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Ark Editors Remember
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Barbara Gnoss and Marily Kessler
PHOTO BY ELLIOT KARLAN

Barbara Gnoss (left) and Marilyn Kessler

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By MARILYN KESSLER and BARBARA GNOSS Co-editors and publishers

Running the community newspaper - it's challenging, it's fun, it's frustrating, it's humbling, it's immensely rewarding and completely unpredictable. We feel privileged to be allowed to deliver the news each week, and honored to be invited into people's lives to tell their stories. And fortunately, we have been blessed with an incredibly talented staff.

Our readers are, more often than not, kind and supportive. They stop to offer comments and tips at our open Dutch door. They send us notes, sometimes even flowers and candy.

Every Wednesday, we are reminded how much The Ark means to our readers. We hear immediately when people don't get their papers, and they often sound a little desperate. An elderly woman complained that her Ark was missing. "You know, dear, I only go out twice a week to go down to my mailbox to get my Ark and to go to church."

The best and the worst thing about publishing a community newspaper is the immediate feedback we get from our readers.

Putting out the newspaper is like writing a term paper every week and then letting everyone in the community grade it.

Unlike large metropolitan papers where reporters sometimes never meet the subjects of their articles, we rub elbows with the people in our stories in line at the post office, in the produce section at the supermarket, on the tennis courts, on the ferry, on the bike path. People let us know if they don't like something that appeared in the paper. They stop us at meetings, or in stores, and have even followed us to our cars trying to get a point across. And, occasionally, we're threatened with a lawsuit.

Surprisingly, it's often something that didn't get in the paper that causes the most trouble.

One morning the late Louise Teather, our town historian who always kept us on our toes, called. She told us how disappointed she was that we didn't run a story on Tony Frank Day at the post office (never mind that we had run two front page stories on him in the two previous weeks and had twice mentioned the upcoming event at the post office).

Shortly after her call, the then mayor of Belvedere called to say the editor was "dumb" and "stupid" (in the same sentence) for not covering a speech he gave during Tony Frank Day at the post office.

A few minutes later, the head of College of Marin's drama department called to tell us how angry and disappointed he was that our review of My Fair Lady wasn't given more space.

Then, the chair of the Reed District Board of Trustees called to tell us how disappointed and upset she and "many others" were that we didn't print a letter to the editor that week written by one of the trustees about an upcoming election measure. She said we could certainly take part of the blame if the measure failed.

This was all before 11 a.m.

But it goes with the territory. On the other side of the coin are calls like one of us received at home very early one morning. "There's been a suicide," the caller said. "The family doesn't want any publicity but they know something has to go in the paper. The mother said she wouldn't trust anyone but you to write her son's obituary."

So, there's this crazy balance, heavily weighted, thank heavens, on the positive side.

Painfully aware that every issue of the paper is a chapter in the written history of the community, every week we aim for the elusive goal of perfection. Articles get posted on refrigerator doors, get mailed to relatives, go into scrapbooks. Knowing this, we read and reread all articles. We carefully edit them. We subject them to the scrutiny of our eagle-eyed proofreader. Our production staff sees them when they go down on the flats. And still, like cockroaches, typos manage to slip through. On Tuesday afternoons, when we see the finished issue for the first time, the errors stand out and salute us like soldiers waving red flags. Why didn't we see them during production?

One reader once pointed out a grammatical error in a headline, then helpfully suggested that our writers and editor be required to have at least a high school education.

Some errors have earned a place in our hearts:

  • In the police log, a man had an accident driving down Lyford because he threw his food on the accelerator instead of the brake.

  • In an ad, longtime advertiser and all-around nice guy realtor Dan Gould had a slogan, "Go with a winner, Go with Gould." We ran it "Go with a sinner. Go with Gould." We never learned whether it helped his business.

  • We also ran an ad for a home with a stunning slimestone floor.

  • We once positioned an obituary beneath a headlineless photo of Tiburon firefighters proudly posed with their latest training device, a lifesize CPR dummy laid out on the ground before them. It appeared to be the subject of the obituary.

While some of our readers think we know absolutely nothing - and aren't the least bit shy about telling us - a few think we know everything. Some questions we get at the front desk on an average day:

What's the temperature in Tiburon? Where do I vote? What time does Shorebirds open? Could you spell a word for me? Where can I get a copy of the L.A. Times? What time does the next ferry leave? What is the address of that senator in Wisconsin? What's the best place to eat in Tiburon?

 

 
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The questions we're most frequently asked:

Q. Do you print all the letters you receive?

A. All the letters that fit - and that aren't libelous, untrue, illegible, unsigned or that air a personal grievance about a private matter. A basic rule: the shorter the letter, the better the chances it'll go in.

Q. Do you ever make up letters to the editor?

A No.

Q Do you ever make up police log entries?

A. No.

We never know who or what is going to walk in. For example, a couple of years ago, a bearded man suddenly loomed tall at the editor's door, barged in uninvited, firmly shut the door, stared for a full minute and finally announced, "I am known as the axe man of Sausalito and I have a story for you!"

It was with a fast-pumping heart and an adrenaline rush that we tried to calmly convince the unwelcome visitor that the MarinScope newspaper in Sausalito would be the ideal publication for his "story." (After all, we only print stories with a local angle and we didn't want there to suddenly be a local angle to this visit.) He finally left the office but hung around town for a couple of days, camping out behind the Tiburon Lodge.

Back in the early '80s, a very serious-looking couple walked into the old Ark office on Juanita Lane. The woman silently stared off into space while her partner (who carried an assortment of tiny knives peeking out of his shirt pocket) informed us that his friend was the incarnation of "Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile" and she had written an important article for our newspaper. We had been lucky enough to be chosen because our name, The Ark, signified to her that we had religious connections having to do with the Old Testament. Her article was written in hieroglyphics and we were told that it contained an announcement that would shake the world.

We told the couple that although we were honored to have been chosen, the hieroglyphics would present an insurmountable typesetting problem. They eventually left, but the man returned several times during the next few weeks to make more fervent and less polite pleas for the publication of the article. When asked about the contents, he was always evasive. The Tiburon police finally politely escorted him out of town.

And then, again, back in the early '80s, there was the Main Street goose caper. On a hot summer night, several rowdy young men drinking on a boat docked behind the Main Street bars and restaurants decided that a goose that was roaming the small beach behind Tiburon Tommie's would make a delicious dinner.

They captured the goose and soon nothing was left but the feathers. What they did not know was that that particular goose had been adopted as a pet by the regulars at 39 Main, a popular Main Street saloon. The patrons were outraged. The Chronicle and news services picked up the story and it traveled far and wide.

And so it goes. Newspapering is never dull. Maybe that's why we can't wait to climb aboard The Ark each week for another surprise adventure.



All contents of this website © 2012-2014 The Ark Newspaper 415.435.2652
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