My most difficult assignment

A while ago, I was called upon to do an obituary for the first time. I would have had trouble in any circumstance, given my own feelings about death, but this one was about someone I knew personally.

I had met this gentleman — a fellow journalist, it so happens — a few years, when I was brand new to the business. He was speaking at an event and I introduced myself after the program. I found him most open, as opposed to some of the people in this and ancillary professions I’ve come across over the years.

(An aside, because I have ADD (not really, and I mean no disrespect tho those who do) — In many cases, once I ID myself and my company, a switch goes off in their head and they lose interest. If you don’t represent a major outlet, or can do something to further their interests, they’re ready to move on to the next “pretty girl,” so to speak. (One of the rare exceptions was a major sports personality who spent an hour on the phone with me when I was basically just a free-lancer working on a piece for an academic journal. He told me how he never differentiated between members of the press from the NY Times vs. the little community paper, that everyone deserved the same amount of respect. Very impressive.))

From time to time, I would run into this gentleman and we entered into a friendly relationship. I called on him as the source of a few stories, since he was an expert in his field. He was always generous with his time and thoughts and I came to look upon him as a sort of mentor.  I was quite saddened when I learned of his illness a year or so ago and continued to keep in touch.

As a member of our readership community, when he passed away I was asked if I wanted to do the obit, something I had never attempted before.

Perhaps it would have been better if I had not known him. It was hard to be objective. I felt sticking to the facts was woefully inadequate. I wanted the piece to be respectful, admiring, thoughtful, not matter-of-factly.

The assignment got me to thinking: how do you sum up a person’s life in just a few paragraphs? This guy was a major personality, a well-respected, hard-working newsman, prolific author, family man. How can you do justice to that in 500 words? You look back when it’s written and no matter how eloquent it might be, you wonder “Is that all there is?”

Rest in peace, my friend.

I Got Me Them College Tuition Bill Blues

You know how it is. You have the best intentions of keeping relevant, keeping current. Can’t even blame it on the fall off of a New Year’s resolution — it’s been so long since my last visit, I forgot my WordPress password —  but let’s give this another go shall we?

Things at the office are pretty much the same as the last time. No new hires, no new fires. We have another one of those (*&$ furlough Fridays coming up this week. Wouldn’t you have thought that some marketing genius would have that as a sales promotion? “Come on down to (store name). You’re paycheck is (x%) lower and so are our prices!”

Seriously, how are people supposed to make it when salaries are going down, but prices are going up? We have a senior in high school who is cursed with very good grades but no outstanding athletic talent that would merit a scholarship. And of course our child wants to go to an expensive college (not because it’s expensive, but just because that’s where the kid wants to go) and do it “early decision,” which I am totally against because why would the school have any incentive to offer a good financial package. My wife and are are “cursed” in that we make just enough money to practically put us out of range for such consideration, for the most part, which means deciding between crushing the kid’s dream and going into hock for the rest of our lives. The situation reminds me of the scene between Mr. Potter and George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.. (You don’t have to watch the whole scene; the relevant part if right at the beginning.)

So it’s gonna be a stressful year. Who knows if I’ll even have this job by the time the kid is ready to start, or by the time the kid finishes? Regardless, I hope to be providing slices-of-life here on a more regular basis. On the bright side, if I do lose the job, it’ll give me more time to blog!

I forgot that it’s wrong to plagiarize

Steve Martin used to have this routine:

You can have a million dollars and never pay taxes.

How?

First, get a million dollars. Then when the IRS comes and ask you why you haven’t paid any taxes on the million dollars — two simple words:

I forgot!

I forgot I was supposed to pay taxes.

This came to mind after reading about the latest case of professional plagiarism. The writer is always amazed that he/she did something like that. It was subconscious, they say. But you know what? I believe it can happen, and that it isn’t always intentional.

When I worked at a summer camp man (many) years ago, I came back from a  day off to learn that a male staff member had been fired because one of the girls campers accused him of flashing her as he was exiting the shower. Now I wasn’t there to see the alleged incident, and I didn’t know the guy that well, and this may have actually happened, but isn’t it also possible that it was an accident? A gust of wind, an inadvertant scratch without realizing someone was within viewing range? The staffers were a bit put out that he was so quickly dismissed, but I can also see the side of the camp owner who had to protect his business. As do the newspapers when they let can someone accused of the crime of plagiarism, no matter how innocent or well-meaning the writer might have been.

Marketwatch.com wrote about this event. I find it a bit amusing that every first mention of a company is accompanied by the lastest financial snapshot. But that’s what this particular site is all about, I guess.

Discuss.

Fur cryin’ out loud: More furloughs?

Received the news today: More furloughed days off. Sometimes I wonder if management is handing us a bill of goods. Naturally, they want to keep moral high, but not only have we not have a raise in two years (speaking personally) but now we’re losing out at least once a month. Rats.

