Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rathdrum newspaper retires

Tom Burnett started The Rathdrum Star on a bet almost a decade ago. The weekly newspaper with its 10,000 circulation was recently retired./Bartholdt

If he were a car, Tom Burnett would choose a whitewall Galaxie with power steering and leaded gasoline in a century of hybrids the size of telephone booths.
And he doesn’t care how passers by on his two-lane highway respond to the slow blink of his turn signal or that his radio is AM only.
Not so much.
For Burnett, who until last month ran the weekly Rathdrum Star newspaper out of the corner office of a leased building on the town’s main drag, newspapering was a passion.
For almost a decade The Star, with its quirks and jerry-rigging, was a piece of hard copy on the modern highway of web searches and Online news.
It came in the mail every Thursday and each edition was parceled together with passion.
Each copy was conceived with lights on until midnight, especially on deadline day, and if there was an event, Tom went.
He carried his camera and a pocket note pad and he talked to people through a cropped mop of white beard, eying them through spectacles that were narrow and sometimes crooked on his round face making his eyes seem large.
If he didn’t quote sources pin-point accurately it was because he didn’t refer to his notes in the heat of the moment back at the office when the keys under his two fingers steamed and the words flowed as he pounded the keyboard as if it was an Underwood 60 years ago on election night.
He relied on his memory and seventh sense to get the news right, anyhow.
In some ways, he was the man on the masthead of the newspaper – rolled up sleeves, knocking the keys, churning out the local headlines.
“When I started in this business reporters still wore visors,” he said.
And most of them, he recalls, typed with two fingers.
He does, still.
There was irreverence and no time for correctness back then, whether political or social; tweaking a phrase being the sole exception.
It’s how he ran his newspaper too, and anyone who knows him understands his proclivity for well placed, if sparing, profanity.
At weekly editorial meetings, events, talking points and press releases were viewed sardonically at first, until the news was meted from them.
He wasn’t adverse to stand offs with advertisers - sometimes against better judgment - and if grousing were personified Burnett would be its poster child.
When he quit The Star at the first of the year, it wasn’t for a lack of desire.
Costs, the economy, and to some extent the changing times, those subtleties that gave the 1967 Ford Galaxie its beauty, and provides the same to the Chevy Volt, small innuendos backed by big bucks, slowly buried the 10,000 circulation Star.
For kicks Burnett looked for a newspaper job and found one at a Colorado weekly that looked interesting, but threw away the ad.
It would be like starting over, although if he did, it would be at a small-time rag, he said.
Weekly papers come without the anonymity that cushions reporters in larger cities, he said.
“There’s accountability,” and he prefers that in a paper.
For now, Burnett is at his desk in the same building on the corner of Main Street, working on freelance, marketing, advertising copy. Hum-drumming mostly. Playing solitaire and critiquing retirement.
He spent most of his life newspapering, starting at his hometown Stamford, Conn paper 50 years ago. He worked at the Spokesman Review, and was a one-time owner of the Post Falls Tribune. He started The Star on a bet.
Although he has fielded a few inquiries, he doesn’t expect somebody to walk though the door with cash, a plan to buy the weekly and shoot it back into the sky like on the Fourth of July.
Every day, he says, former readers tell him the town needs the newspaper.
He isn’t sure how long the banner of The Star and its logo will stay on the window outside.
“Until someone comes and scratches it off, I guess,” he said.

Ralph Bartholdt
Agent Keller Williams Coeur d'Alene 

1 comment:

  1. It would be like starting over, even if it did, it would be a small-time rag, working independently, marketing copy for advertising. Nice blog, Thanks for your information.

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