At a newspaper, every roll is crucial

Behind every great news story is a paper trail.
Behind every great news story is a paper trail.
There are few things that can bring a newspaper to a halt when it is facing a deadline. In fact, aside from a natural catastrophe or a critically important breaking news story (Example: Anything related to Dancing with the Stars), nothing stands in the way of our commitment, as journalists, to ensure that the power of the press continues — unless, of course, the unthinkable happens, and we run out of toilet paper in both employee restrooms.

As professionals, this is a scenario we train for. We know how to recognize a potential “situation” that could leave us vulnerable and without back-up. Yet, as we learned today, all it takes is a momentary lapse in resoluteness for things to escalate into a full-blown crisis.

“Has anyone seen Bill?” (Note: The names in this dramatic re-enactment have been changed to protect the innocent, such as myself, from being physically assaulted by “Bill.”)

A cursory sweep of the newsroom lead to an exhaustive search of the front office, sales room, break area, composition department and, eventually, the restrooms.

Total elapsed time: 1 minutes, 30 seconds.

(We’re a small paper.)

Being that we are seasoned journalists capable of recognizing the most subtle signs of trouble, and given the fact that the news department is within six feet of the bathrooms, we quickly deduced that a toilet brush being jammed repeatedly under the doorframe meant a potential situation was brewing. And due to the respect I’ve gained from my peers in the news department, coupled with the fact that I was standing closest to the door, I was asked to investigate.

After talking with “Bill” and confirming that the adjacent restroom and storage area were, indeed, also without toilet paper, it became clear that our doomsday scenario had developed into the “perfect storm.”

I explained the situation to our publisher, who looked grim as he gathered us around his desk. “You’re positive a roll didn’t fall behind one of the commodes.”

I shook my head.

“What about the medicine cabinets?” he blurted. “Maybe somebody stuffed one in there. Or above one of the ceiling tiles?!”

Our editor put a steady hand on his shoulder. “This isn’t helping, and the clock is ticking.”

Everyone exchanged uneasy glances. We knew “Bill” had been sitting there for a good 20 minutes.

Completely alone.

Except for the scrub brush, and what must have been a difficult decision to use it as a signal for help.

“What about paper towels?” someone asked.

“We switched to those stupid hand driers, remember?”

The frustration was tangible.

“Maybe Bill could turn around and aim his …”

A unanimous look of disgust immediately squelched my idea. “Sorry,” I muttered. “I just feel so helpless.”

“What about asking if anyone has some tissue, or a handkerchief they don’t want anymore?” someone suggested.

Our publisher put his fist down. “I’m responsible for the safety of everyone in this building. I can’t risk starting a panic!”

And so it went.

Out of respect for “Bill,” I can’t divulge exactly how he was rescued. What I CAN tell you is he drew on his journalistic experience to get out of a tight spot.

In a completely unrelated matter, if anyone has an extra phone book, please bring it by the office. Ours seems to be missing the “Government” pages.

(You can write to Ned Hickson at, or at the Siuslaw News at P.O. Box 10, Florence, OR 97439.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

8 thoughts on “At a newspaper, every roll is crucial”

  1. “Out of respect for “Bill,” I can’t divulge exactly how he was rescued. What I CAN tell you is he drew on his journalistic experience to get out of a tight spot.”

    Yes, I agree that it is best to keep the lid down on this story.

No one is watching, I swear...

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