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Wabash (IN) Nixon Newspapers - 1952 and continuing

Willard Rohrer (WPR) became my official mentor when I began to work at the family’s Wabash newspaper business office through the summer of 1960, then full time after IU graduation. 

WPR worked at Wabash’s First National Bank around 1930 before he was recruited by Don Nixon (DMN) - my grandfather, and his good friend, Mark Honeywell (MCH) who inherited a large role at that bank during the depression since he was one of the few in town who still had money. A good portion was there on deposit. Mark hired some hotshots to keep the bank solvent. One, Burt Allen, came from Milaca MN, as did Ralph Sherping. Each had noticed WPR’s proficiency, in particular, how he had always balanced and then readily helped with other assignments by 3:01pm when banks usually closed their only lobby to the public.

Honeywell felt beholden to DMN because MCH spent winters in Miami Beach FL before it was easy to travel back and forth. DMN had taken over during one such absence to fix things after fire destroyed part of Honeywell's local factory.

Shortly after WPR began at the Plain Dealer, a stroke, which impaired his entire right side, left him unable to easily get around. His recovery took longer than usual, too, and throughout, DMN continued to pay his regular salary. From the time Willard returned to work until he retired in 1965, he took no vacations as a means to try to "pay back" what he felt he owed the Nixon family and contributed significantly to its business success.

WPR influenced my selection as his successor as company controller and official Secretary-Treasurer. He outlined the repetitive duty cycle and helped by sitting beside me as I was in his chair each day for a month, then would stay home but was available for the next year, on call for any situation, including International Typographical Union contract negotiations in Peru and Wabash. Although it seemed so much like throwing a non swimmer into deep water, WPR had supreme confidence his training system would work. WPR's one month and its follow up was a more thorough education than any Masters and PhD program of how to best operate a small local newspaper.

He could tell precisely how I was doing by how often I called, what I questioned. He anticipated my problems. I should have had that figured out from my summer apprenticeships as he was actually training me then. I would re-calculate previous years income tax. After reviewing my calculations, his review would often begin, "Well, that's very good work, and we will probably have to file an amended return, but, if you look in this file drawer, in that folder, you may discover information which might influence your outcome." 

Sure enough, there was specific evidence which confirmed his original calculation.

Because of his physical impairment, he was sensitive about feeling clumsy and seldom left Wabash for anything. His wife, Mary, drove him to the office each morning about 7:30 then picked him up just after 4 pm. He kept his current working stack of papers on the left hand corner of his over sized desk in a well worn Art James manilla file folder a couple of inches thick. Usually it was adjacent to the daily exchange newspapers which he paged through each afternoon. 

If you wanted information about any employee or where s/he was, whether in Wabash, Peru, Michigan City or Hammond LA, at any time, day or night, he would know where s/he could be found and likely, too, the establishment's telephone number. The puzzle for how he did remains unsolved. He only kept a Wabash phone book in his office and there was no such thing as a database or Rolodex, but he knew barbers, bars, hospitals, and it seemed, everything else. Although I don't think he ever went to Hammond, trips to Michigan City had ended after his stroke and excursions to Peru were infrequent. 

I speculated he reviewed each canceled payroll check and followed any trail endorsements led.

In the 60's, newspapers were the dominant news source, particularly local news, especially in small communities as Wabash. The local radio station, WARU, which served WAbash and PeRU, concentrated on Peru, a slightly larger market. Television was virtually non existent, with only two Indianapolis stations and one in Ft. Wayne available over the air. A decent outside antenna on a tower with directional motor was required for consistent reception. These stations’ local news didn’t include neighboring counties or any as far away as Wabash was.

Sometimes, an influential advertiser or prominent citizen would drop by our office and want page one coverage on some event s/he had a special interest to promote and more passionately, request or demand something be kept out of the next day’s edition. When requested to downplay coverage, WPR would usually explain his counter, which, after offered, never was accepted.

WPR would permit the person to select any place in the newspaper except the front page, on any day of publication, to publish: "I will pay $5 to everyone who calls me at 563-2131 before noon tomorrow." If s/he paid out less than $100, WPR would permit altering any offending story.

