Simple Saturday: Leaky Boats

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Every year, CareerCast.com rates 200 jobs based on average pay, stress, hazards and outlook. This year, “Reporter (Newspaper)” finished at 184, between “Sailor” and “Stevedore” (someone who loads and unloads ships).

Lists such as this are rather arbitrary, of course, but when did a profession that used to have at least a sense of pride become something of a joke in so many eyes?

One of the immediate answers on many people’s lips is the advent of the Internet and how newspapers were slow in adapting to it. That’s possible, but I’m unsure conditions at many newspapers were all that great even before then. I actually wonder if it was the incorporation of newspapers that is more to blame.

I unfortunately was not around when the newspaper I work for was privately owned, but I have heard tales from those who were. There were regular company events during the summer and holidays and real, honest-to-goodness Christmas bonuses. Even the carriers were treated well with giveaways and gatherings.

When the paper was acquired by a national corporation in the early 90s, the newly-appointed publisher’s first order of business was to make life so miserable for those with the highest salaries that they would leave, and they found a man who was good at doing just that. The good things about having your owners a direct part of your operations slowly vanished.

When I climbed aboard in late 2005, there was still a Christmas party at a nearby restaurant. We received $35 gift cards for our bonus. That downgraded to $25, then a windbreaker, then a hat and a tote bag. The party ended two years ago. Now there’s a buffet set up in the conference room where we get our food and return to our seats.

We have to make do with a mix of decade-old Macs and newer Dell PCs to lay out our pages. The carpets are worn out and dirty. Ceiling tiles growing mold have been removed. It took three drenchings of an editor’s office before the corporation ponied up the money to fix the deteriorating roof. And this is where the public comes to interact with us.

And it’s not the bosses here. They try as hard as they can to make things the best they can be, but they must deal with orders from above to continue cutting services, paper size, positions…

Perhaps corporate ownership of massive, nationally-read papers such as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal makes sense, but I don’t understand the benefit to smaller town venues who must struggle to balance a dedication to their locality with a dedication to a company headquartered several states away. Perhaps I am naive to the way business runs.

Perhaps I should change “Simple Saturday” to “Serious Saturday.”

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This sex is on fire

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An alert reader from New Zealand (wow, I have alert readers! and New Zealand still has people! I thought the sheep had taken over long ago) linked me to the recent conflagration of a brothel in his home country.

Prostitution is legal in New Zealand, apparently to the point where a known “massage parlor” such as Beauty 28 can operate above an Internet café on a historical street officials are happy to develop for public and pedestrian uses. Now, a crass, low-level blogwriter would of course take a news item such as this as an opportunity to spout an infinite number of obvious, immature, lowest-denominator jokes, so I set aside a couple hours to get in as many as I could. Reading over the story, however, I really have more questions that anything else:

1. Who puts a brothel over a café, or a café under a brothel? It doesn’t matter if the brothel was on top first, but the combination has to cause some confusion. Let’s say a couple of buddies are walking down the street when one of them stops in front of this complex. “Boy, I could really go for some hot coffee!” he says.

As the other friend, how are you supposed to respond to that? “Would you like me to, uh, just wait outside?”

2. If the brothel is on a historic street, does that mean it’s also historic?
Is there a plaque outside this place stating something like: “At this location in 1802, Prime Minister Percival Cobblepot signed into effect the Pants-Emancipation Proclamation, legalizing the profession of prostitution and demanding the full release of the Full Release.”? I hope there are no field trips.

3. How nervous was the editor of this story?
“Rachel?”

“(sigh) Yes, what now?”

“This one part, here: ‘A crane hoisted firefighters on to the roof to dampen hotspots.’ Can you reword that somehow?”

“What? Again??”

“Well, come on! ‘Dampen hotspots’? Doesn’t that sound a little… you know…”

“No!”

4. If you were a customer at the time the fire broke out, would it be something to brag about? You probably looked like a dunce tripping over your wool boxers getting out of the place, but if you’re a guy who would frequent a place of ill repute, you’d probably find a way to make it all about you.

I tried to think up an example, but it’s just gross. Get away from me.

