Oh, stop whining
Down in South Carolina, Doug Fisher has come across a Web site, AngryJournalist.com, that offers a platform for venting, and the last time I checked there were more than a thousand small explosions on the site.
I couldn’t read more than a dozen or so before starting to mutter, what did you expect?
The money: Newspaper publishers were stingy with the help when they were making annual profits from 20 percent to 30 percent. Now, with readers following the World War II veterans up the golden staircase and advertisers vanishing even more rapidly, they’re not going to be more generous. They will cut the staff until the day the paper doesn’t come out, and then maybe they’ll hire one.
The industry: Professor Philip Meyer at Chapel Hill once tried to figure out how much money American newspaper publishing companies spend on research and development. It wasn’t easy, because newspapers hug the data they don’t analyze themselves close to their bosoms, but he was able to piece together enough information from scattered sources to constitute an informed surmise. It was that the amount of money American newspaper publishing companies spent from their budgets annually was equivalent to rounding error.
Expenditures on training of personnel have been equally laughable.
They were, however, willing to engage consultants to conduct readership surveys, subsequently ignoring any results they didn’t care for.
So of course the Internet came along and stole our lunch. We were fat, lazy and slow to innovate. Now we’re just panicky. Over the past few years, three major newspaper publishing corporations, Times Mirror, Knight Ridder and Tribune, were sold out from under their unwitting corporate managers. Some of us have had the joy of being sold twice.
The managers: Of course your boss is a moron. Don’t you read Dilbert? Look around your workplace and enumerate the number of people who got titles and offices with windows by never telling their bosses anything untoward, while sloughing off all meaningful work on subordinates. (You hear that, undergraduates?) The Sun has more than three dozen editors who report to me, God help them.
I could tell you about a newspaper (not The Sun) that had five managing editors in half a dozen years. Every time a new one was appointed, word went around the staff, “This one is different. This one reads Western literature and listens to jazz.” It took about six weeks to discover that this one was an even drearier apparatchik than his predecessor.
Since this is the way the world works in office after office, bureaucracy after bureaucracy, there is not the slightest reason to assume that newspapers would operate otherwise.
(I’ve been speaking about newspaper journalism, and I notice that a number of the wretched, shrieking souls on Angry Journalist are in broadcast. Can’t help you much there — I can’t watch local TV news without taking anti-nausea medication, and network and cable broadcast news don’t tend to be much better — but there’s probably little cause to think that broadcast differs in kind from anything else. Perhaps in degree.)
The complainants: So, as Comrade Lenin famously asked, What Is to Be Done?
Well, first, don’t count on a “vanguard revolutionary party run according to the principles of democratic centralism.” (I cribbed that from Marxists.org, not ever having been so desperately bored that I read Lenin myself.)
The current thinking in the business is that we will struggle to hold on to our declining corps of print readers and advertisers until we can develop enough new products, presumably electronic, to stay above water. That is about as bold as we’ve been lately.
I wish our masters all success, particularly in the years between today and the point at which I take to my rocking chair on the front porch of the Old Editors’ Home.
In the meantime, I have work to do, and so do the gripers. You want to know what you can do?
Do your damn job. You can see to it that the articles you write or edit are more accurate. You can make them more grammatical, You can make them clearer, and it wouldn’t harm anyone to make them shorter. You can focus your attention on what the reader is interested in and needs to know. Take responsibility.
And if your boss is a dolt, given the odds, you’ll have to develop strategies to compensate for his or her shortcomings.
Learn new things. The business got into this mess by being reluctant to learn new things and try new things. Learn statistical analysis. Learn how to manipulate databases. Learn video editing. Learn Web design. Learn some skill that someone is willing to pay you to exercise.
Maybe look elsewhere. It’s a struggling business. It could be some years, and painful ones, before we figure out and establish workable new business models. Life is too short to spend it sitting around complaining about a job you don’t seem to like much in the first place. Stop whining — and, by the way, #1009, whinging, or whingeing, from the verb to whinge, or complain peevishly, is perfectly good English — and get on with things.