12
Jul
08

A job for life

When I was young my uncle worked for a major American steel company. He stepped right from the ranks of troops sent to Korea and onto the factory floor. He dedicated his life to the job, going back to school and learning advanced algebra and even some calculus so he could get promotions. He never imagined how it would end.

Only a few years away from 30 on the job, the company came along and offered early retirement to some of those long-term employees. The company would give them the last few years toward a full pension in return for an agreement not to sue. The company — it told them — needed to purge its employment rolls because the American steel industry was collapsing, largely because of competition from more innovative foreign firms.

Turned out, a little over a year later, this world-renowned firm declared bankruptcy. When it did, the retired workers discovered the pension fund had been looted. They hired lawyers, fought legal battles over the agreement they signed, and years later discovered there was little to glean from the corpse of that once-great company.

My uncle thought he would spend his entire working life with that steel company. It never occurred to him he would have to do anything else for a job. He ended up driving a bus for the local school district to make ends meet.

I went almost straight from the ranks of my university to working for a newspaper. I like to think I have dedicated my life to the job, training myself in a wide variety of skills in the hopes that it would not only help me but also help those with whom I worked. It has brought me some promotions.

I’m near 30 years in newspapers, but no where near that at my current newspaper. My company has offered early retirement and buy-outs on several occasions as it tries to reduce costs as a hedge against declining revenues. Competition from more innovative internet firms is only part of the problem.

I thought I would spend my entire working life at newspapers, I even imagined getting a full pension from the one at which I work now. It never occurred to me that I might see the death of an entire industry. I never thought I would have to do anything else for a job. I’m not really interested in doing anything else for a job.

Now I need to innovate.

Perhaps there are more people like me out there. They may be getting ready to innovate also, necessity being the mother of invention and all that. I wouldn’t be surprised to find successful hyper-local web sites springing from the minds and efforts of these people.

It seems ever more likely that newspapers — the traditional ones — won’t solve the hyper-local puzzle. That may be because there is no cookie-cutter solution or because newspapers see hyper-local as a type of zoning rather than an interactive community-building process. It may be because the vast majority of newspapers are too big and aren’t flexible enough to change as needed. There are a million reasons why successful hyper-local is likely to be the thing that happens outside and after traditional newspapers.

But it may not begin or end with hyper-local. Some of the talented people departing newspapers these days are bound to create some interesting web businesses. Some of them may even involve journalism. One site aiming to foster such things is Treehouse Media Project. Run by a former Philadelphia Inquirer editor who went MBA before joining an internet startup, the following is part of his mission statement:

…no amount of bitching will prevent Yahoo from poaching our readers nor investors from seeking bigger profits. So, let’s suck it up. First, we should give thanks, for we are far luckier than the manufacturing workers who have found themselves on the wrong side of technological change. As knowledge workers, we can benefit from the technologies that are threatening newspapers’ survival: No longer does one need a printing press to publish, only a personal computer, an Internet connection and an idea.

Making a living as a publisher, however, requires entrepreneurial skills that few journalists possess. That is the reason for the TreeHouse Media Project, an effort to provide journalists with the business knowledge and technical skills to survive — even thrive — in this harsh, yet exciting new media world.

Mindy McAdams mentions Treehouse Media as “an alternative to going gentle into the dark night — one that would redirect the rage [being felt by former newspaper employees] into a useful effort.” It’s founder, Rich Heidorn, just hopes to teach old scribes new tricks that will help them survive (and perhaps thrive) despite what the internet revolution is doing to traditional mass media.

That may not get me to my full pension, but it sounds better than a lot of the alternatives.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

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1 Response to “A job for life”



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