Thankfully, no one was hurt in the fire. But if they choose to rebuild, a better name for Beauty 28 might just be Fahrenheit 451.

Simple Saturday: It’s almost not Saturday anymore

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Have you ever had one of those days where just enough things hold you back so that, by the time you want to do something you plan every week, you’re just about out of time?

I just finished up the Sunday issue of the paper but there are still about 40 minutes left in the day, so I thought I might as well maintain my streak. I’ve actually gotten a lot more efficient at my duties, though: on days when there weren’t delays, I formerly didn’t get all the pages out until around 11:45 p.m.

The season for press awards is coming up and I came in today to find I apparently had the duty of being the paper’s voice to choose the entertainer and entertainment stories of the year. Looking over the list, I discovered not much in entertainment news is ever all that entertaining–at least in a joyful sense. Jon and Kate splitting; Rhiana getting beat up; enough dead celebrities to make a water polo team. What interests people most in entertainment is actually pretty dark. At least balloon boy was on there. I definitely voted for that story. As for the entertainer of the year, I actually went Rock Band over any individual on a pedastal. Take that, Lady Gaga.

The state’s press association also accepted nominations for our own work this week, and I learned not only were some of my stories on the major summer flood here sent in for consideration, but two photos as well: one of a derelict building in mid-collapse and another of a young woman and a girl walking through the mud shortly after floods ravaged their village.

I’m not really sure how I should feel if the latter photo actually wins something. I never flagged those two girls down. They never knew I took the photo, even. I was just surveying the damage on foot, saw them struggling through what had basically become a mudpit, and took the shot. If there’s a monetary award, I thought, I would donate it to the continuing relief efforts there… except there’s not. Do I really still deserve anything for a spur-of-the-moment shot of people at a low point in their lives like that? It’s been a tough question.

Simple Saturday: Deadlines and Due Dates

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I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! We’re officially into the year-end holiday drive and that’s not always great for newspapers. While it seems there’s a ton to do, there’s less actually happening, news-wise. That leaves our queues of stories quickly running dry and everyone running about looking for features to write. We don’t just dump a bunch of glurge on you around Christmas because we’re trying to get you “in the spirit.” Many times, it’s all we have left to print!

By the way, the Child Who Shall Not be Named (Girl)Tim has officially passed his or her deadline, which was Nov. 24, I believe. I’m hoping I’ll be able to post a photo once the baby arrives, however, and am in negotiations to make this his or her Official Godblog. Maybe it’s already been learning of the world through the mother’s reading of things here, however, and that’s why it’s choosing to shut itself in…

Simple Saturday: Ups and Downs

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This week literally felt like a roller coaster, to which I blame work and Potter County, Pennsylvania.

First of all, though, I must mention great news on the video game journalism front. UGTV.ca, the site I’ve been writing for since the middle of the year, has finally emerged from its binary cocoon into the beautiful (and burgandy-ish) LeftStickRight. The general format and offerings are the same, but the interface is more reader-friendly and we will soon have a communal Twitter account for quick impressions and news. It’s one step closer to class, professionalism, and a cushy job in the industry.*

(*Cushy job in the industry not guaranteed.)

OK, so the week started off beautifully. I was still on my 6-day vacation and went out geocaching with a friend. We chose Potter County in the Keystone State to pick up on a series promoted by the tourism departments.

Potter is nicknamed “God’s Country,” and it’s not difficult to see why. Most all of it is open forest and state parks; unpopulated and pristine. Unfortunately, God apparently loves long uphill climbs and Potter County geocachers love placing their quarries at the top of them. Sure, the first few are a little exhilarating and the vistas up top were satisfying, but by the end of the day a sidewalk ramp was enough to make me quake in despair. All said, geocaching is a great exercise aid, since I never actually turned back from a pursuit all day and ended up with quite the workout. Amazing how Tupperware and ammo cans can motivate the addicted.

I recovered before heading back to work and I’m glad I did, since I received a fun surprise: hey, you’re in charge tonight and half the newsroom is out sick! I’ll spare the languishing details, but I ended up spending 14.5 hours working pages and pondered just sleeping on the floor at the end, curled up in my own creation.

