May 28, 2009

My Days Are Numbered

Filed under: Atlanta,Media,Public Relations,Uncategorized — schroder @ 1:30 pm

In 1982, when I worked for the newspapers in Greenville, SC, I not only labored in the newsroom — writing, editing and designing the pages of the daily papers — I also walked the streets of my neighborhood just a few hundred yards north of downtown on North Main Street, delivering the paper to readers’ front steps.

As I carefully dropped the paper at my customers’ front doors, I remember being puzzled by the few neighbors — and there were only very few — who did not subscribe to either the morning or afternoon paper. I would drop off a sample copy with a handwritten note, asking if I could start delivering them a daily paper. I was usually successful in my sales effort, though there were a few intransigent ones.

These days, I walk out my front door and grab three newspapers delivered at 6am to my front yard: the AJC, the Wall Street Journal and, on weekends, the New York Times. Each morning, I remember that I am participating in a dying ritual, and it saddens me.

My days are numbered. As I watch our deliveryman drive down the street, I am amazed by how few — and there are only a very few — yards into which he tosses a paper or two. Sometimes I even feel responsible, as if I’m letting a 250-year-old American tradition die on my watch.

kindle

It’s not for lack of trying. I worked at six different daily newspapers in the South (including my hometown AJC) before starting my own monthly newspaper group in Intown Atlanta in 1994. But each day I read of yet another daily newspaper closing its doors. In fact, at least 120 newspapers in the U.S. have shut down since January 2008, according to Paper Cuts, a Web site tracking the newspaper industry. More than 21,000 jobs at 67 newspapers have been eliminated in that time, according to the site. These stats hit dangerously close to home. My prediction is that my AJC won’t be delivered to my home on Mondays and Tuesdays by the end of this year. Their business model is that fragile.

There are exceptions, thankfully. The Wall Street Journal showed a fraction of an increase in circulation last year. Locally, the weekly Atlanta Business Chronicleincreased its circulation last year by three percent — following other years of similar or larger gains. We maintain several subscriptions, to our office and our homes.

The Chronicle started the month after I graduated from college and for more than 20 of its years, the team of Publisher Ed Baker and Editor David Allison has delivered a well-respected paper, tightly focused on Atlanta’s business community. In addition to their print edition, they deliver a daily 3pm news alert via email, make their print edition available online to wacky folks such as me who download it as early as 5am Fridays.

In a sign of the times, the AJC’s well-respected business columnist Maria Saporta took a buyout from the daily paper and joined the ABC staff last year, where her years of institutional Atlanta knowledge will be a significant asset.

Maria is not content to write for the ABC alone. Schroder PR proudly designed and maintains her independent website, SaportaReport.com, which I predict will be one of the top 10 destinations to get local news and perspective in the coming decade of journalism’s evolution to the web.

saportareport

Our PR firm has evolved too. Nearly half of our revenue comes from writing and designing websites, producing videos, delivering eNewsletters for our clients and increasingly entering into the social media space.

I already have a laptop and an iPhone. I imagine this summer, I’ll give in and buy the new Kindle DX, a hand-held digital reader with a nearly-10-inch screen to which you can download books and hundreds of newspapers.

You may find me still sipping coffee on my front screen porch, reading the morning “paper” on my Kindle. I will be as well informed, but I won’t be as happy. For I will miss the sound of the morning papers hitting my sidewalk and the hours I now enjoy each day, turning their pages. I’ll miss the smell of newsprint and ink that has seeped deeply into my blood, on whose behalf I have sweated for decades and for which I will shed tears of sorrow to see them disappear.

November 17, 2008

Mississippi moment, exactly 30 years later

I walked around the Buckhead bar at one of the many trade group networking meetings I attend, this one with SMPS. I walked up to a group of one man and several women I didn’t know, but they were laughing, a good sign. As I shook hands with the man, I could feel my hand being nearly crushed. 

“Where did you learn to shake hands like that?” I asked him.

“From squeezing cow teats in Mississippi,” he said to the delight of the women who knew him.

“Mississippi,” I asked. “Where?”

“I’m sure you’ve never been there or heard of it,” he said. “A small town named Okolona.”

