It was always astonishing to me as a newspaper editor how much readers cared about their puzzles. Make a mistake, leave them out of the paper for a day, and the telephone wouldn’t stop ringing. Have a bad question — or a bad answer — and you wouldn’t hear the end of it.
We journalists like to think it’s the quality of our news reports that drives loyalty to our work. And that’s true. To a point. But an editor learns pretty quickly that it’s the features readers look forward to, the things they anticipate with pleasure, that keep many coming back for more.
I learned this at the start of my journalism career at a small afternoon daily newspaper in Albuquerque, N.M., before the Internet upended local journalism. The then-senior editors, who were younger than I am today, taught me something that their mentors had taught them: A newspaper editor needs to pay special attention to comics, games and puzzles. My teachers treated the travelers who dropped by a couple of times a year carrying new offerings for the paper with respect, and tried to make their visits worthwhile. They didn’t want to send them away empty-handed, because they wanted to make sure that when they had something hot, they’d bring it to them first.
Papers in those days had geographic exclusivity. The comics, puzzles and games at that time were the same in communities across the country. It wasn’t the content that was unique. It was the ability to deliver them to a local area that gave papers their franchise.