Here we go again

The day before 9/11, a Canadian TV network launched its first national newscast, a supper-hour program that wouldn’t compete directly with the two major networks’ 10 and 11 p.m. shows. At the time it was my job to watch all three newscasts. The two legacy networks handled 9/11 and the ensuing weeks’ coverage like the pros they were. The upstart added a little sumthin’-sumthin’ underneath the items about 9/11. I noticed it because while I was watching the newscast and taking my notes I would feel unsettled, my heart would beat a little faster, I’d breathe a little faster, my hands would sweat — things that didn’t happen when I watched the coverage on other networks. It was an extended low note, almost but not quite subliminal, that ran as long as the 9/11 items lasted. I called it the Tone of Dread. I’ve probably written about it before on this blog, because it’s one of those things that has stuck with me, and today it’s useful as a metaphor.

That tone of dread, subliminal or audible, is familiar to most people working in media these days. There’s an under-buzz, a hum, in newsrooms that accompanies the death by 1,000 cuts to staff. It makes your heart race and your palms sweat as you wonder, “when will the next cuts come?” and “when will they come for me?” Living under that hum does things to your brain that simply don’t go away when the job does.

My media job went away five-and-a-half years ago — to the day, as it happens . To my great relief I quickly found another job out of the media, with an association that seemed about as solid as it gets. The excitement level was through the floor, but, lack of adrenaline notwithstanding, it’s been a good place to work and I’ve been lucky to be there and I’ve actually learned a lot.

But that damned hum is back. Associations everywhere are facing the same problem — companies that still haven’t fully recovered from the 2008 recession, or which cut back on spending during the recession and decided they liked having the extra cash — are not shelling out for elective items like they used to, which means associations are losing members. And they’re starting to look at how they can adapt to having less money. My association, having gone through the assessment stage, is now preparing to implement its change measures. And yes, there will be layoffs. And yes, my head’s as likely to be on the chopping block as anyone’s.

And my heart’s beating a little faster and my palms are often sweaty and — this is new! — I’ve started to wake up at night gasping in the throes of a panic attack.

I dropped this blog like a hot potato five-and-a-half years ago when I started my new job — there was some question about whether the social media rules allowed me to have a blog, and then once that was resolved there was the question of whether I felt like writing at the end of a long day of writing. The answer – I mostly didn’t.

But that damned hum is back. And I’m thinking that five years on maybe there’s something to be said for saying something in this forum. So we’ll see how this works. I’m going to try for regular updates. And if there’s anything you’d like me to discuss, I’m all ears.

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Will work for peanuts? « Arzooman Editorial Services

See? It’s not just me. Following up on my Bird is the Word post yesterday…

“Back to editing, which is my career: Editors certainly have no corner on the people-trying-to-get-free-work-out-of-us market, but I do think, unlike what doctors or mechanics or lawyers face, that there is this mistaken notion that because most people can read, what I do for a living requires no special expertise. “I shouldn’t pay someone … but if I know someone who’s good at catching mistakes I should ask her to read this for me.” My degree and my years of experience writing and editing have a little to do with how good I am at “catching mistakes.”

People have advised me to never work for free and to always charge normal rates. But I compromise. I’ll help out a friend, but there has to be something of a return for me–either a small payment, a barter of services or advertising of some kind. Editing is calling of sorts, but I would quickly be burnt out if I were only doing it for a love of words.

via Will work for peanuts? « Arzooman Editorial Services.”

The bird is the word

Familiarity breeds contempt, they say. I think that’s why it’s become so easy for people to dismiss those who work with words as unnecessary expenditures in hard times.

Somewhere between celebrating baby’s first spoken word and listening intently for the final declaration of the dying, we learn scorn for the towering babble around us.

After all, damn near everyone has words. Uses words. Speaks them and hears them, signs them — even people with their own languages make sounds in a way that means something to them. Words are the pennies of life, the lowest common denomination of communication currency. You throw out words, you toss them off, you don’t spend them carefully.

Thus the special scorn for those who would  make their living, or claim some particular talent for, assembling those words into sentences. When just about anyone can toss off the occasional witticism, or say something that strikes you as profound — and let’s face it, those profundities and witticisms are on posters and pins all around us, how hard can it be? — why would you need anyone to do it professionally?

Book publishers have been cutting back on editorial staff (and certain best-selling authors have been heard to say they don’t need editors) for years. Network television has become unwatchable for those who prefer the well-scripted drama or comedy, as broadcasters have learned they can spend a lot less money if they don’t use writers: it’s called reality TV  — put impossible people in improbable situations and watch the car wreck unfold. Why use scripts when people can speak for themselves? Who cares if what they’re saying is banal, trite, repetitive, boring, ungrammatical tripe? Viewers will stay tuned for the car wreck.

And don’t even get me started about the newspaper industry and its growing disdain for editors and writers — as if “citizen journalists” will ever bring the same level of professionalism to the craft as trained reporters and writers. (I love that the Wikipedia entry on citizen journalism begins with the disclaimer that it may need to be edited for grammar, style or cohesion. Ha! Exactly my point.)

Therein may lie the rub, at least for newspaper reporters and editors: we’re a craft, not a profession or even a trade. Anyone can apply salve and a bandage to a cut, but that person is not considered a doctor; anyone can hammer a nail but that person is not considered a carpenter.  But a writer is someone who puts a string of words down on paper. A reporter is someone who reports.

Some of us go to school to learn how to write and edit — or usually to hone skills that we already have to some extent. But our training isn’t recognized as something that sets us upart from the madding crowd, particularly in these days when computers have allowed everyone to have a voice, to publish their thoughts — just as I’m doing right now. Before blogs, this would have been a diary for my eyes only, or a rant over a few bottles of wine with friends. There are no professional standards that a trained journalist can be said to have met — the professional standard is one’s portfolio of clippings. But when the bottom line is all that counts, a citizen journalist who works for free can be more valuable than a reporter who demands to be paid a fair, living wage for work that is the product of training and talent.