I knew this was going to be good. “I’ve been to Okolona,” I said. “Just south of Tupelo, where Elvis was born.”

“What were you there for?”

“I went there on my first day as a reporter, right out of college. I went to cover a march by the Ku Klux Klan, which was marching against some group … the United League or something. It was a crazy first day as a reporter. I remember Geraldo Rivera of ABC’s 20/20 flew in on a helicopter to film the whole thing.” 

“I was there,” he said. 

“We went first to hang out in the yard of one of the local residents who was organizing the march,” I said. “I remember they had a big barbecue before they went off to start the march and to face the Klan. It was kind of tense.”

“I was there too,” he said.

His name is Melvin Buchanan and that same weekend when I was a wide-eyed 21-year-old reporter for the Delta Democrat-Times in Greenville, Mississippi, Melvin was a wide-eyed 17-year-old just getting started in the civil rights movement. We agreed to have lunch soon.

The morning Melvin was to come to my office, I went to the garage and opened up an old trunk full of junk I have saved – much to the chagrin of my family. It’s not just the trunk. I have many of the newspapers for which I wrote front page stories in boxes piled up to the rafters. One time I was having lunch with Ga. Court of Appeals Judge Jack Ruffin, about whom I had written one of my more interesting profiles as a reporter for the Augusta Chronicle when he was a controversial civil rights attorney there. I had made the same trek to the garage that morning and found a copy of the full-page spread. The judge was very pleased to see it 25 years later.

I was telling my staff at our “huddle” that morning about Melvin coming to join me for lunch that day. I told them how I had met him and how he was there for the Ku Klux Klan march and how he was coming in to our office in a few minutes and that I would introduce him. I noticed Devin, our employee who happens to be African-American, getting nervous. Her eyebrows went up and she looked across the table at her office-mate, Amber. I realized I had left out one important detail: Melvin was black and he was marching against the Klan. Everyone broke out in nervous laughter.

I surprised Melvin when he walked in, pulling out the August 1978 copy of the DDT, with my Klan photograph on the front page and a full-page photo essay just inside. He looked over the photos of all the people in the crowd, naming one after another. I was hoping he would find himself published there, but he wasn’t. I’ll have to return to the garage … I have my roll of negatives from that weekend … somewhere.

Over lunch at Tamarind Seed, Melvin and I talked about the pending election of Barack Obama as president and what a remarkable change that represented since we first crossed paths 30 years earlier. Melvin’s engineering firm recently downsized amidst the economic turmoil and he was left without a job. But he dazzled me with his recall for names of nearly everyone he’s met and his knowledge of the construction and architecture and commercial real estate industry. He talked about the many people with whom he stays in touch and the many he mentors. To the young people who ask him advice about careers, he tells them, “No matter what industry you are in or what job you have, remember one thing: You are always in the people business.” 

Melvin will find a new job soon. People have always told him he should be in the PR business, since he knows and remembers so many names and faces. I told him I’d be happy to help get him started if he ever did want to hang out his own shingle. He would be fabulous at it.

Had I not walked up to Melvin that evening in Buckhead and shook his hand, we’d never have made the connection. Had I not dropped by my new newspaper office that Friday afternoon in August 1978, three days before I was to report to duty on the following Monday, I would never have been invited to go on the weekend trip to Okolona. It all re-confirms my notion that if you talk to anyone long enough, you’ll find a connection you never dreamed you have. 

Turns out that first weekend in Mississippi was a highlight of my time down there. I was so pumped as we drove back through the Delta that hot Sunday morning, back toward the Mississippi River town of Greenville, to what I was then to call home for more than a year. If that was my first weekend, I thought, think what the rest of the time would be like. Well, it was never quite as exciting. I covered police and courts and chased fire engines and car wrecks and followed murder trials and attended Rotary clubs and school board meetings, but they all paled in comparison to that first Saturday on the job.

That day in Okolona was fascinating. Lines of local African-American residents marching down one side of the main street of town, paralleled by a line of Ku Klux Klansmen marching the opposite direction on the other side of the street. TV crews in the midst, Geraldo’s helicopter hovering above, carloads and truckloads of locals shouting to either side.

