Mike Preston's report card in Week 3
The Baltimore Sun

Someone else can clean up the mess

There’s more to it than Luddism.

Every day it falls to The Sun’s news desk to ferret out some article presumed ready for publication that is not visible in the vast NewsGate database. And it turns out that though the text has been “moved” to the copy desk, it lacks a print package, or it has been coded for the wrong date, or it was misnamed, or it was botched in some novel way. This for the basic tasks of creating and coding a text that everyone has performed every day for more than a year.

There is no dispute that NewsGate is user-unfriendly; some problems baffle even the adepts. But it’s also true that the people who stare and sweat and call down blasphemies on it are the same people who struggled with CCI before NewsGate, and Harris before CCI, and SII before Harris.

“I wasn’t given enough training,” some of them will whine when confronted with their failure to perform a basic task satisfactorily. I suppose it would be idle (rhymes with idyll) to inquire why over the past twelve months they did not seek additional instruction.

Lack of facility with computers—a failure to grasp the underlying logic of a system rather than simply perform rote tasks—is only part of the problem. There’s a barrier here.

Part, I think, is the lingering resentment that reporters and editors are now part of Production. Once upon a time, best beloved, reporters simply wrote, and blue-collar typesetters and compositors did the grunt work of transforming their prose into print. No more. Now when you write, you are doing at least the preliminary coding for Web posting and print. It’s an additional set of burdens that are not really part of Writing.*

So we begin to see that what in some cases may be merely a lack of competence—there was instruction, but it didn’t take—in others has deeper psychological roots. Though the attitude may not be fully conscious, it would go like this: “I resent having to do this, so I will, out of passive-aggressive mulishness, refuse to learn how to do it. Someone else can clean up the mess. And I will therefore express my rebellious resistance and superiority to the authority that imposed this system on me.”

As an attitude, it lacks the sonority of Milton’s Satan proclaiming, “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven,” but ours are not epic times.

 

*While I suspect that the most resentful are the sort of people who were accustomed to having other people pick up their clothes from the floor, I do have a fugitive sympathy for reporters. They have to come up with fresh ideas every day, or carry out some editor’s dopey inspiration. They have to plow through tedious documents in search of nuggets, or talk to people who are either inarticulate or hostile. They are expected to meet deadlines—well, after a fashion—and refocus and recast and rewrite to satisfy the whims of higher-ups. Still, dammit, you’d think they could manage to perform two or three basic tasks that they have to do every damn time they sit down at a keyboard.

 

 

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