Wednesday, June 20

Uphill…Both Ways

Ah, ya young whippersnappers! Ya think you got it hard? You don't got it hard, nosireebob. You ain't hardly got no idee what hard is, goldang it! Why, when I was your age I used to walk fifteen miles to and from grammar school—and it was uphill both ways. We used to drive a herd of cattle in front of us, and along the way we'd trade some of the cows for firewood. We'd use the wood to start a fire so that when we slaughtered other steers we could tan the cowhide to make our own shoes. And we'd milk some cows—drinking the milk for breakfast and trading the cream for needles so we could sew our own clothes. All this and it was -30 degrees—in May!

Yep, kids today don't know the value of a little hard work.

That's what I heard growing up from my father; and my guess is you heard the same thing from yours.

I vowed that I'd never be one of those "Way Back When" types.

Another promise broken!

You see, I don't have much respect for some of the younger journalists I've encountered recently.

I've written here before about my first boss ("Man and Mentor," April 12th) and said that my first broadcasting job was part-time at WOOD AM-FM-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Let me tell you "The Rest of the Story."

In late 1968, early in my senior year at Michigan State, a professor in one of my broadcasting classes asked if anyone would be interested in weekend news writing at WOOD. Half the hands in the room went up. In those days (and maybe still, I'm not sure) the best TV stations in all of Michigan were the network affiliates in Detroit and WOOD. Channel 8 was simply the class of medium-market Michigan TV. And in those days there were literally no internships in broadcasting, and real jobs were tough to come by. A chance to work at WOOD would be dream come true.

Then the prof. explained the hours: 5:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. on Saturday (18 hours), followed by 10:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. on Sunday (13 hours).

Every hand went down...but mine.

I applied, I interviewed and I got the job (if I remember) $2.55 an hour. Now, Grand Rapids is 75 miles from East Lansing. So the drill was get up at 3:00 a.m.—drive to Grand Rapids—work until 11:00—get a motel room—catch eight hours sleep—work until 11:00—get home at 1:00--and head off to class on Monday.

(TRIVIA: know how the "Motel Six" chain got its name? Because all rooms in those days were $6.)

Counting the gas (at about 25 cents a gallon), the $6 motel and meals—heck, I was still clearing $60-$65 a weekend. But you couldn't put a price tag on what I was learning.

After WOOD, every time I had a career choice to make I asked myself--What do I need to learn--Where can I go to learn it? I made what looked like lateral (or even backwards) moves so I could pick up new skills and master my craft. Each stop along the way was a link in the chain--the chain I called a career. It was my apprenticeship. It took me eleven years (until I reached New York) before I considered the apprenticeship over. Still I never stopped learning, never stopped striving, and could never resign myself to being a 40-hour-a-week clock-watcher.

Fast-forward to the 21st century. In my most recent incarnation as a news director I found most of the staff willing to give 100% effort 50% of the time. Or was that 50% effort 100% of the time? Either way, most had jobs but not careers. Most were dedicated to taking the easy way out. A few years back, in short succession, I lost two young producers from my medium-market station to a much larger market where they signed on as Production Assistants--newsroom go-fers. Talk about lateral or backward moves! When I asked why, about the best they could come up with was that both were big baseball fans and their new city had a good major league team.

Have no idea where either is today. My guess is in some sports bar with their baseball caps turned backwards pounding home the brewskies.

Different station, same dilemma. Rookie producer helped put herself through college by waittressing at a popular local restaurant. Came to me to say she'd had an offer to go back as the lead hostess. Let's see: hostess, news producer--hostess, news producer--hostess, news producer. These career choices are tough, aren't they? In the end she stayed in TV (and I lost my chance to double up at the salad bar without paying extra).

A lot of people want to be "TV Stars." How many want to do the grunt work of producing, reporting, shooting video, running the assignment desk? Everyone wants the big bucks, no one wants to pay any dues. Am I crazy, or does it seem as if more and more TV news people aspire to Paris Hilton's lifestyle than to Walter Cronkite's?

I know what you're thinking: that I've settled in to my "Old Fart Emeritus" years. That could well be true. But prove me wrong. Please.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

From one "Old Fart Emeritus" to another, let me say I hear you loud, I hear you clear. But if you have a mule, you need a stick, you need a carrot. Mules, you had. I was one among many. But no stick, no carrot, no movement. And none of it was your fault.

That miserable outfit we all worked for wouldn't give its employees air. And for that, they paid a price.

We're gone, probably not forgotten, but we no longer walk the halls on S. Franklin trying to act like things are at least tolerable. They weren't - they were horrid.

Those still there have managed to achieve the unthinkable. The May book was the worst ever. I've lost count of how many "worst ever" books there have been. Amazing they could manage another.

It's very hard to believe there were many viewers left to lose. I guess there were. They managed to find some...

...and they managed to lose them.

They did it without us.

And for that, I give thanks.

Tom Becherer said...

Paul,
I have a rocking chair for you right here on the front porch of the OLENUZGUY'S HOME. There are a few of us who gather here regularly to lament the fallen state of our former craft. Come join us!
It's just not like it used to be, by crackee!
The legendary John Lane summed it up best for my psyche after being unceremoniously shown the door somewhere. He said "It's different. I can't judge that it's better or worse. It's just different."
I have my own opinion vis-a-vis "better or worse" but one thing is for certain "it is different."

Anonymous said...

I am reminded of what a dear friend said to me upon his departure from radio news after twenty plus years. It's a pretty good quote at that. He said, "I didn't leave the business, the business left me."

Anonymous said...

Today, all alot of people care about is how much vaction time they can scam from the company. These are the same people who think they are doing the company a favor when they deliver a 40 hour week. Sad, very sad. The culture has changed, and not for the better.