The DDT photographer, Larry Looper, and I stood by the pay phone near the end of Okolona’s Main Street, while reporter David Saltz called in his story to the Associated Press. Larry and I looked over our rolls of film (back then we had to wait to develop them in the darkroom back at the newsroom). As the afternoon grew into evening and as David finished his dictation, we watched as the entire downtown – which an hour before had been bedlam and high drama – was emptied out of the last car and truck. A lone, white, skinny teenager, perhaps 14 years old, leaned up against the telephone poll across the street and watched the last car pull away. He looked us over and slowly walked toward us. We stood in the still blazing Mississippi sun as he stopped right in front of us.

“Y’all got a reefer?” he asked. 

All that tension from the afternoon drained out of the three of us. We laughed for a long time. 

“No,” Larry said. “We don’t.” The kid wandered away again. 

As the teenager wandered away, Larry said: ”Watching all this shouting and goings-on, I wasn’t too sure about this place. For some reason, I feel a whole lot better about this town.”

November 16, 2008

You Always Remember Your First

Filed under: Media,Public Relations — schroder @ 8:04 am
Chris Schroder

Seven years ago this month my friend Bo Jackson asked me to lunch out of the blue. Well, it was sort of out of the blue. I had actually left him voicemail six months before. The key thing is he actually remembered that he owed me a call. “And,” he said. “I’m buying lunch.

“How’s the newspaper business?” he asked as we sat down at Joey’s near Perimeter Mall. “Wow,” I said. “It has been a while since we last talked.”

Bo, a commercial real estate developer, spent the next 20 minutes talking passionately about a vision he had for the changing workplace. He talked about the coming retirement of the Baby Boomers, about the new generation of employees who were forcing technological and cultural changes in the workforce. He wanted to be on the forefront of the change.

“What are you going to do now that you left newspapers?” he asked.

“I have been working in public relations,” I said. “But now I’m starting my own PR firm.”

“I’m looking for a PR guy,” Bo said.

“Hey, that’s great,” I said. “I’m looking for a client!”

And thus, Schroder PR was born.

Today, seven years later, Bo is still passionate about what we now call the High Performance Workplace. And he’s still my client. You know what they say – “you never forget your first.” Thanks Bo. And thanks to the many other clients who have followed since. We’ve now grown to nine full-time employees and five contractors. Next time Bo and I have lunch, it’s on me.

November 15, 2008

Tell it like it is, Ted

Filed under: Media,Public Relations — schroder @ 1:27 pm

Ted Turner

2008 photo by Thomas James
from the Sunday Paper

I love Ted Turner. I’ve never shaken hands with him, but I’ve been in the same room with him numerous times. We even share the same birthday. Two years ago he celebrated his birthday with his family at a table immediately next to my table and my family. Couldn’t help but notice how well they all got along, as did we.

Of the many things I love about Ted, his genius for starting new broadcast concepts is high on my list. Making Channel 17 WTBS the first national cable SuperStation allowed me to watch the Atlanta Braves while I lived in small towns throughout the South. His founding of CNN allowed this news junkie a 24-hour-a-day fix.  I love his personal and substantial financial commitment to the environment, to the United Nations, to bringing back the American Buffalo, an indigenous mammal that we almost hunted to extinction.

But what I really appreciate is his ability to say anything at anytime. They say the worst speechwriting job in America is to be Ted’s writer. He never follows a script, but follows his own wacky mind. I’ve seen him speak a number of times and he’s always entertaining. It’s like watching a car race … you just know there’s going to be a wreck at some point.

I remember being stuck on the floor of London’s Gatwick Airport in 1978 for five days during an air controller strike. We read all the books and magazines our group had, so someone bought a Playboy magazine and there was a wonderful rambling interview with Ted. He had won yachting’s America’s Cup and the writer asked Ted if he wanted to be President. Sure, he said, he’d love to be, “but I think I’d probably have to be Senator first.” Yep.

