Last night, I dreamed of packing up my Ottumwa life — unconscious me throwing every pillow and trinket and cooking ladle into neat plastic boxes with some unknown but better destination in mind.
Last week, I heard more than I cared to about the desperate situation in which journalism and journalists currently flounder.
Our paper, as part of company-wide cost-cutting measures, demands five furlough days from each employee: Five days next quarter when we don’t come in to work and don’t receive compensation. Because I’m 21 and single and living in a cheap apartment with zero college debt, I’m trying to see this as five extra vacation days, even though it’s symptomatic of the issues that will more than likely leave me unemployed or changing careers in a very short time. For those with more bills to pay and mouths to feed and a 40-year career in this field, five unpaid days must be much more terrifying.
My editor was apologetic about the situation. I waved off the issue, but she refused to let it go. “No, it’s really not OK,” she replied bluntly, sounding concerned and tired and infinitely frustrated.
My friend said she and her father talked about ways to help my field out, which is silly and sweet and fruitless. At this point, I think the “get people to buy more newspapers” option is off the table.
But what to do? On the drive home for Thanksgiving, I got a call from a fellow student of media. He wanted to talk about the revolutionary measures that will be necessary to make news organizations viable again, I wanted to survive the four-hour drive on a rainy highway. But before dropping the call, I threw out the old Rupert Murdoch-backed “pay for Internet subscriptions” idea and he suggested a much more drastic but as-yet unknown overhaul — something outside the current business model.
Which would seem to be the motivation for a two-day workshop, today and tomorrow, involving the FTC and media executives.
Tax exemptions, copyright law and antitrust changes, oh my. I’m not even going to try to speculate solutions, leaving this in more capable hands.
But I know from an individual stand-point, many journalists are going to get tired of fighting. Tired of pay cuts and layoffs and hiring freezes and high stress/low compensation. A family friend, shouting over the DJ’s ’50s medley at a wedding last Saturday, told me about the trials of her 27-year-old daughter. She is stuck at a medium-sized newspaper just outside St. Louis. She likes her job, but it’s not going anywhere. Her salary’s been sliced, her coworkers let go, and no one else is hiring. She’s taken a part-time job at the Gap to make ends meet. Two years ago, her daughter had mentioned her going back to school to me (and at the same time warned me away from completing my journalism degree). Now that possibility seems inevitable for her.
With “My Sharona” playing in the background, this woman looked at me and said, “I think your class was one of the last to find jobs. A year from now, two years from now, if nothing changes…” We contemplate our wine glasses.
Then the first notes of “Billie Jean” begin to play and I get up to dance.