The Paragraph Stacker

Uncensored columns from an exiled newsmane

Photo by Joshua Hoehne via Unsplash

When I worked at my old shop, I joked about how arcane the craft of journalism was. One of my oft-repeated lines was being a practicing journalist in the 21st century is like being an endangered species that is still actively hunted.

Ha, ha.

I had many such jests.

A newspaper newsroom is like living in a hospice without the fentanyl drip.

Journalists are like village blacksmiths looking for an anvil to pound out horseshoes while everyone else is driving around in cars with prefabricated polycarbonate thermoplastic panels.

Or my favorite: Journalism is like riding bareback on a dinosaur to the La Brea Tar Pits.

Jokes tend to have a sliver of truth to them. I am learning the hard way just how accurate my old barbs were.

I’m a writer. I call myself a paragraph stacker or sentence slinger mostly as a joke, a twist on saying “reporter” or “writer” all the time.

But I am a writer. It’s the only way I’ve ever made a living. I thought that would always be true.

It looks less likely to be so.

I’ve applied for scores of jobs in unemployment. I looked for jobs that focused on writing. There were a few.

I discovered people don’t really want writers. Well, they do. But they also want photographers, videographers and editors, website designers, print designers and the ability to field strip and clean a SIG Sauer MPX while changing the oil in a Ford F-550 Super Duty.

OK. I made up the last two things, but the all-in-one hire is the popular choice on the job board.

This depresses me for several reasons.

Photographers and designers are tradesman in their own right. They practice an art all their own. To suggest that any person can do all those things with any degree of excellence is to ignore both the value of experience and the difficulty of the crafts.

But what really makes me sad is I think that most of the positions that list writing as an important skill just tack that on at the end. What they really want is a web designer or videographer who can string a few sentences together.

I wrote my first professional story when I was 17 years old. Ever since then, I’ve been paid to be a writer. I worked on that craft for 27 years, 23 of them full-time.

I feel like I’ve reached middle age and have tremendous experience in getting an ox to pull a plow while everyone younger than me — and a few older — speed by on the latest John Deere equipment.

I am envious of recent journalism school graduates. My alma mater, Drake University, teaches journalism students how to write apps for phones, make video, edit video and all kinds of other things.

They graduate from college more prepared for the work I’ve been doing since I was 17.

I can still beat them in paragraphs. But no one really cares about writing. I keep up with my favorite baseball team on the Major League Baseball app. I find the writing on there to be awful, well below the standard of the brand.

Then I realize another thing about me that is outdated is a sense of standards. Journalism gave up on that when they fired their copy editors.

Writing that is riddled with clichés — the kind my early editors excised with glee and mocked me for including — is now commonplace.

The reality is very few people read beyond the score. They just want to know who hit home runs and how many strikeouts the ace pitcher had.

In the loathsome vernacular of fantasy sports, I’m evaluating writing on advanced metrics, but the readers are just looking for a few paragraphs. There is no quality comparison.

I don’t mean to offend the handful of this column’s loyal readers. I know they care about quality of writing because they tell me they do.

They also complain to me about other writers at my old shop, which I think is bad form. I don’t work there anymore and even if I did, I would not talk about a colleague’s work. They are responsible for their own stuff.

Some people are generous enough to donate money to keep this website and podcast going. But that has waned. The data shows people just aren’t interested in these columns anymore.

Soon I will have to make some tough choices about my life and future. Senate Republicans seem hell bent on making unemployed Americans like me and 13 million others twist in the wind as the expanded unemployment benefits end July 30.

If that goes away, things will get very tight around Camp Daniel very quickly.

I’m thinking about going back to school to become a teacher. I’m exploring all the grant options and financial aid assistance.

I think I might make a good teacher.

But I don’t think I’ll be a writer anymore.

The world doesn’t seem to want them.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

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 ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

6 thoughts on “Writer no more? That looks like my future

  1. Kathy Kahler says:

    I think you would make a great teacher!!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

  2. frazierfran says:

    What are the qualifications to be a substitute teacher in Iowa? There may be a need for more of them this fall.

    Like

  3. rflaspohler says:

    Get “What Color is My Parachute” by Richard Bolles from library. Good book for assessing career change. It’s been revised many times, so get a fairly recent edition.

    Always enjoy your paragraph. Even when you worked at the other place!

    Like

  4. droll53 says:

    My heart breaks for you. A really good distance learning program, maybe? You could be a wonderful teacher, but social distancing is so important. Prayers for you in your job search.

    Like

  5. You have written a lot about the amazing impact and how much you learned from other newspaper people who mentored, taught or otherwise affected you. Those people who really made a difference in your skills, career, and passion about what you do. I am no better way to honor them, than to join their ranks and have that same kind of affect on people coming up behind you. You might not teach them to be newspaper writers, but I can’t think that doesn’t mean you don’t have a lot to offer them on being good writers. Even if the next generation of “writer” is the kind you describe in your column here.

    Like

  6. rgergely says:

    I think you would make a great teacher!

    Like

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