Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Last Mule










Have a friend whose life decisions drive her crazy, and likely into poor health, but I’m not sure she’s sees living any other way. She’s addicted to her work, and at one time I could see the value in what she did. She’s a journalism professor, but the world she has lived in is gone, perhaps forever, and now that she’s heading towards retirement I think she has a sense that she’s the village blacksmith, packing up the anvil and hammer, and walking away as evolution sweeps print newspapers away with the mules.

Was a time I read two newspapers a day if I could get them and I read one a day without fail. Now I cannot remember the last time I saw a newspaper in this house. I haven’t read one in years, not the way I once did, every article and every story. I’ve dated two reporters in my life, both protégés of my friend, and both very much in awe of her prowess.  Neither of them are still in the business anymore, however, and there are fewer people still taking the courses.

Yet there is she, putting in the long hours, correcting the grammar and spelling errors of students who have Master’s degrees, having meetings with students to explain to them that, no, cut and paste isn’t journalism, it’s plagiarism, and watching the world she knew get smaller each and every day. It’s as if she believes that by sheer willpower alone she can make her efforts find some sort of relevance for print media. Worse still, the younger students coming in are stepped in technology that they grew up using and my friend didn’t stop using a typewriter until she could no longer find someone to repair it. Yet she puts in fifteen or sixteen hours a day, bailing out a boat that everyone knows is sinking, albeit slowly, it is sinking.

News isn’t delivered like it once was nor for the reasons it once was. The Information Age died very quickly and we went straight into the Opinion Age. Facts became a burden to a lot of people who were talking so facts became a liability rather than tools of a trade. A person may well be able to seek out what is true but by the time the truth hits a story there’s a dozen blogs posted about the event with photoshopped photos telling the story that someone wants to tell, not what needs to be told.

And even the on the scene reporter has been replaced with some ten year old with a cell phone shooting from his backyard. The world has changed to the point that everyone can see everything and know everything right now. The idea of some thought going into something that’s been written is becoming obsolete. Just support the established mindset and drop a thousand words or so into between the ad for whatever you last searched for and the latest click bait.

There’s been dozens of events I can remember this woman missing over the years because she had to work and I can remember times when there were things that delayed her, or even stopped her from going to work and it was as bad as a death in the family to her. There comes a point when dedication is a detriment and I think she’s reached that point more than a few times, and it seems to be happening more often as she gets closer to the time she has to let go.

When we went over to a computerized system where I worked there were a lot of old timers who simply refused to budge. Typing was for women and computers weren’t very manly in their eyes so a lot of them were left behind the new way of doing things. I knew really good employees who simply could not or would not change, and some of their managed to retire before anything bad happened to them but others discovered they were being passed over for promotions because they could not adapt. It was not pretty.

But what of an industry that is evolving so quickly that there isn’t any stability in its future? What will become of the freshman who enrolls in journalism? What will the world look like in four years? Who can say? How does an instructor prepare someone for four years when there is no surety in six months? Who know what will happen or what technologies will appear? In my case computers facilitated the industry, but they didn’t take it over. In the case of my friend, computers were the device of choice for the people in all levels of the field of study and of practice. Information and facts were now found at the fingertips not by shoe leather or telephone. What is going to happen next?

The youngsters who are arriving at my door know nothing else but computers now. I have a little less than five years left and I will very gladly allow them to take over the world. I look forward to easing away from the job I’ve had for most of my life and I wish them all the very best but it is my time to go and find something else to do. That’s how I see it happening. That’s how I want it to be.

Yet there are people who bear down, resist the winds of change or try to harness them in ways there can be no telling where they will blow. Everything is moving much faster now and those our age have to pause to think where we left our glasses or why we were in this room to begin with. I wonder if someone close to me is trying to learn what her life’s work will look like in twenty years or if she is simply trying to hang on to something that began slipping away when the first word processor was invented?

I’ve never seen her look this unhappy or this unbalanced.


Take Care,
Mike

4 comments:

  1. "The Information Age died very quickly and we went straight into the Opinion Age. Facts became a burden to a lot of people who were talking so facts became a liability rather than tools of a trade." Nice. Sadly true, but poignant observation, nonetheless. What sticks in my craw, tho, is that grammar and punctuation and syntax - our very language - goes away with the change in the medium. That shouldn't be. Journalists should be journalists, whether in newspaper, books, kindle, blog.

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    1. I'm the world's worst editor and I despise finding errors in my writing after they go live.

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  2. She really has very little choice. She knows the proper method of responsible journalism, and that’s what she was hired to teach. Now the fact that a student trained in, and with a degree in, proper journalism, may get an internship if they have the right personality, is out of her control.

    Her choices are keep shoveling shit against the tide until she can retire, retire early, or convince her employer to change the syllabus to something she couldn’t teach, thus forcing her out.
    I’ve seen a number of people in that position lose their passion and just go through the motions, just a job while coasting into retirement. I’ve talked to some of these coasters and by showing a little interest sparked them into teaching me invaluable lessons.

    “A person may well be able to seek out what is true but by the time the truth hits a story there’s a dozen blogs posted about the event with photoshopped photos telling the story that someone wants to tell, not what needs to be told.”
    Spot on, a story will be all over the net and TV, hashed over by pundits and public, by the time a real article will come along in The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, or similar, that has the whole story. But it’s invariably a long article, and ain’t nobody got time for that.

    By the way, I copied your 3 ghost stories into a MS Word Doc so I could put my name on it and sell it to Hollywood for millions. That thing lit up red and green like a Christmas tree. Word doesn’t understand vernacular. Ha, ha, ha.

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    1. You know you're doing well when you are smarter than the programs you are using.

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