Yesterday, I hosted a table of clients to see Ted speak to the Atlanta Press Club. I bought my guests an autographed copy of his new book, “Call Me Ted.” But what I really treated them to was another wacky trip through his mind as he answered the audience’s questions. Within the first few minutes of his remarks, moderator and former CNN President Tom Johnson was jumping to his feet, offering apologies to luncheon sponsor General Motors, who Ted had just accused along with the other big two Detroit automakers of driving their companies into the ground, in total disregard of the commanding environmental, energy and economic trends that had been buffeting them for 30 years.

“I’ve been driving small cars like Toyotas since 1978, when Jimmy Carter was president and we had an energy crisis then … I’ve been driving a Toyota (hybrid) Prius for eight years,” Ted heaped on a few minutes later.

Talking about the economy, he said he was on the cover of Time Magazine as its Man of the year, but then was let go a year and a half before his contract with Time Warner was completed. And he was the largest stockholder. “I’m proof that anyone can be let go. Don’t think you have job security.”

For my money, one of his more memorable lines was about the importance of being a father. He said he gave up yachting in 1981 when he was trying to balance work and family and he realized something had to go. Gone went yachting. “My definition of success is … I don’t think you can be called successful, in any phase of life, if you have a dysfunctional child,” he said. Ted’s children were there. “They all have a job,” he said.

A woman seated near our table asked a question at the end. Actually, she never asked a question. She rambled on and on about how she thought this and agreed with that, so Ted interrupted her and said a few words. She persisted, finally starting to ask a question. Tom Johnson was trying to take back control of the program. The woman got five, maybe six words of her question out when Ted interrupted her. “No, you’re done!” he said. The woman sat down and the audience applauded gratefully.

 

November 20, 2007

Breakfast with Bo

Filed under: Family,Public Relations — schroder @ 10:08 am

I am blessed with a large family, with dozens of cousins all over Atlanta. One I try to keep in regular contact with is my cousin Bo Spalding, who is just two years older. We had breakfast this morning to catch up on our respective families and firms.

Bo is a prince of man, with a dry wit and keen insight into media and PR. He comes by his intellect and charm naturally, being the fourth in a line of three gentlemen before him, each of whom was a managing partner of the law firm, King & Spalding. (We share the same great-grandfather, who co-founded the law firm in 1885.) We went to Georgetown Prep together for a year or two together.

Six years ago, when I left the newspaper business, Bo asked me to lunch at Colony Square in Atlanta, where his and Glen Jackson’s firm, Jackson Spalding, was then located. I had just sold my newspaper business to my business partner, Tom Cousins, and I was trying to figure out what to do “when I grew up.” Bo asked what plans I had.

“I’m not quite sure,” I told Bo over lunch at Houlihans. “I may start another publication, I may start an ad agency or maybe I’ll move to the coast and write a book.”

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Bo thought for a second about those choices and said, definitively, “I have two words for you, son … Public Relations.”

“Public Relations,” I said. “I never thought about that.” My only contact with PR firms had been on the receiving end of numerous phone calls to my newspapers from young members at larger firms, asking me if we “had received the press release” they had faxed us recently. That’s one of those calls that editors do not enjoy (more about that some other time).

“It’s a great business,” Bo said. “And you’d be a natural. Of course, I can’t hire you, you’re a cousin, but I’d be happy to refer you to other PR executives in town who could give you a feel for the business and maybe they’ll hire you.”

And thus began my transition to PR. I spent a year working freelance for other firms and, after a four-month stint as general manager for one small firm, I thought I had gathered enough experience to start taking on my own clients. So next month marks the fifth anniversary of my firm, Schroder Public Relations, and I suppose I owe it all to Bo. While I had worked for newspapers in a number of jobs, from reporter to editor to marketing and in-house PR, I had never worked inside a firm.

Bo was right, it is a great business. I enjoy the creativity, the writing, but mostly I enjoy being a business partner to our clients and a counselor on a whole range of issues, from media relations to communication to an Internet strategy. And the business model is a lot more successful these days than newspapers, I’m sad to say. I love newspapers, read numerous ones each day and I sometimes miss being on the planning end of a great issue, so it’s hard to watch the shrinking of that industry. But I can work in PR for years to come, even past the normal retirement age, should I – and my clients – so choose.

And, I hope, to continue to enjoy occasional breakfasts and lunches from my cousin and mentor, Bo.

