OK, I’ll say it – the work that Jesse Duarte and Anne Ward Ernst do is hard. Duarte is a reporter with the St. Helena Star and Ernst is the editor of The Weekly Calistogan. I work closely with both of them and while Ernst was gone on vacation last week, I covered her beat by attending the Calistoga City Council meeting.
Both Duarte and Ernst regularly cover the council meetings, one in St. Helena the other in Calistoga. I get that privilege rarely … that is, usually when one of them is on vacation.
The Dec. 6 Calistoga City Council meeting started at 6 p.m. and went to 8:40 p.m. After that, I had to drive home, get some sleep and get ready to go to work again. It was a late night – at least for me – and an early morning, as I usually wake up at 4:45 a.m., so I can attend my three-times-a-week exercise class in Hidden Valley Lake, near my home. It starts at 5:15 and goes for 45 minutes.
The following day, Wednesday, Dec. 7, I got to work at 8 a.m., because I had a deadline to meet … I had to write up the Calistoga City Council meeting by 9:30 a.m. I struggled a little bit with it but finally wrote the first few paragraphs and by then I knew what I wanted to say, so the rest of the story fell into place. I made the deadline.
Usually reporters finish their stories by mid-day Tuesday, so an editor can read them before the day ends. There is always a Tuesday night meeting, either for the planning commission or the city council, so Duarte writes the story up on Wednesday morning.
By the time I get to work on Wednesday (usually 8:30 or so), our page designers have a few pages done in the B section. We have to proof those pages, to make sure everything looks and is spelled right — at least headlines, datelines, bylines and jump lines — and change what is wrong. We send those pages back to our designers, who are based in Madison, Wisc., and have to make sure those pages get there electronically by the 12:45 p.m. deadline.
Then those pages are sent electronically to the Press Democrat’s printing presses in Rohnert Park where they are printed Wednesday afternoon.
It didn’t used to be this way. When I first started working at The Weekly Calistogan in October 1979, the process to create a newspaper was completely different – we didn’t have computers, instead we used typewriters and computerized typesetters. It was all done in house at the Calistogan’s offices, 1458 Lincoln Ave. Marjorie Brandon owned the newspaper. At that time, the general manager was her live-in boyfriend, Jack Kenny, who had a background in print advertising.
Between 1979 and 1982, I covered a lot of Calistoga City Council meetings and I remember a few of those who served on the council, including Edy Wilkinson, Nick Rulli, Mayor Bill Berkhout and Gayle Keller.
It was difficult to understand either Nick Rulli with his Italian accent and Bill Berkhout with his heavy German accent, so covering those council meetings was a challenge.
One of the constants in Calistoga is Jim and Kathy Flamson. Jim continues to operate his tax preparation services business while Kathy is Calistoga City Clerk. At the Dec. 6 meeting, Mayor Chris Canning appointed Jim Flamson to the Building Standards Advisory and Appeals Board.
I kept working at the Calistogan until October 1982, when I bought the weekly newspaper in Middletown. There’s no city council in that town, because it’s unincorporated like much of Lake County, but I covered the school board there.
A few years later, when I started as editor of the Clear Lake Observer American, a twice-a-week newspaper in the City of Clearlake, one of my tasks was covering the city council. It seems there was always one person who had something to say about every item on the sometimes lengthy agenda, making those meetings drag on to way past 10 p.m.
There was a regular group of people who attended every council meeting and at one point, we all got together to bet on what time the meeting would end. We’d each put in a quarter and one person would win all the quarters. I won once and I think I got about a buck-and-a-half. It was enough to buy a cup of coffee at Denny’s, which is where we would all go to discuss the meeting afterward.
At the Star, it’s not my beat to cover the nightly meetings and I’m glad for that, both because Duarte does an excellent job of it and because it’s a difficult task, having to condense a three-hour meeting into a dozen or so paragraphs. But, come next year, when either Duarte or Ernst take a well-deserved vacation, I’ll be in the hot seat again, sweating out the lead, pounding on the keys, trying to meet a Wednesday morning deadline.