“Science may never come up with a better office communication system than the coffee break.”—Earl Wilson, American journalist, and author, perhaps best known for his syndicated newspaper column, “It Happened Last Night.”
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And like it or not, the only constant in life is change. Except for one thing. Make a note of this; it will be on the final exam. Coffee is essential to communication in general. Newspaper offices in particular.
Very little escapes change and what has changed more in recent years than the venerable newspaper? Even the connotation of the word itself isn’t what it was a few years ago when newspapers were limited to ink and paper for distribution. Today, your local hometown newspaper is delivered by mouse and megabytes as well as hot off the printing press. In either form, however, we still call it “the newspaper.”
While the local newspaper remains just as much a staple as coffee, both have endured change.
Just last week, we were ready to launch the newest step in the string of digital newspaper initiatives. Advertisers were scheduled to come in for a sneak preview. Snacks were plentiful. The coffee maker was ready for action when scarcely five minutes before time to start, the unthinkable happened. Someone whispered, “We’re almost out of coffee.”
Well, stop the cyberspace and printing presses. Put everything on hold. Someone hot foot it to the nearest grocery store coffee aisle. Stat!
Delving deeper into this sense of urgency for coffee, it hasn’t been that long ago that an office brewing machine with a coffee-stained glass pot stood ready to provide strong and steaming black “pick me up” java. The strength of that next cup varied in direct proportion to how long the pot had been cooking on the warming plate. Thankfully, packets of real and fake sugar plus powdered creamer stood within arm’s reach ready to temper the taste for individual taste buds.
By contrast, today’s newspaper break rooms have literal “coffee bars.” Computerized coffee makers utilizing pods to brew always fresh individual cups in various flavors and strengths. Fake sugar and creamer now share space with a variety of refrigerated dairy enhancements, regular and low-fat. And lined up in a row, bottles of flavored syrups offer elegance to a quick shot of caffeine-charged fuel for getting the next digital edition done.
Pick-me-up fuel was working on Managing Editor Bobby Pinkston’s mind at The Light and Champion office back in the day of coffee that got stronger by the hour when he leaned in my door one morning and said, “I’ve solved the problem.”
“Which one,” was my natural response.
Bobby’s reference was to a rather intriguing issue. A higher-than-average number of “mid-morning dropouts.” Staff members going about morning duties with glazed stares as if hanging on merely by looking back at the weekend and ahead to Friday again. Able to work only because they had a cup of three-hour coffee and a five o’clock dream.
Those who usually made it to work at 8:00 were sliding in closer to 9:00. The already habitually late arrivals were clocking in just in time to break for lunch.
“What’s he doing,” I asked Bobby, nodding toward the sports reporter who had not moved in an hour. “I don’t know,” he said. “I told him to get me that story on last night’s game first thing this morning.”
“Has he done it?”
“Don’t know that either,” said Bobby. “I hate to wake him up to ask.”
“You been makin’ the first pot of coffee every mornin’ haven’t you,” Bobby quizzed me like he was interviewing for the next breaking story.
“That usually comes with being the first one in the office,” I laughed.
“Well, it’s that stuff you been using to make coffee,” he said.
“That stuff called coffee,” I countered?
“That’s the problem, it’s not coffee. I saw that green package. It’s unleaded coffee.”
“Oh, you mean that new decaffeinated coffee.”
“I mean it ain’t real coffee, and we can’t get anybody jump started around here in the mornings as long you keep using it,” he said.
“I changed it because they say it’s supposed to be healthy.”
“OK,” Bobby grinned. “Then you finish that sports story I need, and I’ll let Rip Van Winkle out there finish his healthy nap.”
So, while no one was watching, I made a fresh pot with “real” coffee and ditched what was left of the unleaded stuff. Then over the next few days, Bobby and I marveled at the miraculous resurrection that unfolded before our eyes.
Change has transformed newspapers, coffee, and more since I entered the business decades ago. But luckily, there were a couple of things I learned early in the game.
One, there really is no better office communication system than coffee—real coffee.
And some forms of change are, well … simply best not tampered with.
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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune, the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, the Alpine Avalanche, The Fort Stockton Pioneer, and The Monitor in Naples.
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