There’s an essay out there by American Enterprise Institute director Arthur Brooks which says one’s professional decline begins when one is in his or her 50s.
Judging by the number of times in recent months I’ve said “I’m getting too old for this nonsense,” I suspect Brooks is onto something important, though in my case he may have used the wrong word - “decline” instead of the more apt “doom.”
Still, Brooks is 55 and thus knows whereof what he speaks. I know this because at 57, I feel his pain and it hurts. Sure, some of it has to do with the inevitable changes wrought by age and cells that are tired of being cells in a particular neighborhood. This is especially so in my body, which I believe to be chock full of cells who would unanimously rather be somewhere more fun and upscale, like a condo with a pool and amenities and hot babes with BMWs.
Instead they’re stuck in a smelly old shed that leaks gas and makes funny noises at night.
However, some of my nagging sense of professional doom (yes, “doom,” not “decline”) has to do with work and the ever changing “media landscape.”
Mostly that change has resulted in less and less and less reporters and more and more and more things requiring them. It can make you tear your hair out, if you had any left.
There was once a time when editors would say they had “100 pounds worth of news to try and squeeze into a 50 pound bag,” or something equally silly. These days, it’s more like we’re lucky if we can get to 10 pounds of news and spread it around enough to fill a 20 pound bag. This is in part because every time we start on one thing, something else pops up demanding attention. ‘
It happened Monday night.
Me, trying to lay out page, hears email beep go off on the computer.
Opens email from an ad person:
“Hey, there’s a sure fire major news story happening right now, hundreds of people posting on Facebook about it, right now!”
Yours truly groans, takes look: ##&*!!)(. That’s a legit story. Sends email to freelancer. Can you handle this? No response. Me: #(^&!)#)30@!!&$. Whine. Send email back to person who sent first email: We’ll see what we can do. Maybe someone can put something on Facebook asking for input. Blah blah.
I go back to laying out page knowing if I doesn’t keep plugging I’ll never go home or make a deadline bumped up 24 hours because of the July 4 holiday.
Say to myself for umpteenth time:
“I’m getting too old for this nonsense.”
Too old and dumber by the minute.
Now, please note I’ve never been one to brag about my journalistic skills. That’s partly because I don’t have any, but also because one of the few truly great reporters I’ve known in this business, the late Amy Allyn Swann, derided those in our profession who took themselves too seriously. She called them people who thought they were “God’s gift to journalism.”
Her first words to me were, “You don’t think you’re God’s gift to journalism, do you?” I said no, and I still don’t think so. I’m scared Amy will come back down and stomp a mudhole in me.
That said, as my decline steepens and doom approaches - issue by issue, week by week, month by month and year by year - my aim these days is to do my best and survive long enough to eventually pass on some of the help I got from those who knew more about my job than I did and liked me to know it.
So, when my days here are done, I’ll find a gaggle of insufferable know-it-all online “journalists” who probably take selfies, and start peppering their email with my thoughts on what should be covered and how. I might even stop by and give them the look, which is sort of a squint that I’m told makes me look like Donald Duck.
In short, I’ll generally make a nuisance of myself like some of the old geezers I can recall from my younger days in this business, before I became an old geezer myself. Note: For some reason, back then they were always old geezers and I was young. Now, I’m old and the geezers aren’t, but never mind.
I will do this in honor of one particular evil old geezer, the rudest, roundest, most miserable and mean spirited transplant from up north I ever knew, and I’ve run across more than my share. In fact, he was such an enormous pain in the hindquarters back in the mid 90s that he not only got on the last nerves of editors, reporters, local officials and everyone else who came in contact with him, but I have it on pretty good authority a family member bought him a gift subscription to the local paper and kept renewing it because reading the damn thing made the old goat mad. As revenge goes, that’s pretty good. So, anybody want a subscription?