When I started my first job, my boss let me take his family station wagon around my hometown of Britton to check if anyone needed to run an ad that week in the newspaper.
I could handle Chuck Card’s station wagon, but I really wasn’t good at selling his advertising. Each stop would go something like this, “Just checking to see if you need an ad this week.” I might as well have said, “You don’t need an ad this week, do you?”
Despite often being turned down, my first boss never scolded me. Sometimes, I think he probably called the advertisers back and made phone sales to compensate because every week, there were advertisements in the paper.
That summer when I was still a teenager in the early 1980s, Chuck was recovering from surgery and wasn’t able to easily walk up and down the two-block Main Street or zip over to the credit union and Cenex station on the highway as comfortably as he had before. So, he trusted a kid and encouraged me with a kind smile. He soon recovered, and left me to stick with writing up the smaller stories in the paper, including baseball scores delivered to the office on vague, hand-written slips of paper. He went back to calling on advertisers.
He had been owner and publisher of the Britton Journal for more than 30 years at that point, was the father of a classmate and showed up at what seemed like every event in town. He bought the newspaper in 1950 after graduating with a journalism degree from South Dakota State University, where he had been sports editor and editor of the Collegian, as well as student body president. His father, Harold Card, had owned the Webster Reporter & Farmer for years in Chuck’s hometown, and he followed in the family business.
Chuck worked at the paper for 65 years, and didn’t officially quit until about four years ago, even offering to help from his wheelchair at the local nursing home, according to his obituary. He died at age 90 on Jan. 25. His oldest son, Doug, bought the paper in 1997, keeping the Britton Journal in their family for another generation.
Everyone likely remembers some lessons learned from their first boss. Mine showed me the vintage printing equipment in the back shop and explained how it worked. He encouraged me to look at historical issues of the paper. He expected me to do a fair and accurate job on whatever I wrote on that manual typewriter. He smiled a lot, a warm, genuine smile that showed that he really loved what he did, chronicling the sometimes simple, sometimes complex issues in a small town. He showed me that newspapers are a big part of any town.
He was dedicated to community journalism through his efforts to chronical government and his commitment to taking pictures of school events, 4-H competitions, games, businesses and any other news that made the paper each week. He even announced the home football games for years. He knew all of us kids, partly because he had six kids of his own but mostly because he paid attention and had taken our pictures for the paper.
He didn’t have to remind people that the paper that came out was important to Brittons now and in the future. That’s just how it was and how community newspapers should be.
In doing that work, he saved everything, too. Papers piled up on not just the top of his desk but the floor surrounding it. These were the days before emails and computer files, and everything came in on a sheet of paper or was written in a notebook. He kept it all, stacked right at his fingertips in case he ever needed it.
Some who have worked with me over the years would say that I learned that filing skill from my first boss, too. I tend to hang onto things way too long.
Looking at his career, he’s a great example of all those weekly newspaper editors who have given their community a glimpse of itself and a record for their towns over the years. In many cases, they still do that vital work, and I hope they always will for communities such as Britton and Flandreau, the papers that so far bookend my career in the business. With any luck, there will be a new generation of journalists to keep those local newspapers vibrant and relevant in their communities.
It’s been more than 35 years since my first boss gave a lucky kid her start. I’m still a subscriber, and I’m forever grateful for that opportunity to learn.