The week’s over, though, and things have balanced out. I even have a few new entry ideas rattling about my synapses, so I’m feeling good about the next. Have you ever had a ridiculously long work period? Feel free to talk about it; I’m interested in hearing about them.

Over like a lede balloon

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Today’s lesson in newspapers is: The Lede.

The lede is the first paragraph of a story. It should provide a concise yet interesting generalization of what the full story is about while remaining entirely relevant. It should not be like the following, as captured by astute Internet person John Bowman:

 

If you read that lede and assumed the rest of the story would be about how Call of Duty makes veterans want to throw themselves off cliffs, you would be misled. According to Bowman, the video game isn’t ever mentioned again in the article. While the two facts of the lede are true, they do not necessarily go together. It’s as journalistically ethical as saying:

Just as annual sales of Thanksgiving hams reach record highs, so has the infant mortality rate associated with the H1N1 virus.

which gives the implication that a baby dies with each bite of your succulent Virginia ham. I’m not saying it doesn’t–you could have some sort of creepy Saw thing going on–but it’s not directly related to the swine flu.

But perhaps I’m attempting to analyze Celia Milne’s lead too deeply. Perhaps there is a much simpler translation that can be applied as to why she chose to write the way she did:

Just as my boyfriend continues to be so obsessed with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 that he has refused to answer my calls for three days, SOLDIERS ARE DYING. REAL ONES, BRAD. NOT ONES IN YOUR STUPID LITTLE SHOOTING GAME. WHY DON’T YOU COME UP FOR SOME AIR AND TAKE A LOOK AROUND AT REALITY–AT ME–YOU STUPID JERK?

And if that’s the case, I might actually be able to side with her on that.

Cursives!

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As someone who truly is a lover and not a <3er, I mourn the blows modern technology has inflicted upon the written language. The world has become increasingly capitalization- and vowel-optional. Weaker punctuation has been hunted to the point of near-extinction as populations of stronger marks like question and exclamation explode and increasingly gather in packs. You think I'm lying???? Just look at them!!!!!!

But on the bright side, technology is evicting one trend that I'm more than happy to see go: cursive handwriting. I can't wait for the last generation of crusty squigglebits to flourish off into the sunset.

Sure, the concept of cursive wasn't so bad. It's a form of writing designed for speed and efficiency, right? You don't have to lift the pen as often and everything just flows together.

The means of educating us to the ways of cursive was pretty good, too. If you're like me, you were taught on extra-wide highway rule paper, like this:

Not only do you learn how to write the cursive letter “A,” you get advance notice on how to pull off a three-point turn.

After days at the desk scrawling out giant letters, most of us actually became pretty good at the style. Unfortunately, as life goes on, our letters tend to deflate into scraggly strands of ink. What could’ve been as simple as a shopping list is instead a matted hairball of confusion clogging the pipes of communication. It’s like an individual’s cursive writing melds with their DNA, creating a new dialect that’s only decipherable by them, and even then they sometimes can’t even make out what they’ve spazzed onto a page.

My experience — and personal vendetta — with all this comes from the newspaper office and, specifically, submissions from senior clubs. No, I have nothing against the Greatest Generation and its right to let everyone know their pinochle scores, but whenever a handwritten submission comes in there’s always a period where you have to pick out bits and pieces just to make sure you weren’t sent their prescription forms by mistake.

It certainly doesn’t help that our area has a high Polish concentration, meaning many of the names we have to spell out can be made by bashing the bottom row of your keyboard and ending it with “-ski,” as such: Bxcvznski (which, of course, is pronounced “Smithski”). We must resort to — and this is completely true — a proofreader who possesses major Polish pride to determine whether we’re even close with the names as we’ve decoded them.

So we give seniors a pass because of the whole World War two-peat victory thing, but if you’re under the age of 65 and want to make your local newspaper very happy, never EVER send them anything written in cursive. We don’t care how perfect you think your handwriting is; you could send us your new podiatry clinic press release in calligraphy on frameable parchment. It doesn’t matter. We will come after you, and we have someone trained in the Polish Deadly Arts.

End here with a smile.