Friday, March 13, 2009

When the walls start crumblin' down

I get questions now and again about what my plans are for when newspapers - and mine in particular - shit the bed.

It's a good question, but it is tied up in an expectation that I, the supposed curer of cancer who chose the wrong career path, will somehow also have an answer, the answer, that will save the profession. That's pretty ridiculous: Those test scores don't give me any better idea than the next newsie of how to "monetize" online news.

I like the question sans expectations, partly because it is a chance to talk about what I like about the business I'm in.

The best part is simple: You get to help people. It's kind of like being on the A-Team. When some unlucky soul has tried everyone else and has nowhere else to turn, they call us. I get UFO calls, psychological emergencies, cooking advice queries (How many melons do I need for my party? Seriously), drunks and druggies, you name it.

I relish the customer service part of my job. If a reader is mad as hell, I want them calling me.

Now, I can count a few times a caller has been an unacceptable asshole: The criminal mastermind whose scumbag daughters showed up on the blotter, the Freedom Forum dickhead who called me "one of the Nazis" and the guy who called an opinion piece I wrote "one of the most one-sided, biased stories I've ever read." No shit, Sherlock.

On the flip side, I can't count the times I've picked up the phone to someone who had driven past their wit's end and been able to get them back on the road to somewhere. That's tied for the most rewarding part of the job, really.

It beats the awards, though they reap the praise from above. It beats the substandard pay, although that comes in more handy for paying bills. It doesn't beat sticking it to the man, however. Nothing can come close to holding someone in power accountable when he's (or she's) screwed the least among us.

But let's get back to that question: What are you going to do when the bell tolls? I've got backup plans, of course. Who doesn't? But it isn't that easy to find something that has the same day-to-day make-a-difference aspect. Except for one option, which a perceptive reader might intuit from reading this blog, or at least checking out the frequency of my tags.

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