Saturday, September 4, 2010

Somebody's watching me

Astute readers of this blog will note I try not to mention my job too much -- only slightly more than my love life.*

There are a few reasons for this. First off, I didn't create this little corner of cyberspace to network, increase visibility, advance my brand or any of this corporate buzz-nonsense. It's a creative outlet, nothing more. Also, some people have had issues blogging while working in this neck of the woods. Most of all, though, everyone has issues at work now and again, and the last thing they want is to waste their free time reading other people moaning about their workplace.

That said, I'm about to have myself a good kvetch. If you'd rather not waste valuable seconds of your life reading my virtual spleen-venting, you are hereby absolved of responsibility and free to go about your day. Thank you for coming, and good surfing.

Note: I'm not going to refer to my employer by name. If you really want to know, it's not hard to find out.

Before I came here, I said -- largely in jest -- there was a 50/50 chance this place could turn me into Frank Burns. As it turns out, I may have low-balled that estimate. The past couple weeks have really made me question where this gig is headed and exactly in what esteem the management holds our section.

For starters, word came from on high last week that B book deadlines were now 8 p.m. every night. Subsequent negotiations saw deadline pushed to 8:30 p.m., but still -- there are major sporting events that don't even start until 8 p.m.! The only explanation I could find was that the entire newsroom cowers in fear of the Printing Press People, who demand pages be sent as early as possible. Apparently it's more important to get papers on the street than have anything resembling news inside them.

Also, at least two or three times a week we have half- or full-page ads invade our section, which is only three pages at the largest. For purposes of comparison, my first two gigs (3k circ weekly, 7k daily) had two sports pages a day, with the next (15k daily) three to four per day. We had a minimum of three and a maximum of five in Jakarta, with the five-page sections coming on the busiest days (Saturday and, with no Sunday edition, Monday). Here, though, there's two pages on the weekend and three in midweek -- before ads, of course. We've had full-page "specials" (read: advertorials) that on occasion actually have something to do with sports (read: sailing) and other times will be about some model village or housing development, all of which are plonked down on what would otherwise be the front page of sports. In 10 hours, I will go to work and edit a sports section that, thanks to another massive ad, consists of one page.

That leads me to another issue, one that is at least partly my fault. I just don't feel creatively engaged here. Yes, I knew most of the job here would involve English polishing, but I was also told I would have a chance to do some writing myself and coach young writers. As it stands after a month and a half, I've written three articles (all consisting of me vomiting my opinion over the keyboard) and done next to no coaching. Honestly, this is a step backward professionally. Point, Mr. Morkrie. There is the possibility of a two-week adrenaline rush in November when the Asian Games take place in Guangzhou. Even if I don't go in person (still undecided), the challenge of putting out a 16-page tab in addition to the regular sports pages is just the kind of thing that appeals to a twisted mind like mine. After that? It's hard to say what will keep me interested.

Lastly, a round of political CMA has made the last couple weeks more interesting than necessary. The reasons are still unstated, but apparently one of the Big, Big Bosses got a bee in their bonnet over mistakes in the paper. In the space of a couple days, we were first told to start reading over other sections in the morning and reporting any errors we found to management (a great way to foster a positive work environment). Later, word came down to start reporting mistakes in reporters' copy before it was even edited. Any mistakes came with a fine of 200 kuai (about $30). If we're supposed to flag up errors that don't even make it into print, why even have English polishers?

What next? It's hard to say. The top of the mountain remains inaccessible without a degree (barring a strategic marriage), and even in Asia the newspaper business isn't exactly going great guns. The wire services would seem like a logical step and I do have some contacts there, but I also have no experience in wires and they're cutting jobs, too. I know I don't have the mental make-up to be a full-time freelancer. I could probably find another gig out here or one of the many lower-level openings back in the US, but the question then becomes just how long do I want to continue pursuing journalism as my life's work? Making a stable life for myself will be difficult as long as I keep flitting from gig to gig, and while I am only months into my 30th year on this planet, I'm certainly not getting any younger.

There will always be a need for a watchdog, for someone to ask the tough questions and inform the people -- of that I am sure. What is less sure is how long it will be possible to make a living doing that, or whether that watchdog role will be turned over to part-timers, flacks and sycophants.

* = this is an unfair comparison, of course, as I have no love life. I haven't since the turn of the millennium -- yet another thing that scares me about leaving journalism. That, though, is a post for another day.

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