Ad revenue kept the paper running

Brenda Dow was the newspaper’s ad manager from 1979 to 1994. Here are some of her recollections of those early days.

What a great job! Walking distance from home! Eight weeks off in summer and two weeks at Christmas and work in an exciting environment! After 17 years of stay-at-home motherhood, I was now employed as advertising manager at the Ward 9 Community News, located in the YMCA on Kingston Road.

At the outset, the staff of editor Joan Latimer, business manager Sheila Blinoff and I sat at solid old wooden desks in a room so small that there was little chance of privacy. It was… cosy.

My immediate job was to keep a record of display ads, designate appropriate space for them on layout sheets which then went to Joan Latimer to block out editorial copy. Two or three times in the two week cycle, the typesetter picked up the layout sheets, display ad instructions and art, and stories plus photographs.

The completion of the two week cycle was the second Tuesday, or Paper Day. Having followed Sheila Blinoff’s advice to ‘eat a good breakfast’, I arrived at the office willing and able to heft papers. Trestle tables were set up in the gym at the YMCA, and several volunteers stood ready to tie and label bundles for distribution to volunteer carriers. In those days bundles came in 50s and 100s. It was impressive.

My responsibility was to see there was sufficient advertising to justify the total number of pages in an issue. In 1979 when I started, there were at least 12 pages per issue, but we were frequently forced to go to 16 pages and then larger.

Work was a constant balancing act. If there was too much advertising for a 12 pager, the editor would make the decision to move up to a 16 pager. It was better if this was known early in the cycle, because it gave more time to sell enough advertising to meet the cost of the larger paper. If the advertising was light, the editor would be faced not only with finding the normal percentage of copy for the four extra pages but more to compensate for the light advertising.

Our dependence on volunteers, who ranged in age from very young to very old, demanded that we keep the size of the paper down. We never accepted flyers to be included with the papers. It was just not fair to our volunteers.

We outgrew our little space and  took over the large room at the west end of the building. This had access to the parking lot, making unloading the paper easier. The trestle tables were now set up in the middle of our office.

The papers were brought to the tail of the truck by the delivery man, and staff and volunteers carried them inside in a manner reminiscent of a column of ants marching along their trail and back again. There was a certain amount of do-si-do as volunteers passed in the doorway and between the two massive counters we had acquired about the time of the move. (The counters are still to be seen in the current quarters on Gerrard Street East, no longer twinned, but one at the front and the other by the rear door. )

Later, on my suggestion, I believe, we used a bucket brigade system which worked better while we still were located at the Y.

As the demand for advertising space increased, the paper took on more staff and feature writers. Some routes were reassessed to make them shorter to compensate for the added weight of the paper routes. Bundles became 50s and 25s instead of 100s and 50s.

While trying to keep the paper at a manageable size, my job took on a surreal character. Advertising selling in reverse! People who would have preferred a full page found themselves confined to a half or a quarter page. The real estate ads were running rampant and had to be restricted to no more than four pages in total. I acquired a thick skin about this time. Classified box ads were limited to one column inch. In popular seasons, new customers were shocked to discover that there was no advertising space available by deadline, even earlier.

Our success increased. We were very jealous of our position as the ward’s newspaper, a non-profit paper owned solely by the community. Challenge was inevitable. In June 1987, we were working on the last paper before summer when a visitor mentioned that some little group was trying to sell ads, saying that they were “taking over for Ward 9 News for the summer.”

We were outraged!  There was some bitter discussion. Wham! Bam! Before the day was out we were committed to putting out an extra paper to be distributed in August during the paper’s annual summer break.  The paper has put out a midsummer edition ever since.

Office life was never dull. It seemed that anyone who was anyone in the area came by at some time.

There were occasional out-of-office experiences, such as the time we were all invited to the opening of The Feathers on Kingston Road. We supported Sheila on a court visit to sue a delinquent bill-payer, disgruntled because we would not portray pubic hair in his advertising copy. There was the Easter Parade to attend … a visit to our printer Web Offset … even a salmon fishing trip on Lake Ontario.

On one occasion I found myself on the stage of Malvern Collegiate, presenting the annual newspaper award to two students displaying excellence in the use of the English language.

I enjoyed every minute of my life with the paper, and after retirement have gone back to bundle papers for about as many years as I was gainfully employed there.

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