The Paragraph Stacker

Uncensored columns from an exiled newsmane

Daniel P. Finney, outlaw columnist

The email dropped into my inbox the morning of April 27. The boss wanted me to join a conference call at 11 a.m. I clenched. I knew. I texted the boss.

“Can you tell me if this is the end?”

No response.

I texted my immediate supervisor. She’d heard nothing. She tried to reach the boss, but the boss was on another call. My boss said she hadn’t been consulted.

I can’t remember if I called into a number or somebody called me. On the call were myself, the paper’s top editorial boss and our “human resources business partner.”

No, I don’t know what a “human resources business partner” is. The person is in Springfield. I’ve only ever spoken to her through video messaging or phone calls.

There was a time when you wanted to talk to human resources, which one tried to avoid, you just went to their offices on the second floor. Those times ended.

And so, too, did my 27-year career as a newspaper reporter, editor and columnist. The company cut my job effective May 1.

The boss was nice enough about it. What could she do? Somebody at corporate gave her a dollar figure. She had to get that out of the payroll. Two of us were cut that day.

This was my second layoff at this company and third journalism job loss since 2004. I feel like the nerdy kid who asks the captain of the cheerleaders to prom. This ends poorly.

It wasn’t a shock. My former company shed jobs about once every 18 months since 2005. I lost my job as editor of a weekly the company owned in 2008 and got rehired later that year.

Maybe that miracle can happen again. I’m just bent enough to keep trying to do journalism despite this wretched climate.

I’m like Crash Davis at the beginning of “Bull Durham,” whose ticked off he’s back in Class A ball. He threatens to quit, but before he leaves the locker room, he asks what time batting practice is. If I can get back in the game, I probably will.

During the layoff, I tried to be as gentlemanly as I could when I took my layoff. There’s no point throwing a tantrum. You can’t talk your way out of it. Someone decided your job was done.

Given a choice between dignified silence and temporarily satisfying rage and anguish, I choose dignity.

I’ve expected a layoff every single day I worked since I was rehired back in May 2008. It haunted me. I talked about it to excess, a lame ploy to get someone to assure me I was OK, that I stood on solid ground and my work mattered.

It wasn’t and it didn’t. It was never about the work. People much better than me have lost their jobs in newspaper culls, just as people much less skilled than me have taken the hits. It’s all about money.

I survived scores of layoffs for 12 years, mostly by luck, until the day I didn’t.

That a layoff was expected does not mean it wasn’t painful. It hurt like hell. I learned to read with this paper. My dad used to make funny voices for the characters in the Sunday comics page while I sat on his lap at breakfast.

This was my dream job. And it was over. I’m sad. I’m still trying to sort out who Daniel Finney is if he can’t be a newspaperman. I know I have value as a human being, a child of God worthy of love, dignity and respect.

But there are days I don’t feel it. I feel like I’ve been exiled, kicked out of the cool kids’ club. I feel like maybe I never belonged. I’m told this kind of feeling is “imposter syndrome.” Right now I’m just trying to find a job and stay in the moment, not let my thoughts run wild toward potential ruination.

The best compliment anyone ever paid me came from my friend Yvonne Beasley. One day I frightened some chattering interns when I ordered them to get away from me while I was working on deadline on a spot news story.

I confided to Bees that I felt bad for yelling at the kids. Yvonne said, “Finney, of course you scare them. You’re a real goddamn newsman.”

I think she was, and is, right. Was I the best ever? No, I wasn’t. But I was pretty damn good. I believed every story was a people story regardless of the subject. I sought out that humanity and tried to make the people and events I wrote about live in the minds of the readers.

I’m disinclined to bash the paper in absentia. I growled at retirees and old timers who bashed the paper as not being as good as it was when they worked there.

I spent a fair bit of time in the archives for history stories I wrote. There was a lot — a lot — of bad writing, grammatical errors and poor news judgement in the paper’s past.

My gripe with the geezers is that to compare a newspaper today to one from 1977 is like comparing a gas-guzzling pickup truck fresh off the line in 1950 to an all-electric car from 2020. What the paper does and how it does it has changed so much that the process by which it is put together bares scant resemblance to its history.

There are hundreds of reasons why newspapers are failing. People believe everything on the internet is free. Even people who liked my columns would complain on my Facebook page that my work was behind a paywall.

To me, this is like going to the restaurant, eating a meal and then being aghast when the server brings the bill. Why do you think this is free? How do you think news comes to be?

We are a society drunk on confirmation bias. We only want to hear, see or read things that affirm our existing conclusions about the way the world works. Anything that conflicts with those views is considered an assault.

The newspaper industry fouled up nearly every challenge it faced since the modern internet came to be in 1995.

I believe newspapers’ sorry state is a symptom of a greater problem in America. Long ago we decided we would rather be entertained than informed. This results in more emotive communication rather than rational talk.

Steven Tyler, the lead singer of Aerosmith, once said that if we had a button on our chests that gave us an orgasm, we’d press it all day until we passed out. He’s right. We’re hedonists at heart.

