Thursday, May 31, 2007

Pushing the Rock Uphill

As news days go, it was a slow one, but it seems that on most days I have very little time to dwell on the news.

As a manager, a big part of my job involves attending to problems, of which there is never any shortage. It's a bit like doing the dishes. You can do them really well, and put them all away, but the next day they're just going to be there again, some old ones and many new ones. I am a modern day Sisyphus, the sinner of ancient Greek mythology who was doomed to an eternity of rolling a boulder up a hill, only to see if roll back down again.

Today I posted all new stories and videos to the Web site in the morning, but then had to work with engineers who were trying to figure out how to install a second PC that will capture and digitize video. We are trying to get everything hooked up for the presidential debates in Manchester this weekend. The new PC has to be connected to a router that pulls in video feeds from around the state and the nation.

It's been a slow process that started more than a week ago and which has involved trying to coordinate a local computer tech and local engineers with an audio-video expert in Minnesota.

The indisputable truth I have learned in this job is that engineers just don't talk to each other much, not willingly anyway, which is why my communications skills have come in so handy. Basically, I often just translate for them.

In this Internet world, where we are spread out all over the country, I have done quite a bit of translating -- between local engineers and weather engineers in Alabama, or between local engineers, Hearst engineers in Charlotte and our own engineers in Minnesota. For awhile, the provider of our news aggregator tool was in Atlanta, so I've had quite a few conversations with them as well. To my mind, the only people who will never come up short in this global workplace are the people who own stock in Verizon or some other phone company.

What if anything, one might ask, does any of this have to do with journalism? I will tell you: I do not know. Had you told me back in my college days that I would one day be conversant about things like file transfer protocols or XML code, I would have been extremely skeptical. The human brain, however, is an amazing thing. I've learned so much it seems second-nature to me now, even though when I started this job they said we would primarily be journalists, and other people would worry about the hardware. That, it turns out, has never been the case. We are married to our computers, whether we like it or not.

I do worry that we spend so much time figuring out how to get information where it's supposed to go that we don't really have time to gather the information itself. That is a daily frustration. It was there in the newspaper business and, before that, when I was working as a television reporter. If we couldn't get a signal in, we couldn't do the story. Period. For some reason, however, I have constantly found myself in a position where I have to figure out how to get the story ON. On the air, on the Internet, in the paper.

I spend so much time on the mechanics of getting the story out that it actually makes it a joy when I have nothing more to do than immerse myself in the production of the actual piece. It makes getting the information, organizing and writing it into a coherent piece of journalism seem like a walk in the park. I've been doing that part of it so long I could do it in my sleep. The perfect order for a story will unfold in my head so fast sometimes that it's a race to get it down on paper (or computer screen.)

In my very first television job I would go to work, make assignments, then go out with another reporter, the two of us shooting each other's stories. We'd go back to the station, write our stories, edit them, and then assemble the newscast and go into the control room and produce it. All in a day's work. I think I probably made about $2 a day. It feels a little like that again.

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