"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)

Friday, August 9, 2013

"Time" was never on my side

I spend a portion of each day wondering why everything became so miserable and hopeless in my last few months working for the Morris newspaper. In the final analysis this was a job and I wanted to keep it for the same reason everyone wants a job.
I was a holdover from a previous regime at the paper. In that previous regime I was required to turn in "timesheets." Whole forests must have been chopped down to supply these sheets.
Timesheets were never practical for the kind of job I had. My work routine was highly fluid and subject to the particular events and demands of the moment. Often I would do something and it wouldn't result in anything tangible to be observed or appreciated. Sometimes I would do something, commit my time to something, and it would "fall through." If I were being paid straight salary, I would just shrug and say "well, I guess that was wasted time."
And what about all the sports events I was expected to attend? Was I expected to write down every minute of that time?
It was only toward the end of my career, when the business was already taken over by the new owner, that I was told by the incumbent (holdover) manager that I would be going on "straight salary." That incumbent manager was succeeded by the current one. (I insist on the term "manager" rather than "publisher" because that's what these people are in the Forum Communications system.)
I had a new lease on life, getting the heads-up for "straight salary." But I have never stopped thinking that the damage had already been done. The pressure to look "efficient" while recording my time was not conducive to doing thorough work in a relaxed and focused fashion. After so many years of at least trying to look "efficient," which meant cutting some corners, maybe I was sort of frazzled.
It didn't help that my timesheets were sometimes questioned. As if I would want to "pad" them anyway. What would I have done with any extra money, for fun? I didn't take any time off.
One employee who was known to "keep an eye on me" was eventually caught in a major employee theft episode herself, and was let go. Perhaps her behavior toward me was a way for her to get "cover." No one would suspect her of any wrongdoing, if she was so vigilant as to keep an eye on other workers for their "honesty."
Sports was of course always very difficult. There was an expectation that we cover non-Morris teams to a certain extent. Cyrus had varsity teams in the early phase of my career. Cyrus and Hancock were paired for a time.
Hancock had a couple of maniacally motivated coaches who generated won-lost success far beyond what the school's small enrollment would suggest was possible. One of these coaches ended up in prison. Thinking about these coaches is a classic example of how we begin wondering if high school sports is even worth it.
Morris Area High sports fell into a controversy beginning in about the mid-1980s. It reached a head in about 1987, after which the most festering issues got resolved. I guess the problem was that MAHS had athletic programs which to a certain extent were managed like they were an extension of phy. ed class, whereas many of the small towns had programs set up more like the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) model.
Former mayor Merlin Beyer told me the problem was that Morris was hurt by complacency caused by years of being "the big school" in the area. "We're not that big anymore," he said. I suppose we're back to being considered big since some of the small programs have simply been wiped out by diminishing numbers.
Whoever does sports for the Morris newspaper now doesn't have to be concerned about how to cover Chokio-Alberta. When I started at the paper, Cyrus not only had its own varsity basketball teams, albeit playing in a substandard gym (like in the movie "Hoosiers"), it had a varsity baseball team, a sport in which you need nine starters.
I covered Hancock softball in the years before it paired with Benson. I'm puzzled to this day why Hancock is paired with Benson rather than Morris. Oh, there's a "back story" there, I suppose, probably having to do with coaches' interests.
And yes, Hancock was capable of beating Morris in softball. I remember one such game in the post-season when Jeannie Peterson, now Jeannie Maanum, hit the key blow over the outfielders' heads. I remember attending a graduation reception in Hancock that spring and having a teacher come over to me and say "I saw you smiling, Brian."
I was so beat up through all the things I had experienced at the Morris newspaper, it was probably impossible for me to ever get a fresh start. I want everyone to know I tried. I want everyone to know that timesheets were once a bane of my existence.
These memories came back when I read about problems in the U.S. Postal Service. Some carriers were found to be struggling and in their desperation, they'd hide mail away somewhere because they just didn't have time to deliver it. The problem? They were being required to fill out timesheets! Were they being subject to unreasonable demands? Might many of these individuals actually have been competent?
I don't know, but I do know the requirement to turn in timesheets can screw up your mind. It's a sour memory and it's too bad I have so many of those. I worked in an environment with people who committed embezzlement and adultery. I worked in an environment trying to answer to emotional sports fans who expected all the games played up through Tuesday night to appear in Thursday's edition, or they'd scream bloody murder.
One of these screamers was actually a prominent school administrator. He took it upon himself to write sports articles for a period of years, writing articles that were so detailed, they almost seemed like transcripts of the radio broadcasts. I think it's sad he couldn't have just spent more time with his family.
The irony is that today, the Morris newspaper only comes out once a week, on Saturday, and Friday's games don't even get in. It's ironic because you can get the Willmar paper on Saturday and probably find a review of the Friday Tiger football game, but in the Saturday Morris newspaper there's nothing.
What happened to those lofty standards that were once imposed on me? It's gone with the wind like so many other things.
I would love to show up for work and just be given a reasonable and manageable amount of duties in a reasonable amount of time, and then just go home. In my 27 years of newspaper work, I never had that opportunity. I worked like a bat out of hell and had my personality affected by it. How incredibly sad.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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