receptionist handed me a visitors badge, told me to wear it at all times, and buzzed me through the entrance to the elevators. I clipped in on my left front pants pocket since I didn’t have a pocket on my shirt and headed over to the elevators.

After a few seconds, an elevator came that was heading up. The doors opened revealing a few people who were not getting off. No one was talking. Everyone was looking at their phones ignoring each other. Instant communication with anyone and everyone in the world killed polite small talk with those physically near you. I stepped in and pressed the button for the fifth floor, even though it was already pressed. One of those unwritten societal rules everyone follows but are not sure why. I got off on the correct floor and parted ways with a few others walking down a long hallway to Neil’s office.

The door was open when I got there and Neil was on the phone. I knocked quietly on the door jamb so he would know I was there. He gave me the universal wait a minute sign by holding his finger up, so I waited in the hallway pacing around for no reason at all other than to be moving.

Neil said goodbye to whoever he was talking to and hung up the phone. I took his ending the call as my cue and walked into his office. If you were designing an office used in a movie for someone who worked for a newspaper, you couldn’t get any better than this office. Virtually every inch of any horizontal surface, including a good portion of the floor, was covered with some sort of paper. Either full editions of the newspaper, books, binders, mail, magazines, folders, folios, pictures and generic paper from a printer. It was all there. No idea where, but somewhere. It made me smile every time.

Neil was in his late fifties and had been working at the paper since he graduated college. He was about forty pounds overweight and carried all of it in his gut like he swallowed a beach ball whole. The bottom buttons of his generic button-down shirt strained to keep the two sides together. His grey slicked-back hair appeared to never move from all the hair gel.

“Hey, Alex,” Neil started. “Thanks for coming down to meet face to face. I don’t like doing things like this over the phone.”

My heart sank instantly. “Well, this can’t be good,” I replied dejectedly.

“Oh, not at all. Sorry,” he said back shaking his head. “I didn’t mean what I said to be taken in a negative manner. Bad news is always easier over the phone. Good news is best shared face to face.”

My mood immediately changed for the better. I had received some positive feedback from my The Thousand Words column but not much directly from the newspaper. I figured they were keeping it to themselves regardless of how it was doing. Bad and it would be easy to let me go. Good and they wouldn’t have to tell me to keep my payments low. I just smiled and stayed silent.

Neil continued on right away. “The feature every other Sunday is doing quite well. It is one of the top hits on our website and the survey we recently completed with longtime subscribers had it scoring in the top twenty percent of columns. It’s doing wonderfully. The favorable feedback is a great sign. There are two things we need to talk about, though. The first one will most likely annoy you and I already know your feelings on this after our many, many discussions on the subject.”

I already knew where this was going. “It’s the title, right?” I asked. I titled my column and blog The Thousand Words with the word The always included as part of the title. It meant these are the thousand words that describe the picture instead of some random words. Not one more or one less. Exactly the right one thousand words. It looked great on websites and in print but was often time a bit cumbersome when it was referred to in conversation. Jane and I had a number of heated discussions on this specific topic before she understood where I was coming from.

“Yup. Not a huge deal in my mind but I know it’s a big one for you. Some of the folks here want to simplify the name to A Thousand Words to avoid any confusion. I wanted to run it past you before I answered.”

“I like it the way it is,” I responded as forcefully as I dared. Friendly but firm so he knew my position. “The word the serves a purpose and it looks great on the Sunday paper and on the website. Did this come out of the survey? Are the readers complaining?”

“Actually, no. It’s all in-house when we are talking about columns, making plans and so on. So it’s our internal confusion when people refer to the The Thousand Words column that is causing the problem.”

“Then I would like to keep it as is if I have any say in the matter,” I said. “If the readers aren’t confused, then let’s leave it alone.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Neil said nodding. “It helps the column is popular so keeping it the same makes sense. I will see if we can just refer to it by a thousand words with or without the word the in front. Who cares as long as the column is correct.

“So, I was looking at all of your previous columns. A lot of good ones with the history of Cincinnati included. I want to see more of the columns include local landmarks, neighborhood, buildings, and history in the area. Focus on landmarks important to Cincinnati history. By my count, we already have published twenty-two columns with ties to the local area. I want more of those. A great deal more. We need to get the number up to about sixty to seventy about this time next year.”

I was happy with the local focus. I loved taking pictures in the Cincinnati area and then writing about the local history but I was having trouble making the math work in my head. “Sounds great but I am a bit confused. Even if all of the columns were local subjects, the increase would only be another twenty-six or so columns over the next year. Those and the existing twenty-two don’t even make a total of fifty. Not sure how you are getting sixty to seventy.”

“The total number of required columns is why I wanted to do this face to face,” Neil said with a big smile. “The content editors have talked and want to switch your column from every other week to every week. The column is doing well and we want more of them. The rate will be the same for each entry so you will be basically doubling your work and payment. Are you up for the increase in productivity?”

“Yes!” I blurted out a bit louder than I expected. I was absolutely elated. This is what I wanted. More exposure means more orders. A simple correlation between the two. No question about it. Not only was I doubling the amount for the column, but it would increase the orders from the website as well. “Sorry. I can definitely increase the frequency of submissions. The change to a weekly column is fantastic news.”

“It gets even better,” Neil continued. “The reason why we want more is there has been increasing talk about publishing a book. Local history publications sell quite well in the regional museums and from our website. Maybe even use it as a subscription gift addition. The plan is to have it out by Christmas of next year. Between your gorgeous pictures and the interesting writing, we figured it would sell reasonably well.”

I was stunned. Completely dumbfounded. My mouth opened a few times with me trying to say something, anything. Nothing came out so I just closed it at stared at Neil. This was the best possible news I could have heard.

“Your hard work has paid off. You will have a weekly column in the entertainment section of the Sunday paper. It is a done deal. Keep the creative work up and we should be able to make the book a reality.”

We talked for a few more minutes on various ideas of future subjects, varying images a bit more for an artistic standpoint and some various logistical issues. After, Neil stood up indicating the meeting was over and congratulated me, again shaking my hand at the same time. I practically floated back down from his office and over to my car. I couldn’t wait to tell everyone all about it, but Kelsey had to be the first to know.

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