"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bittersweet holidays for those drifting

Holidays are very hard on unemployed people. I might not even shave on Christmas Day.
Holding a job is harder today than it used to be. That's because technology has wiped away so much of the work that used to be tedious. People used to complain about being bored at work. What a nice "problem" that would be today.
People are stressed. They manage information or data systems that are extremely powerful.
Today we respect all jobs. If a job is legal and you get paid, it's to be respected. I remember being at the Willmar McDonald's with a friend in the mid-1970s and seeing an older man working there. My friend said "how would you feel if that was your father?"
How would I feel? No judgment is called for of course. That's the outlook today. In a previous time, "flipping burgers" or carrying out groceries might be cause for disparaging. We're more civilized today, naturally, but people are burning out in their jobs.
Jobs are being cut by bean counters who seem to have no feelings about it. The world seems to be run by business school graduates who just push numbers around. Many social commentators say the middle class is pretty much gone.
Much of our anxiety is offset by tech-driven stuff that entertains us. Cheap entertainment is like an opiate.
I have been unemployed since June 2 of 2006. The passage of time seems staggering. I don't know what the future will bring. I had hoped to get some interest from bank CDs but that has fizzled, trampling on my self-image further. I always felt that if all else fails, FDIC-insured bank accounts could give you some foundation. Indeed we can't count on anything in this world.
My last 3-4 months at the Morris newspaper remain etched in my mind. As it turned out, the mid-point of 2006 was the exact time when newspapers began realizing they were under special pressure or competition from the new media. It's exactly when a panic point was reached. They didn't die overnight the way some experts thought was going to happen. Certainly there has been retrenchment.
Cutting and consolidating have done much to give that business at least a temporary reprieve. Even technology, the "enemy," has helped create efficiencies. "Analog" photography used to be a big headache for newspapers. This department was problematic and expensive for newspapers. It seemed Rube Goldberg-like. I have likened it to shooting a torpedo from a World War I submarine. By WWII killing had become much more efficient.
One of the reasons so much romance surrounds the U.S. Civil War is that it was the last war where the killing was done by human beings, before technology wrought so much efficiency.
The Morris newspaper retrenched. It became once a week in its publication timetable. It was twice a week the entire time I was there. The news product has been slashed considerably. While there was considerable grousing about this at the time it was announced, the public has largely accepted it (not totally though).
The public has apparently accepted the idea that the family of a deceased individual should pay a fee to have an obituary published "on paper." There was no charge at all when I was there. In those quaint times it was assumed the newspaper would publish obits as a news service.
People paid for advertisements in order to keep their business brisk - to inform customers and potential customers. Today there's more emphasis on spending to support those "sig" ads, congrats spreads and other such stuff. In other words, there's some sort of accomplishment the community should be proud of, and there's a gesture page with as much as 3/4 of the space consumed by nothing more than a list of businesses.
Why are those business names there? Is it because they care so much more about this accomplishment than others? I suspect it's because they were willing to get their checkbook out and pay the newspaper. I'm sure the newspaper's owners in Fargo ND are happy. It's vital for those of us in Morris to support the North Dakota economy. I guess "frakking" isn't enough for them.
One prominent media analyst, Allan Mutter, thinks we'll see a generational shift at some point. The older business owners of today, over 50, who have their habits ingrained in an earlier time, a time when you just shrugged and supported the local newspaper and radio station, will pass on the torch. On come the younger people who have grown up in a media universe so much different. They will want to target their prospective customers more economically and efficiently.
With a newspaper you buy an ad that's only effective for a week. Then you're expected to buy another one. And on and on. Younger people will see waste in that. They will see newspapers as a one size fits all product that is cumbersome. They will want to use platforms that are more sustainable, that don't need such constant maintenance. No need to talk to an ad salesperson who comes through the door once a week.
I wasn't just a victim of changing times when I left the Morris paper in 2006. It has been difficult for me to try to write about this. I was given directives for the sports department that weren't practicable, thus I think this document could be described as harassing in nature. Many of the key directives weren't even implemented. Management had no real intention of implementing them. The idea was for me to depart.
I think it could have been handled differently. But we live in a time when the likes of Bain Capital do their thing and raise few eyebrows. What leverage does the working class even have anymore?
I plan to write more on the directives that were thrown at me toward the end of my Morris Sun Tribune tenure.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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