His thought was nothing could be buried inside and not read. Even on the front page it wouldn’t be missed but he felt confident of his offer so he wouldn’t need the most obvious place for exposure. The first rule of effective communication, getting someone to pay attention, was likely influenced by the law of big numbers, which meant even with the Plain Dealer’s 6,500 subscribers, which included about 2,500 through the mail thus delivered the next day, the 4,000 copies distributed the day of publication, were enough for someone to notice the offer and likely incentive to tell enough friends who would also tell friends, so only 20 calls would be needed to cover WPR’s challenge.

Back then, many newspapers placed classified ads as "run of the paper" which meant line ads were used as fillers throughout the publication which presumably made people search through the paper more carefully to find those tiny information nuggets. Incidentally, those “fillers” and other “shorts” which were used to make the lead type completely fill the column in a chase (page form), always had the highest readership marks in content surveys and were still used by the Reader’s Digest until recently. Most older readers remember fillers fondly. WPR was confident 1% of the readers, which would have been more than 8,000 people (160) would respond with a call for a $5 reward. (Incidently, Reader's Digest has re-instated a few shorts.)

Soon after learning about WPR’s method to avoid non staff editing, we subscribed to an advertising copy writing course by Clyde Bedell who claimed this classified ad in The New York Times: "Wanted, person to drive my car to Los Angeles, CA," had nary a single response. Bedell changed one word so it read: "Wanted, person to drive my Cadillac to Los Angeles, CA," and was overwhelmed with volunteers.

Later in the course, Bedell asserted people would read more of a letter with a PS, even direct mail, than one without. Research indicated the PS was often better read than the letter itself. 

About that time someone mailed me a letter using the secretarial signature line you asked about, which I thought was clever. Distinctive enough, I would flatter them, so I began to imitate that practice. Clearly I didn’t want to flatter them enough to remember who it actually was and give credit where due.

I experimented with Gina Lollobrigida, Marilyn, Bernice Kelly (who actually was my secretary) Christie Brinkley, Cindy Crawford and occasionally would get asked the same question you asked. Not too often, but enough to note that traditional mark tweaked enough impression to inquire or comment. Some speculate for every one who does ask, at least ten more want to. I seldom got comments about any of the other test names and not once about Bernice’s.

Rarely, any notion their impression was negative was not easy to misinterpret. Usually a hint of appreciated whimsy encouraged me to continue the practice. Over time, strong advocates subscribed to the mission to change attitudes toward working women as if women had never been required to ever work before at anything. I found out quickly many women had no sense of humor and took every issue pertaining to that issue quite seriously.

Usually my response was to use that tiny device as a litmus test and react accordingly. I would usually edit it for legal responses to be precisely accurate, but not always.

Finally I determined to make regular, routine use of it after I read John Nixon's (JRN) lengthy memo about a complaint he claimed to have received, which seemed to me so frivolous I was surprised JRN would ever invest so much of his time to write a memo to me, let alone try to modify its use or forbid me to use it in my business correspondence. By this time I had enough feedback to know how it served my purpose. I was also convinced he was not owning up to the true identity of his anonymous complainant.

So, after more than a half century of use, I still note when someone notices. And still, I’m always a little smug at each occurrence, so thank you.

Although now I might tweak the end of a letter's information in using an e-mail format, I still get away with using it as my seniority status encourages forbearance for almost all of my idiosyncrasies and offenses which seem to be tolerated, or forgiven. By now, there are also too many who don't know who Marilyn is/was. Especially those who don't understand they have become a beneficiary for the efforts made to respect all working women, which has been long overdue and which I fully support.


See: The New Grave Robbers - NYTimes.com
Today the right of publicity clearly allows people to control the commercial use of their names and images during their lives. What happens after death is much murkier.

Throughout much of the world, the right of publicity ends at death, after which a person’s identity becomes generally available for public use. In the United States, however, this issue is governed by state laws, which have taken a remarkably varied approach. In New York, the right of publicity terminates at death; other states provide that the right of publicity survives death for limited terms. But in Tennessee (whose laws govern the use of Elvis Presley’s image, since he died there), Washington (home of a company that purports to own Jimi Hendrix’s right of publicity) and Indiana (where CMG Worldwide, which manages the identities of hundreds of dead people, is based), control over the identities of the dead has been secured for terms ranging from 100 years to, potentially, eternity.

