Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The State of the Tube Address

Sign posted in a station back in the 1980's:

"The good old days ended the day before you got here."

Truer words were never spoken. As a young reporter I heard tales from veteran photogs about the days of networks flying them first class around the country. About expense accounts with no end. About having a week to work on a story.

Wow, I thought. If only I'd been born twenty years earlier.

Now, to most of you who are just getting in the business, the days of simply working with a photog would qualify as the good old days. As I look back, they were: quality shooters always providing me with great stuff, the occasional trip out of town, the boss who picked up the check if you ended up in the same restaurant.

Yes, those days are gone, and in twenty years some rookie will hear your stories about what it was like in the good old days.

Tales of gloom and doom permeate the business right now. The one-man-band trend is the leading economic indicator. The Internet is either the devil that is killing the business or its potential savior.

Yes, the job is a lot tougher than it used to be. But then again, so is everything in America. In case you hadn't watched the stories you've been covering, life as we knew it is in the process of evolving. What will be left when everything shakes out is anyone's guess. Bottom line, life is tougher regardless of your profession.

At times like this I look back to those eight years I spent making sandwiches in my dad's delicatessen. Every time I felt exhausted or complained my dad would say, "That's why you're in college, so you don't have to do this like your old man." Looking back, that may have been my only "real job" doing physical labor. Slicing meat all day, putting together two hundred lunches, being bone tired at the end of the day.

And then I think about my life after college. I've made a living telling stories.

Think about the alternative next time you think your job is tough, or you've worked a long day, or knocked out two packages or three live shots. If any of you waited tables or had any kind of summer job, think back to how that felt compared to what you do now. Or look at the jobs of some of the people you interview; wanna trade with an oil spill clean up worker, a dishwasher, or a roofer?

I remember riding home with a photog after we'd spent grueling days covering the 1988 Democratic and Republican conventions. Three packages a day, live shots, the logistical nightmare of hauling equipment through thousands of media people on the convention floor. At one point we were so tired of lugging the gear that I went to a luggage store and bought one of those carts flight attendants were using to wheel luggage through airports (at that point wheeled luggage didn't exist); we piled the deck, the battery belt and the tripod on the cart and it saved our backs quite a bit.

As we pulled out of the hotel lot to head home I said, "I don't think I've ever been this tired in my life." "Yeah," said the photog, "but it's a good kind of tired."

He was right. When you've accomplished something special, it doesn't matter how much you've put into it. You can take that feeling home and bathe your soul in it.

I never got that feeling after a day making sandwiches.

You all tell stories for a living. You may be underpaid and dealing with the new realities of the business, but the bottom line is that you put dinner on the table by telling stories.

If that's not enough for you, go out and get a real job.

1 comment:

Regarding Journalism said...

Great Post! I know I complain sometimes because we all have bad days, but that's EXACTLY how I feel about this job. One of my newspaper editors used to say, "The pay sucks and we get tired of each other, but hey we get to tell stories for a living. That's pretty damn cool."