Photo: PR Executive, and cousin, Bo Spalding

November 16, 2007

The Reluctant Speaker

Filed under: Atlanta,Media,Public Relations — schroder @ 9:07 pm

A few weeks back, when I read the email from the Atlanta Press Club that John Huey, editor-in-chief of Time, Inc., was coming to speak today, I immediately signed up for three tickets. Not just because John oversees 140 different magazines and has one of the most interesting media jobs in the world, but because he grew up on East Wesley Road next door to Tom Murphy.

Tom is an old friend whose family I knew back in the old elementary school days at Christ the King. Many years later, when I started a neighborhood newspaper called Atlanta 30306 in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood (later renamed Atlanta Intown), Tom was one of the first people I visited to try to convince to advertise in the start-up. He did, for many years. In the process, we renewed our friendship and became best buddies.

A few years ago, I was having a beer with Tom when he was discussing the upcoming 25th anniversary of his restaurant. I suggested he publish a book, recounting his many entrepreneurial adventures, but he was reluctant, wanting instead to print a book of recipes. I kept pushing him. “This will brand you in ways you’ll never predict,” I said. “The very fact that you have a book about your restaurant will elevate your brand, but it will be a great book because you have so many great stories. Besides, I know the perfect writer.”

Murphys

So thus began the long journey of Tom and my former editor and later bride, Jan Butsch Schroder, of compiling the book now known as Murphy’s, 25 Years of Recipes and Memories. The book published to great acclaim and a large, front-page story on the front of the AJC Living section. It is full of great recipes, photos and, most of all, stories … stories about being embezzled, robbed, about having to fire his wife after she threw a wet towel at him when a patron kissed Tom on the cheek, about the many great chefs who got their start at Murphy’s.

Tom, like Jan, is a private person, whose nature is not to step in the spotlight. And he hates public speaking. Once, when he had to introduce Hank Payne, president of Woodward Academy, Tom was too intimidated by the thought of standing in front of fellow classmates at Leadership Midtown and introducing the former college president. So when I suggested producing a video instead, Tom jumped at the chance.

As a child, Tom also had the distinction of growing up next door to John Huey in Garden Hills in Atlanta. As Tom tells the story, John grew up in a nice Southern Baptist household, but next door were the wild and crazy New York/Irish Catholic Murphys, with five children. Not only that, Tom’s parents also housed unwed mothers and, later, when Castro took over Cuba, dozens of Cuban refugee families. People were coming and going at all hours of the night at the Murphy household. John would look out his window and just shake his head at all the activity.

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So when Jan began to assemble the book, getting quotes from celebrities who once ate there was one of her many tasks. Katie Couric, a frequent visitor to Murphy’s when she worked in Atlanta, was a non-starter. Her office said she was contractually obligated not to endorse restaurants. John Huey, after a number of emails, wrote back a wonderful quote that we included on page 10 of the book: “I grew up next door to the Murphy family. They were an exotic family, to say the least. Dad ran a cheese business out of the back yard and did a lot of ministering to the poor. Mom was a nurse and there were lots and lots of kids. Tom, or Tommy, as we knew him, was always my favorite because of that personality he still has today. My most vivid memory of him is as a young child, standing down by the curb of East Wesley Road, selling hot dogs from a little stand he had cobbled together. As you might expect, they were good. And they sold. So maybe Murphy’s is really a lot older than 25.”

One thing Jan tried to secure was a photo of John. But she couldn’t find one on the Internet and his assistant said, “There are no photos of John.” So we published the book without one, one of many loose ends we were never able to tie up before printing.

So, two years later, when I saw John was to speak to the press club, I bought tickets to the luncheon and VIP reception for me, Jan and Tom.

When the big day arrived, today, we drove down to the Commerce Club and took the elevator to the 18th floor reception. I brought along a copy of the book. We had sent one to John’s office, but we were always unsure if he ever received it. When he recognized “Tommy” and shook his hand and started telling old stories, we asked if he had ever seen his quote in the book. He said he didn’t. I said we weren’t able to get his photo to publish and John said in his dry humor, “No, there are no photos of me.” So we showed the book to him, gave him the autographed copy and walked away. I then saw Spark St. Jude, a photographer snapping away at the reception, so I went over and asked her to shoot a photo of the two boyhood neighbors, holding the book. She was able to take one or two, when an alarm went off.