Did ya miss me?

Apologies to anyone who’s been following The Worried Journalist. (If you had actually been following me, you’d know what I’ve been up to).

Suffice it to say, the last few — what has it been, weeks? Months? — have been tense and interesting (like the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”) Things at work are basically status quo: management keeps saying how dire the situation is; a few people have left and heir jobs have been absorbed and distributed among the remaining staffers. I, myself, am now pulling triple duty, but how can I complain? At least I have a job. For how much longer, no one can say. Who knows, I might end up like Mark Zuckerman.

Who dat, you might ask?

Zuckerman used to be the Nationals beat writer for the Washington Times before the publication decided to jettison its sports department. So while he’s waiting for another job, he’s taken matters into his own hands, successfully, it seems.

From Zuckerman’s Feb 8 post on NatsInsider.com:

This site, though, isn’t a money-maker. I’m doing this on my own, receiving no income other than a few pennies each time you click on an ad.

So I need your help to make this happen. At the top of this post, you saw a link with instructions on how to make a donation. I’ve set up a system with PayPal, a safe and reliable method that allows you to pay by credit card with confidence. You are free to donate as little or as much as you’d like.

If you choose not to participate, no worries. You’ll still have access to my full coverage from Florida. But if you do participate, I’m going to return the favor by offering you extra, exclusive coverage all spring.

Here’s what you’ll get, based on your donation level:

$20 — Exclusive daily audio file of Jim Riggleman’s morning or postgame media session.

$40 — Exclusive daily audio file of Jim Riggleman’s morning or postgame media session, plus another daily audio file of an interview with a Nats player, coach or front-office member.

$60 — Exclusive daily audio file of Jim Riggleman’s morning or postgame media session; plus another daily audio file of an interview with a Nats player, coach or front-office member; plus the opportunity to submit a question to be asked of Riggleman or a prominent player during a spring training interview.

So rather than POD — “print on demand” — we gvie you NOD — “news on demand.”

Zuckerman listed a goal of $5,000; to date, he has more than doubled that.

God bless the child who’s got his own, but if this is the shape of things to come, we’re in trouble.

(Slate.com’s Hang Up and Listen podcast covered this story in it’s latest edition.)

He’s baaaa-ack

“Been away so long I hardly new the place…”

with apologies to Lennon and McCartney…

Things at the office are getting dicey. More attrition, which means the work that still must go on gets apportioned out among those who remain, which means a lot more work for yours truly. Still in all, I shouldn’t complain too much. At least I still have a job. But on the other hand, that kind of attitude leads to a sense of dependence and complacency: don’t rock the boat, keep your head down, or you’ll get sacked (fired for you Americans out there).

So here’s trying to catch up a little bit.

  • Michael Calderone at Politico.com writes about the new round of layoffs at Newsweek “[Editor Jon] Meacham, in a memo obtained by POLITICO, noted that the magazine has taken a different direction this year and, despite the layoffs, claimed that it “continues to appear promising in terms of building and retaining an engaged audience that we hope will be attractive to advertisers.” But what about attractive to readers? I’ve heard many complaints about the new look of the publication, the photos and even physical feel of the pages are unworthy of a magazine with such a long and proud tradition. Oh, sorry, forgot. No one really cares about the readers these days.
  • The number of homeless magazine continues to grow, too: Foliomag.com ran this story about “shelter” magazines, those publications that deal with lovely homes that look like they were set up in a Twilight Zone universe, i.e., no one lives there. Said genre appears to be growing. How many times have your passed by a furniture store and wondered how they can afford to stay open, since it doesn’t look like they have many customers, especially during the week? This comes at the same time as Hachette shuttering Metropolitan Homes.
  • A few entries ago, I noted the AP-free week that was about to take place. This piece from Mediaite (bad name, BTW. Sounds too much like mediaLITE, which has negative connotations) warns about such experiments, worried that they might become accepted practice among the large papers, already hurting for actual news content. “There’s no denying that the raw materials are out there,” writes Pat Kiernan. “But so are a million recipes for a Thanksgiving turkey. Or dozens of blogged opinions about the health care debate. And I still see the value in having an experienced editor do the sorting for me.” Hear hear. And check out the site; it’s kind of fun.
  • Do you think rival newspaper relish the poor fates of their competitors? Or is it a matter of sinking or swimming together? In this case, The New York Times reports on the New York Post‘s woes.
  • A reluctant welcome

    It’s no secret what’s going on the field of print journalism. It’s going into the crapper. I wonder if Mr. Internet realized this would happen when he invented the World Wide Web. Regardless, the situation is here and we’re stuck with it. The purpose of this blog is to blow off a little steam, and I invite my fellow ink-stained wretches to join in with their own tales of woe or triumph. Maybe this will turn into a nice little support network. Questions? Suggestions? E-mail me at worriedjournalist(at) gmail(dot)com.
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