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A day in the life of your Alpena News

‘I eat, breathe, and sleep the newspaper’

Publisher/Editor Bill Speer confers with Circulation Director Ken Pokorzynski in one of Speer’s many daily meetings to ensure the paper continues to provide relevant local news and preserve the history of the community.

ALPENA — In the dark, tiny hours of the morning, vehicles line the curb outside the newspaper building in downtown Alpena.

In the coordinated chaos of the mailroom, head-high stacks of papers wait to be hauled into the darkness, ready to be read over morning coffee.

Every day is a story at The Alpena News.

The paper opens for business early each weekday, the cheerful ladies in the front office at the corner of 1st Avenue and Park Place greeting customers and fielding phone calls.

In his unassuming office at the front of the building, newspaper Publisher Bill Speer is the soft-spoken wearer of many hats, from forklift driver to counselor to snow remover. His days are spent meeting with person after person, strategizing, planning, analyzing. His is the the jovial laugh that echoes throughout the building, reminding those who hear it they are all pulling together, rowing in the same direction, creating a piece of history and telling a city’s story.

Pressmen Kyle Barrie and Gary Quintel adjust one of the 1,000-pound rolls of paper that are replaced up to five times a night to print one issue of The Alpena News.

Newspapers aren’t free.

In the classified and sales departments, tucked in the back of the building, dwells an underlying urgency to sell enough advertising to keep the reporters reporting, the carriers carrying, and the press pressing.

The cheerful ladies in creative services meet with customers, create ads, and find fun photos to go with the latest Red Wings schedule. In sales, advertising consultants beat the streets and work the phones, finding new advertisers and making sure current clients are content.

Consultant Shannon Knowlton stays late most nights, scouring pages to catch errors, pawing through the bottomless pile of pink carbon-copy papers that coats her desk, and trying to earn another dollar for the paper. As she shuts off the lights late each evening, she dreams of giving raises to everyone on staff and buying new cars for the carriers.

“I eat, breathe, and sleep the newspaper,” Knowlton said from amid her desk piles and lists of phone calls to be made and businesses to visit. “But it’s kind of a love-hate relationship.”

James Andersen, sports editor for the past nine years, captures a photo at a recent Alpena High School volleyball game. Along with sports writer Jonny Zawacki, Andersen interviews coaches, keeps tabs on players, and provides previews and game recaps for local schools.

In the Lifestyles department, editor Darby Hinkley never worries she won’t have enough to fill her pages. Fitting all of the community’s goings-on onto a page? That’s the bigger challenge.

In a time when many papers have eliminated their reporting about the softer side of life, The News still tells readers what they can do and why they should do it, providing a platform to unite readers in shared involvement in their community.

“As humans, we need more than just bad news,” Hinkley said.

We need balance, she said. We need good news. We need to hear how we can fit into our community’s story.

The paper’s sports writers are a blur of coming and going on a typical day, hustling to high school games around the region with cameras and pens, ready to grab a moment on the fly and bring it to life for readers.

Advertising inserts fresh off the press are prepared for bundling by workers Thomas Nelson and Allan Blaylock on a recent evening.

If a student at a local school scores a goal or makes a good play to help the team, “you get to be there to capture that kind of history,” said sports editor James Andersen, whose stories and photos are hung on refrigerators and tucked in scrapbooks all over the region.

A little moment in a little game might not mean much to the outside observer, Andersen said, but, to that player and that community, it means the world.

From the second-floor windows of the newsroom, reporters catch glimpses of the people for whom they work — the people of Alpena, individual lives strolling down the sidewalk or sliding past in their cars. For those strangers, and for the thousands of unseen sets of eyes who will read the reporters’ stories and find in their words a truer view of the world, four reporters make phone call after phone call, attend meetings, sit in courtrooms, and stand at rallys, taking notes until their hands hurt. They dig through files and try to be five places at once.

Because the stories matter. Because the people passing by on the sidewalk matter.

In the center of the newsroom, page designer Meakalia Previch-Liu changes stories into art, laying out pages to catch the eye and point readers to the news they need to know. Surrounded by the hubbub of ringing phones and hard-typing reporters, Previch-Liu, sunny smile always at the ready, endures the constant change in an environment that can be upturned in an instant as new news rushes in.

Lifestyles editor Darby Hinkley photographs artwork at a new exhibit at Art in the Loft this week.

Previch-Liu has learned to expect instability and to go with the flow.

“Well, it’s not really a flow, more like chaos,” she laughed, eyes on the screen before her as she tweaked and moved and adjusted the next day’s paper.

Late, in the near-empty newsroom, when the building is quiet and the windows are dark, the paper’s managing editor gazes at a screen. There are still stories to read and pages to prepare for the press.

The sales team and business manager and reporters have gone home, wearied by deadlines and dead ends. But in the press room, the giant machine — the most powerful machine in the world — hums to life. In a few hours, the day’s story, neatly folded, will arrive in yellow boxes around the city.

And another day at The Alpena News will begin.

In the newsroom on Monday, reporter Crystal Nelson makes the eighth phone call of the day.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.