The fire alarms went off in the Commerce Club, so we all had to walk down 18 flights of old dirty stairs to the street. A crowd of people stood on Broad Street downtown until the firemen came and inspected each floor. We were finally later able to get back to the 16th floor for the luncheon and the speech by John Huey, which was hilarious.

“Normally that fire drill trick works so I don’t have to give a speech,” John dead-panned. “In New York, if people walk down that many flights of stairs, they just go on back to work and the speech never happens. It didn’t work here.

“When the Atlanta Press Club invited me to speak, I said ‘no.’ (pause) I still feel that way,” he said to great laughter. He went on to tell many great stories of growing up in Atlanta, working for The Atlanta Constitution, and working with Alexis Scott, now publisher of the Atlanta Daily World. John claimed he had been duped into giving the speech after turning it down, when Alexis called to ask him to give a toast at the 10th anniversary of her being named publisher. Next thing he knew, he said, he was being promoted as giving the press club speech. So he proceeded to give Alexis her well-deserved toast, as well as talk about other aspects of journalism and Atlanta today.

At the end of his speech, John reached down and grabbed the Murphy’s book and told the crowd to buy it, as it contained “many great stories about Tom’s excellent restaurant in Virginia-Highland … and a quote from me on page 10.”

And there, many years later, I felt my prediction had been reinforced in spades, that Tom’s book would help brand him and his restaurant. For here Tom was being endorsed from the podium to a sell-out crowd at the Atlanta Press Club by the editor-in-chief of Time, Inc.

Now, if I can just get that photograph …

Photos: The book and the co-authors at earlier Atlanta Press Club Author’s Party, Jan and Tom

November 14, 2007

PR Prayer Breakfast

Filed under: Media,Public Relations,Spirituality — schroder @ 12:00 pm

This morning my staff attended the first annual Atlanta Public Relations Interfaith Breakfast at Twelve at Atlantic Station. Organized by a committee of several PR firms, the vision for the breakfast came from Glen Jackson, a partner in Jackson Spalding, one of the largest independent firms in town. Glen’s partner is my third cousin, Bo Spalding.

Atlanta has a number of annual interfaith breakfasts and the tradition goes back decades to our city’s legacy as a beacon of civility during the turmoil of the Civil Rights struggle in the 1960s. One of the most successful of these is the Atlanta Rotary Club’s Prayer Breakfast, which I attended for the second year in a row this year. The speakers are always inspirational, but I especially look forward to the dramatic presentation by Tom Key of the Theatrical Outfit, one of the great treasures of this city. Glen happened to chair this year’s Rotary breakfast and I congratulated him afterwards. He told me about the planned PR breakfast, so I quickly bought a table.

Schroder_pr_at_prayer_breakfast_2

Another successful industry prayer breakfast is the Real Estate Prayer Breakfast, which we also support with the purchase of a table. This one was originally started in honor of the life of Mark Christopher, an amazing man of faith who battled cancer in 1996 and whose optimism and daily recorded inspirational messages of hope through the last months of his life touched many lives. He was scheduled to speak at the first RE prayer breakfast in May 1998, but he died that month. I knew Mark from my Friday Morning Men’s Fellowship and we visited him in the hospital once. We all went to support him, but he, instead, supported those of us crowded in his room.

This year’s PR Prayer Breakfast was highlighted by wonderful music by Third Day, several members of which flew the red eye from LA to participate. The most touching moment, though, was when Brenda Wood, a local TV anchor for 11 Alive, gave a very transparent testimony of the value of faith and prayer in her life. Interviewed by Beth Bragg of the DeMoss Group, she had the sold-out room riveted silently listening to her having been “broken” several times and how God and her faith saved her. Her facial expressions and body language were amazingly mesmerizing, as much as actress of stage or screen. Yet she’s a TV anchor here in Atlanta, and a great one – and a jewel of a role model of faith for the rest of us.

