Twenty years ago, fresh out of college, I began my career in journalism. Everything was about to change in the industry, but it hadn’t changed yet. Print was king, profits were good and the prospect of any local news organization developing a website was the subject of a conversation that started and ended with the phrase “probably next year.”
I was hired as news editor at the Duluth Budgeteer Press, a weekly community paper that produced just enough news content to avoid being considered a “shopper.” Actually, for many years it was considered a shopper, but then another paper came along that was more of a shopper, and the Budge started to be considered a newspaper.
Manny’s Shopper was the weekly coupon rag that lowered the bar and lifted the Budgeteer to prominence. Although no one these days seems to know who Manny was or much else about what became of his shopper, one thing was important 20 years ago: it had committed what is probably not the biggest, but quite likely is the most hilarious, print media blunder northern Minnesota has ever known.
Shortly after my arrival at the Budgeteer in 1996, an advertising salesperson stopped at my desk to share the story. It was a tale already a few years old. I’d guess the incident must have went down around 1993. If I had heard about it when it happened, I had forgotten about it by 1996. Maybe I didn’t believe it the first time. I hadn’t seen the evidence.
Of course, maybe the evidence was doctored up and the whole story was an elaborate hoax to scare the new kid into being careful. I like to run those paranoid notions around in my head. Anyway, fact or fiction, here’s how I remember the story being told to me.
Back in the day, the Carlton edition of Manny’s Shopper ran an ad every week for the Stage Stop Restaurant & Saloon on Highway 210. The framework of the ad was always the same, but the list of daily specials changed frequently. One day, the graphic designer at the paper was updating the specials and thought it would be amusing to mock the ad up with a different slogan than usual … you know, just for laughs among people in the office.
The mockup eventually landed on the desk of the ad salesperson, but apparently no one was snickering nearby, waiting to point out the joke. The salesperson looked over the list of specials and paid no attention to the slogan, which had always been the same in the past. So, yes, the gag ad ran in the paper.
See for yourself. I’ve kept a photocopy of it for 20 years.
Of course, sometimes what starts out funny ends up not being very funny, and then it gets funny again. According to the version of the story I was told, both the ad designer and the sales person were fired. But the happy ending is that the Stage Stop owners were not upset at all and reported record sales after the ad ran. The taste of their food became the talk of the town. How could people resist going there?
It’s not really surprising that the ad designer was fired. There’s an easy lesson to take from this story: be careful clowning around on the job or you won’t have one.
Reasonable people will stick up for the salesperson, though. Why would someone be expected to notice the slogan was changed? An efficient worker will carefully look over the list of specials and not bother reading the parts that should be unaltered. So, really, the salesperson did nothing wrong.
Well, maybe we don’t know all the facts, and maybe we don’t even know half of the facts, but we can still pull a lesson out: Sometimes owners and managers feel the need to set a strong example, even if it seems unjust. Most of us don’t like that, but knowing it’s a reality is the fastest way to cope. Sometimes you have to eat what’s on your plate, even if it tastes just like shit.
Paul Lundgren is author of The Spowl Ribbon, a book released in 2010 that finally broke even in 2015. Publishing success!
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