If you have always lived in a big city, chances are you've never seen Grit, which calls itself "America's Greatest Family Newspaper." You might remember advertisements in the comic books recruiting Grit salespeople.
Grit still lives, out there in the hinterlands. And while it's not a publishing giant, a solid one million copies of it are sold weekly to people who enjoy reading simple affirmations of the simple good things in life, simply told.
And Grit may be moving into the cities, where its distributors are negotiating to have it sold in supermarkets.
Traditionally, Grit has been sold by boys and girls -- the ones who read comic books and responded -- knocking on doors. This method of sale accounts for the largest chunk of the tabloid's circulation. It is also a method in decline. The masthead, which once boasted of the 30,000 boys and girls who sold it, now speaks of 25,000.
Even in small towns, the doors don't open as readily as they once did, and children have more profitable ways to earn money. But Grit, which has a heritage that spans 98 years, doesn't allow the times to change it too quickly. hEditorially, the paper still adheres to the principles of its founder, Dietrich Lamade, whose credo is kept propped on managing editor Kenneth Loss' desk.
"Let us always keep Grit from being pessimistic," it goes. "Let us avoid . . . making people seem discontented. Let us do nothing that will encourage fear, worry, temptation or other forms of weakness."
The aim of Grit remains today as it was almost 100 years ago. "To improve the lives and minds of readers." Grit, says managing editor Loss, likes to regard itself as the first people magazine, a precursor of People and the revamped, toned-down National Enquirer. But Grit -- unlike those potential rivals -- allows its curiosity about people to halt at the bedroom door and at the mention of anything that might be deemed unpleasant.
Grit is small-town, conservative, decidely non-intellectual. It dispenses anachronistic advice about churning butter by hand, folksy humor, stories about animals and nice people. Its comic strips are the most lowbrow. Nancy, Henry, Mickey Mouse. Paul Harvey writes a column. In Grit, you'll find bland and unfailingly flattering stories about celebrities, and a column called "Kindest Act." There's a sermon of the week, contributed by a minister. And inspirational features, like a recent one that told of the many famous people who started out in life picking cotton.
There are letters from readers like this one: "I get the most pleasure and the least trash and gossip from Grit. I hope it never changes. Thank you for such a nice paper."
Perhaps the most impressive fact about Grit is that it continues to flourish, to asset the same values and standards of taste it has since its inception. Soon, it may be at a supermarket near you.