The classified advertising section of a daily newspaper is a veritable mirror of a community.
Classified advertising sections have the most diversity, widest range of interest and usually with appeal to anyone and everyone. Newspaper readership surveys tell us that the classified advertising section at most papers is the second or third most widely read feature of the paper behind only Dear Abby and the obituaries. And it’s no wonder.
One can drive into a perfectly strange city, pick up a copy of the local paper, and in a matter of minutes find a place to eat, sleep and be entertained. If you are inclined to stay you can find an apartment to rent, a house to buy and probably a job. Big city newspapers have such expansive classified sections you can read yourself to sleep. They can become like reading a phone book pretty quickly. In fact some of the publications in most cities are nothing but classified advertising specializing in cars, real estate or sometimes they are directories through the seedy side of town. You can pick them up free in a metal box or a plastic stand on the street corner.
But small town classified sections take you from one topic to another and cross all matters of interest in that town.
There is usually information on living people, dead people and people who may be either dead or alive. There are ads on how to start relationships, get out of relationships, or improve existing relationships. There are places to buy hay, sell hay, buy goats, sell goats or even rent goats for breeding purposes. There are ads in Spanish and English, ads for raising houses and for razing houses. There are ads telling what (or who) has been lost or found, ads announcing births, baptisms and estate settlements.
Garage sales are matters of grave concern in most communities. Garage sale addicts are a zealous and often aggressive lot. Wednesday and Thursday afternoons can be very busy times in newspaper classified offices as people are placing their ads for their weekend sale. Friday’s paper is usually second only to Sunday in sales because people are tracking the garage sale circuit. Some papers even include a city map in the Friday and Saturday paper to assist the garage sale nomads through town.
The range of services offered will usually tell something about the community. I remember living in a very dairy oriented community. The range of services offered included dead cow pickup, manure removal, feed transport, lagoon pumping and jobs for milk truck drivers. It was clear that dairy was big business there.
There’s usually an assortment of strange, controversial and even entertaining ads. For example, I’m not sure I’m interested in the “USED MATTRESS AND BOX SPRINGS” even if it like new. I still wonder who used it and for what. I’m not sure I want to buy a “USED BATTERY” from somebody who buys “JUNKED BATTERIES.” I’d be afraid I’d be buying back a battery I just sold. Of course they are always “GUARANTEED.”
The most amusing ads usually involve heartbreak and love gone sour and they resemble the lyrics of a country music song. “WEDDING DRESS FOR SALE — NEVER USED” is pretty self explanatory.
“ENGAGEMENT RING — WILL SELL CHEAP.” No need for any explanation here.
I always wonder about fast talking ads with 1-800 numbers. They always say something like “1000% MARKUP” or “EARN $1000 A DAY FROM HOME — NO SELLING REQUIRED” or “OUTSTANDING OPPORTUNITY, SOME INVESTMENT REQUIRED.” Even the classified section has an implied “buyer beware” warning.
Most newspapers promote their classified sections as the place buyers and sellers meet. They are in fact a microcosm of life and an indicator of the economic conditions in the community.
John Kliebenstein is circulation and operations manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesdays. E-mail him at john.kliebenstein@