There’s this annual section in my newspaper called Readers’ Choice. I’ve been working it for years. Newspaper readers vote for their favorite dentist, hair stylist, Italian restaurant or whatever, the votes get tabulated, then they are separated into winners and favorites, generally in both east and west county. These winners and favorites are published in the Readers’ Choice section, which comes out in spring.
It’s a nice way to acknowledge the county's businesses, and, yeah, it’s advertising revenue for the paper. But the winners and favorites are NOT obligated to pay for an ad and they still get a free write-up—a brief advertorial about the business, with maybe one or two quotes from the owner—which is done by me or some other freelancer or, occasionally, a staffer.
These are over-the-phone interviews that shouldn't take too long. After the interview, I do the very brief write-up (this year, it’s 100 words each), I send it in, and then I get paid. This is how it SHOULD work, all easy-peasy-like, but doesn’t because sometimes it takes fourteen phone calls to get ahold of the interviewee. There have been other factors that have created problems, issues, delays, etc., a few of which I am pleased to regale you with forthwith.
There was that one year I got laryngitis and still had to make calls to do the interviews. I sounded worse than I felt, and I didn’t feel very well. I did it anyway because I was committed to doing the work. (This is how I am. For instance, I go to two police stations every Monday—or Tuesday, if Monday is a holiday—to do the crime blotters, and I’ve never called out sick, even the time I had a stomach virus. And, believe me, you don’t want to hear THAT story.)
The Year of the Laryngitis, one of the places I called was a (certain type of beverage) store. In my extremely hoarse, obviously ill voice, I congratulated him for being a Readers’ Choice winner, and his terse reply was something to the effect of, “Yeah, you just want me to buy an ad.” He also intimated that the votes were faked. Um, no, that’s not correct. Also, HACK COUGH SNEEZE OW MY THROAT HURTS.
That same year, I interviewed a (type of business redacted) shop owner and, upon publication, the city in which his shop is located was incorrectly listed as the next town over. The street address was right, the phone number was right—it was just the city that was wrong. I mostly take responsibility for this mistake, although some copy editor probably should’ve checked it. (Redacted) Shop Dude had my HOME PHONE NUMBER because I’d interviewed him for a feature article I’d written the prior year about the popularity of (redacted), which, essentially, was free advertising for his shop. Because of the tiny error in Readers' Choice, he called MY HOME to yell at me, which I am not used to, and which was very scary. I called my editor and asked him to call (Redacted) Shop Dude and apologize for the mistake, and tell him to lose my number.
Bonus: this year, the new editor tried to give me that very same shop for a Readers’ Choice advertorial and I told her “noooooo” and explained why. She was extremely understanding. Also, she thought it was funny, which it kind of is. Now.
Once, I had to interview the director of a funeral home for Readers' Choice. Remember, these articles are only 100 words, about two short paragraphs. (We used to also do 200-word pieces, which are still pretty short.) Anyway, Funeral Director Dude wanted—in addition to the basic information about the business—to include a rather lengthy POEM ABOUT FUNERAL DIRECTORS.
After my initial Jaw Drop of Dismay (but glad he couldn't see my reaction because we were on the phone), I mumbled an adequate response. I then contacted my editor at the time (she no longer works there) and she laughed and said she’d figure something out.
I have been very fortunate to have some great editors.
This year, I called a place that insisted I come in and experience (their category) in order to write a good article. The manager of the joint was audibly exasperated when I explained that it would be a very brief piece and continued to ask him questions about his services. He continued to insist I visit the venue. He actually SIGHED when I said, “What if I just get the info from your website?” My editor, thankfully, volunteered to write this one because she was familiar with (their category).
Also this year, I made the mistake of calling several Readers’ Choice winners/favorites on April 1. The one I talked to for at least twenty minutes, conducting what I thought was a very professional interview, was so sure it was an April Fools’ prank that, after I hung up, he called my editor. I had to call them back and assure them it was no joke.
Time is money, people. Meaning my twenty bucks per advertorial sometimes ends up being about four bucks an hour. Which I’m pretty sure isn’t a living wage, even for freelance writers.