In a case involving Marilyn Monroe, the California Legislature even created a retroactive right of publicity, establishing new private property interests in the identities of the long dead. (It didn’t work, because a court later found Monroe was a resident of New York when she died. Her identity remains in the public domain.)

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/28/opinion/28madoff.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha212


Creative Thinking, Inc.  
  #EZ.57559 Exp 12-20
    Website Link:   nixonnewspapers.com
    Don Nixon, Chief Cheerleader, Editor & Publisher, Proofreader   Email:   dmn.ez.nni@gmail.com   Ref:   dmn:marilynmonroe  
 
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Years Ago
Wabash (IN) Plain Dealer: Merv Hendricks

Custom classified advertising‏‏
From:       Merv Hendricks (mhendricks2@isugw.indstate.edu)
Sent: Tue 11/11/08 12:13 PM
To:         Don Nixon II (dmnixonii@hotmail.com)

Hi, dmn (been a while since I typed that),

It will be next week or the week after, though. I am tied up in editing and designing an 80th anniversary publication for the Hoosier State Press Association — you remember it — and I have until the weekend to finish a 64-page tab. I have 20 pages finished right now, so that tells you what I will be doing with my hours away from my day job this week and weekend. I have been so busy with stuff that I must admit that I have not even looked at the links you sent. I will, however, before we meet by phone and will share them with the group.

And while I have your eyes, Don, let me say that I never appreciated how good Nixon Newspapers was and how good you were as a publisher until some years after I was gone. My days in Wabash, as I look back with white hair, were the best of my career. Yes, I was in some ways a bigger dog in Terre Haute at the papers here, but it never was as much fun, it was never as good of a culture, it was never as positive a place as was Wabash. When I think about a paper being connected with its community, I think of Wabash in those days when NNI was in charge. I really felt that we in the PD newsroom — and the PD in every department -- got to know the community and appreciate it, even though we had a changing cast of characters.

I also know now, which I didn’t know then, how much you let us, encouraged us to effectively experiment. Take the Saturday tab for instance. You gave us a toy and let us play with it. That was gutsy, given that we were all pretty much 20-something snots.

I also recall what I call big ideas that you and Ray foisted upon us — the Sunday paper covering the ceremony of the Wabash light, Ray and Harold’s trip to the Jimmy Carter White House, the Jane Pauley tab, the Bicentennial edition, the 1979 anniversary edition, the Ray Kroc tab. That proved to me that it did not take a major metro to do major metro kinds of projects. Hard work — damn straight! — but rewarding, educational and, after the pain ceased, points of pride.

For all of that and more memories whose brain cells have died, I thank you, first. I thank your late, great dad. And as I often have, I thank Ray, who I generally call or e-mail on Sept. 15, the day I started at the PD (1976).

I regret I was not more appreciative at the time and that I was often a problem in my behavior. If I could take back anything in my professional life, it would not be mistakes or bad news judgments, it would be bad behavior. It’s a wonder I wasn’t fired over and over and over. I deserved it too many times. Thank you for your support.

I still have, BTW, notes you sent me, usually written in blue grease pencil if I recall correctly, complimenting the newsroom on one thing or another. Those are still meaningful and will stay in my files as long as I live.

More than you wanted to know, dmn, but I never could write short!

Peace, love and rock-and-roll,

-- Merv

PS Now comes the hard part...getting it done...dmn follow the journey with us. The web site below was an effort to model local landing pages for every zip code with links to local activities. And use the original family newspaper name in Terre Haute IN: Spectator

I designed a custom program for unlimited content for local news and activities. It was modeled after the classified advertising section of the newspaper so it was easy to find specific items or businesses. Still waiting patiently to make progress. See the category following...and click: pickleballgazette.com

Follow up -- dmn


Creative Thinking, Inc.   317 844-8189
  160 W Carmel Dr Carmel IN, 46032 #EZ.54738 Exp 12-30
    Website Link:   nixonnewspapers.com
    Don Nixon   Email:   dmn.ez.nni@gmail.com   Ref:   dmn:marilynmonroe  
 
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