In addition to my staff, I invited Jae Stephenson of Resource Real Estate Marketing, and Sharon Goldmacher of Communications 21, who have recently referred business and offered advice to our five-year-old firm.

Jennifer Sheran, our general manager, my wife Jan and I were excited to invite our staff to the table. For many of our young team members, this event broke the ice of discussing faith at work. It’s always a delicate balance, knowing when to profess your faith and when to run a “strictly professional” firm. Thanks to Glen and the organizing committee for this and other breakfasts in Atlanta, who have set the table for those discussions to continue into the day, well after the warmth of the breakfasts have begun to wane.

Photo of our staff at the PR Interfaith Prayer Breakfast, from left: Evelyn Anne Johnston, Devin Releford, Reid Childers, Jan Butsch Schroder, Mary Martin, Lila Campbell, Jennifer Sheran and me, Chris Schroder.

November 1, 2007

Ink By the Barrel

Filed under: Media,Public Relations — schroder @ 4:28 pm

Mark Twain coined the original phrase, I named this blog after it, but the first time I heard the words, “Ink By the Barrel,” I had just finished a plate of warmed-over baked chicken, mashed potatoes and green peas at the Kiwanis Club of Augusta, Georgia.

Then-Richmond County Sheriff J.B. Dykes was addressing the civic club and I was in the audience, sipping very sweet iced tea, along with lots of other radio and newspaper reporters. As J.B. said to start his speech that day in 1980: “My daddy always told me, ‘Never pick a fight with lawyers, doctors or men who buy ink by the barrel.’ ” In case we didn’t catch his drift, J.B. went on to say, “I see there are a lot of reporters, so I better watch what I say here.”

The Kiwanians loved it and we in the media squirmed. J.B. seemed like a nice guy, but I certainly never wanted to pick a fight with him. Well, as it turns out, he had good reason to keep reporters at arms’ length. A few years later, he was charged with taking bribes to fix warrants for driving under the influence of alcohol. He eventually pleaded guilty to two federal charges of obstructing justiice for firing a secretary and threatening to kill a deputy – both of whom were cooperating with federal agents. The sheriff was sentenced to four years in prison.

I’ve spent more than 25 years in the newspaper business, from editing my high school and college papers, to working for six daily newspapers in the South, to starting my own neighborhood papers in Atlanta in 1994. I eventually sold the papers to Atlanta developer Tom Cousins in 2001 and moved on to the Public Relations business. I’ve run Schroder PR for five years now and a month hasn’t gone by when someone didn’t stop me and mention how much they miss my newspaper and my monthly column. I always say I miss it too and maybe I’ll write a book someday. Of course, I’m too busy with PR client work and not disciplined enough to write that book. The latest was a lawyer in Austin, Texas, named Hamp Skelton, a high school classmate, who wrote me last month: “I miss your column. You should do it as a blog.”

Here I am in PR, urging and selling my clients on writing a blog and I don’t have one. The cobbler’s son has no shoes …

So here it is, the start of my blog, named after what I would have named my book. I knew the minute J.B. Dykes said those words that “Ink By the Barrel” would be the name of my memoir. I’m not sure my life has been that interesting to write a memoir – at least not one people would pay to read. But it certainly rates the name of my blog – and it’s free to you and your friends.

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All of my columns from my seven years of publishing neighborhood newspapers are housed here for your – and Hamp’s and all the other fine folks’ who have encouraged me through the years – enjoyment. Today, the phrase still applies … I don’t print a newspaper, buying ink by the barrel to print on newsprint, but my professional team tries each day to get my clients all the “ink” they can.

Today begins my new path of writing – not a book, not a newspaper, not a press release, but a blog. Enjoy, visit often and post your own comments.

And thanks to my lovely bride, Jan Butsch Schroder, a published author who got tired of me complaining about me not following my bliss and engaging my passion – writing. She started this blog, posted my old columns and said, “Here, now start writing.”

Thanks to J.B. Dykes (Sheriff, wherever you are, I hope you’re well) and Mark Twain, too, for the title. Thanks for reading. Stay in touch.

Photo: My lovely bride, Jan Butsch Schroder, a published author in her own right, who inspired me to re-publish my columns and start my blog.

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