Look at how TV stations try to scare you to death for days in advance of even the tiniest snowstorms. Fear and anger are primal emotions and they keep you watching and they keep you reading.

The problem with a society based almost exclusively on emotive communication is that there are no adults saying, “There is actual work that needs to get done here.” We are all children satisfying our wants without a clue how to accomplish our needs.

I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent. That’s OK. I don’t work for a newspaper anymore. I pay for this space. I can run on as long as I damn well please.

I don’t have a new job yet. I’m looking. It turns out it’s hard to find a job in the middle of a pandemic. I’ll be OK. I’ve been through a lot of shit in this life and still got back to my feet.

I’m not kid anymore. I turn 45 in June. This is the end of the middle part of my career and my life. New beginnings happen all the time. I’d just as soon not start over, but we don’t always get what we want.

I’m applying for jobs, trying to find a gig that matches skill and soul to appreciation and compensation. It’s only been a few weeks. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out.

Being unemployed is like everything else in this twisted CONVID-19 universe: It’s scary as hell and boring you to death all at once.

In the meantime, there’s this blog. I’m going to write about my city, my country and my planet about three times a week. I’ll tell stories when I can and I’ll keep folks updated on my ongoing struggles with mental health and morbid obesity.

So, here’s the thing: The Paragraph Stacker is free, but my rent is not. If you find you like what I do here, send in some cash. I’ve put a button at the bottom of the page to send an at-will donation to PayPal. I’ve suggested $5 a month. If you don’t do PayPal, my postal address is under the contact tab on the home page. Pay what you can afford. Anything will be appreciated.

So whatever happened to the Paragraph Stacker? Well, he got knocked down hard. But he’s getting back up again, one sentence at a time.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life in the places we live.

ParagraphStacker.com is reader-supported media. Please consider donating at paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

17 thoughts on “The end of the middle

  1. Ronald Hurd says:

    I’m in. Thanks for explaining it so clearly. 🇺🇸☺⭐💕

    Like

  2. Karen McNally says:

    Yay! Three times a week I can read Daniel Finney! Best news this week. I’ll send a donation.

    Like

  3. cdbteach says:

    Dan, as someone married to a person thrice fired by the Register I can relate to your position. Don’t stop doing what you do. You’re one of the great ones.

    Like

  4. Dave Hubbard says:

    Dan you can not re-invent the wheel.You have done well.You will survive.e all have.It hurts I know.It is kind of a pride thing too.You may fall off the bike.kids get back on…If you eally feel bumbed nd want to still write…make it a heart felt issue..take it to heaven and God. A faith now imn these times..got to have…so much out there….. I am no preacher..but was greatly indluenced by natural writer no college JohnmPhillips NYTimes…he is in book Kingdom and Power by Gay Talease…We were buddie 40myearsmuntil he passed…..Keep the faith worrking.Lwets see what God has next.Iwill keep you inprayer…Between us.in confo..This is not thee final note friend.Do not dispare..Take the pain.,God will helpmya./…….listen to that gospel tune…Up on the mountain…hi times loqw times.. You will carry the mail again.You are ahero to many fans.. Regards…I do not care what youthink of this…man..your a bro in the word…I have had foundry buds crash too…Are you up forunemployement moneyy.Millions are now.This pandemic issue..papers are merging. 2 3 in Iowa last wekk. When l librarys open–get in there bud. .take care. Dave Hubbard..fan of Dan the Man—mna my paragraphs were buried..yours carried…L

    Like

  5. Jane Rider says:

    I always looked forward to reading your column and now will continue to read your new column!

    Like

  6. Melody says:

    You’re an extremely talented writer. Best wishes in your future endeavors. Thank you for continuing to share your craft with the world.

    Like

  7. Amy says:

    Try writing a book ?? You are so enjoyable to read !!

    Like

  8. David M. Murillo says:

    The Register is on borrowed time. Someday soon the whole thing will fold Daniel. Everything happens for a reason. You have great writing skills while the Register has nothing. It will not survive Dan. You will. Once my new consulting business starts I will contact you about joining us. More later. -Dave Murillo

    Like

    1. I’m holding you to that, sarge.

      Like

  9. Alicia Hall says:

    No one writes the way you do…a one of a kind, with heart & soul. Keep writing!

    Like

  10. Glad you have an outlet for your work here. Keep writing and I’ll keep reading!

    Like

  11. chezbonnefemme says:

    Glad you have an outlet! Keep writing — and I’ll keep reading. Cheers.

    Like

    1. Ann Klein says:

      Count me in! Love your beautifully stacked paragraphs.

      Like

  12. Pat Kinney says:

    Just paid a year in advance Dan, and an extra buck to IowaWatch to boot. Blessings to you,

    Like

    1. You should have asked about the Yankees fan discount.

      Like

  13. Paul Algreen says:

    Dan, I’m in. Best written copy I’ve read in too long. Be well and keep up the good fight!

    Like

  14. June F Johnson says:

    Your column was always the first one we read before the rest of the DMR, your humanity, empathy for others, humor, and superb writing are a treasure! We are glad to be reading your thoughts once again!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: