Thou Shalt Not Puke on Deadline Day, and Other First Principles of the Biz
None of the editor's Web logs that guys like Ed Cone are hyping these days as redefining the relationship with our readership really does what blogs are really good for: Talk about what it's like to do that work all day long in the most humdrum terms, like consumer reviews of pencil brands for marking up proofs, dictionaries you love to hate, what to do when you don't know something you fell like you're supposed to know, wondering whether your writers hate you ... It's just a job like any other, after all. Case in point:
I broke the first commandment of a small news and production team this week: Thou shalt not succumb to intestinal microbes a few hours before the drop-deadline. Sorry, gang. If it's any consolation, I suffered a great deal from cold sweats, fever nightmares and the taste of Pepto-Bismol in massive doses. It seemed like everything was pretty well under control when I bugged out at 2:00 p.m. to go drive the porcelain bus.
It does remind me that I still have a lot of progress to make towards "working myself out of a job," as the Chief put it when I began. Haven't done a post-mortem in a couple of issues or made progress on getting the bigwigs to buy into a nice little intranet for our team. Haven't gotten out a style guide that would codify the official position on issues I wind up dealing with on an ad hoc basis all the time--like stories that use quotes from sources to advance the exposition of a story. Had to spend time negotiating a clarification with a source this week for just that reason.
You know what I mean: A source narrates a bunch of facts that you are going to use in your story, using very informal language, jargon, ers and ums, in scattershot fashion. You're pressed for time, so you just throw quotes around the whole thing and stick it in there. What you are supposed to do is boil the whole thing down to plain English and check up with the source to make sure you got it all correct. The best way to do it is to run it by them while you have them on the phone: "So, is what you're saying that x, y, and z, therefore a, b and c?" You get them to elaborate and refine their answer. Otherwise you might as well just run transcripts of all your phone conversations. That's typing and oral comprehension, not writing a news story.
Quotes are for rendering faithfully the opinion and attitude and phraseology that are uniquely the speaker's and that are of value for precisely for that reason. It would be a crime to write, "The incumbent pledged that he would not institute new taxes" instead of quoting the "read my lips" remark, of course. But factual stuff on background? Make sense of out the off-the-cuff hash, please. Come on, people! You're being lazy!
I'm also feeling a little swamped by the task of trying to catch up with what for me is a new beat so as to be able to ask the right questions when I'm querying my reporters. The paper I work at focuses on a a beat that's a little bit off the beaten track: the big biz publications and research firms don't publish indexes of the players in our space and lump all of them together in one category, the way they do, say, the construction industry or retail donut franchises. It's more of a value chain than an industry, really, to use the consultese. Our senior editor did a story touching on that this week: A research firm that looked at a segment of the banking industry from a unique angle and came up with a contrarian view about valuation method and business strategy for those players.
Plus there's so much change going on. Banks are buying broker-dealers, investment banks are buying consumer banks and cross-marketing investment services, equities-dominated exchanges are moving into derivatives and bonds, electronic trading is pushing out the apron-wearing specialists, cross-border transactions are more and more the norm, everybody is opening up offices in China ... And the regulatory bodies, oof. Homeland Security alone, what a tangled web we weave. Reminds me of a story I read recently about a government committee set up to simplify the sorting of mail in some department, wound up doubling the number of steps in the process ... those big-gov opponents do have a point about stuff like that, don't they?
So I spend a lot of my spare time trying to draw up lists and draw diagrams and generally trying to organize it all in my head (using the wiki in my eGroupWare managing editor's control panel). And, of course, I have a big OPML file and a multitab bookmark designed to feed me the highest possible concentration of relevant information first thing in the morning so I can know what's already being said, or what's not being covered, so we can keep bragging about our unique coverage. Everybody wrote about a certain banking scandal recently, but we were the only ones to get into the real specifics, even though the foreign regulator was reluctant to go beyond the vague characterization of the misdeeds in its press release.
And reading the competition, and the semi-competitors ... Not that I have much time for all that: there's plenty of line-editing and keeping track of what's out on assignment to do to keep me going all day.
And of course my wife, recently arrived from Brazil, can get to feeling lonely if I keep my nose in my infernal machine all the time, or spend my time on the subway reading about the USA PATRIOT Act, money-laundering, and hedge funds on my little PDA--hey, went to Tillie's on DeKalb today after another couple of hours in the dentist chair with Doctor Dan using my jawbone for leverage as he crammed more junk into smoke bone, and was able to surf the Web there on their new WiFi hotspot!--instead of chatting with her about the in-laws, the Beatles, and our interior decorating plans.
Well, you know, I'm just going to keep working at it. I love my job ... and my wife! It's all new for us, me being an official corporation man and all and working 8 to 6 like a normal human being and her weathering Brooklyn winters on a regular basis after a life in the tropical greenhouse effect of S�o Paulo ... Beats boredom and ennui, that's for sure.