Gen X journos in a Stealers Wheel world

Submitted for your consideration, further evidence of Generation X stuck in the middle of two powerful generations:

David Carr is right on with his latest Media Equation column on newspapers dumping higher salaried veterans, with predictable drops in quality (and circulation). He likens it to Circuit City’s oh-so-short-sighted strategy of dumping more experienced workers to save money, winning a temporary battle but losing the war (Circuit City recently sought bankruptcy protection).

(And, to only pat myself on the back a little bit, I had an (admittedly loose) connection between journos and retail workers months ago. But I digress.)

Of course, Gen X’ers were collectively paying dues and waiting for these Baby Boomer and Silent Generation writers to retire, so we could move up the ladder into their spots as columnists and onto prime beats. Unfortunately, the recent bloodletting of layoffs and buyouts have hit our generation hard, too, epitomized by the efforts of the gnomish tyrant, Sam Zell.

Further squeezing us as a generation are the plucky and hungry Millennial reporters, showing us all the future of journalism with their work in online ventures. It’s not that we’re not working as hard as these 20- and early-30-somethings (and weren’t we all enthusiastic and filled with energy at that age?). But it’s tough to compete with writers who can work for less money than you when more of us have mortgages and kids.

On a somewhat related but tangential note, the largest of the local papers seems to be employing a slightly different approach, though one as damaging as the Circuit City tactic that David Carr observed.

While retaining some veteran writers (and keeping many of the better ones on a freelance basis), reading the Local Paper over the last few months, it appears the publishers decided the best way to save costs is to understaff the low- and mid-level editor positions. Judging from the amount of writing and layout errors that have spread like chicken pox in this publication in the last few months, this is painfully obvious.

I can hear the thinking going something like: well, we’re becoming more and more an online business, and bloggers don’t seem to have editors, so let’s get rid of the line editors and save buckets of cash. Besides, writers can edit themselves, right? After all, writers and editors both work with those pesky words, so why do we need two sets of employees in the Word Business?

The problem here is:

  • Not all writers can edit themsleves (and even the ones that can, can’t do it nearly as well as an editor).
  • Even the ones that can reasonably edit themselves can hardly do that well on deadline.

And these two points accept the really unacceptable premise that you can truly self-edit. Yes, maybe at the level of a blog such as this one, which averages, like, 8 random-hit readers per day, traffics in about 1,000 words per week, and, um, isn’t the official and looked-for source of news for a large community (caveat: I do pride myself on accuracy, both in facts and in language — but I have the luxury of time (I have no deadlines, other than what PublisherCat enforces, of course), the impermanence of the Web, and the opportunity to go back and edit grammatical and spelling miscues later so I look slightly less moronic. Still, even I lack for an editor, but figuring they like to eat, too, and I ain’t offering coin, we’re at an impasse).

Even more to the point, a newspaper editor provides another set of critical and questioning eyes on an article, asking yet-unseen questions about reporting, tone, fairness, accuracy, and completeness within time constraints that a reporter might inadvertently miss in the rush to deadline. Many (most?) bloggers, on the other hand, usually ignore these points (or are simply unaware of them).

Manufacturers had a term for it: Quality Control. This was meant to ensure your kid didn’t eat too many lead-paint chips or that you didn’t have rat hair in your hot dog.

There’s been a lot of lead paint and rat hair in newspapers these days.


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