des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Media, News, Newspapers, Unemployment

Dear Jon from Alaska, F— off.

Jon from Alaska comments on one of my recent columns about my troubles with Iowa’s unemployment office:

“You could get a job. Just a thought.”

First, fuck off, Jon. I don’t know you. You don’t know me. Let’s keep it that way.

I can say things like that now. I don’t work for media companies and probably never will. I don’t have to pretend every troll’s eyeballs are sacred to my survival.

So, again, fuck off, Jon from Alaska.

But let’s consider Jon from Alaska’s suggestion that I get a job.

I apply for at least two jobs every week just to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

The problem is that between 1990 and 2020, half of all journalism jobs were eliminated by the greedy corporate hustlers and slimy hedge fund operators who systematically sacrificed news coverage in the name of the United States of America’s favorite deadly sin: Greed.

The skills I spent developing since I was 15 years old are no longer in demand.

There are job postings for writers, of course. But what they really want are webmasters with design skills who can turn every story viral and spell most of the words right. The craft I practiced is practically extinct.

There were pretty good signs this was going to happen when I was in college nearly 30 years ago.

The internet was a new and mesmerizing curiosity in 1995, when I was a junior at Drake University. Now even my 72-year-old parents have Facebook and email.

My dad used a computer for the last few years of his career as a printer. He sends texts with GIFs now.

That’s like being born in a well and later living on a space station.

There were signs journalism was doomed before AOL started giving away 500 free dialup hours on compact discs jammed in the mailbox each week.

The movie “Network” seemed like satire in 1976, with poor Howard Beal shouting, “I’m mad as HELL and I’m not going to take it ANYMORE.”

But Beal died for daring to speak too much truth.

If I showed that movie to my classroom, the kids would probably think it was a documentary.

So, Jon from Alaska, the best place for getting a job would be in journalism. That’s what I know. That’s what I’m good at.

But journalism is hardly practiced anymore by the remaining news outlets.

What you see in markets big and small is a kind of burglary passed off with a good cover story about being overwhelmed by changes in technology and babbling about social media.

I worked in St. Louis for a while. It didn’t go well. I was an asshole in a town where you could only be an asshole if you grew up there.

They had a saying about the old newspaper owner while I worked there.

Joe Pulitzer was a great newsman. Joe Pulitzer II was a great newsman. Joe Pulitzer III was a great art collector.

Pulitzer III’s widow sold off the paper to Lee Enterprises, an Iowa company.

This was a little bit like a guy who owned a few fishing boats buying a battleship. They both go on water and you can fall out and drown, but that’s where the similarities end.

Lots of people fell off the St. Louis paper and drown over the last 15 years. More will before it’s done.

Somewhere, a couple of bag men drop off a few more suitcases of $100s in unmarked, nonsensical bills at Lee executives’ houses.

The cases get lighter every year and so too does the payroll at the paper, which exists mostly to cover the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.

Eventually the suitcases will be reduced to some pocket change and whatever is left of the newspapers the corporations have wrecked, mostly used furniture, will be auctioned off.

Jon from Alaska is right. I should get a job. I’ve applied for a job at the local Gannett outlet store several times. They don’t bother to respond. That’s probably for the best.

After two layoffs in a dozen years, I’m beginning to think they’re serious about not wanting me around.

I wonder if they’ll even be around each other anymore. They’ve been out of the office since the pandemic started and they aren’t considering a return until fall.

This could be the moment Gannett says, “Do we really need an office?” They issue laptops and smartphones. They have instant messaging. Why bother paying rent for a combo fax machine and printer?

I digress.

I hate to disappoint Jon from Alaska. But I am trying to get a job.

I’m retraining in graduate school to become a teacher.

That’s right. I’m going from the beloved highly respected field of journalism to the carefree and lucrative field of public education.

When I write it down like that, I get that feeling the Coyote in Road Runner cartoons must get when he realizes there’s no ground beneath him, only a long fall to the desert bottom with a giant rock landing on his head.

So, sadly, Jon from Alaska, I’m going to need those state benefits for a minute.

Some folks would tell me not to bother with Jon from Alaska. He’s a troll. He’s beneath my contempt.

I disagree.

The biggest lie we tell ourselves is that the cruel things people — even strangers — say about us don’t hurt.

They do. They absolutely do.

We do a disservice to our emotional well-being to pretend we’re invulnerable to cruelties cast so casually at us by others.

Jon from Alaska’s snark did hurt my feelings. It made me mad enough to stack all these paragraphs.

But Jon from Alaska doesn’t define me.

I’m gonna fight for my benefits allowed.

I’m gonna fight for my career.

And, one more time, fuck off Jon from Alaska.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.
des moines, Faith and Values, Iowa, life, Media, Newspapers, obesity, People, Unemployment

The story of falling down: ‘It’s just a lot of shit right now, Bob’

The Rogers-Finney clan about 24 years ago, from the left, Bob Rogers, Joyce Rogers, and their second-hand son, Daniel Finney.

My right knee buckled and I fell off the back stoop to the driveway. Arthritis plagues my knees and lower back. Weather changes exacerbate the already maddening condition. My obesity makes it even worse.

The fall came at the end of a visit to the home of Parents 2.0, the kindly east Des Moines couple who raised me after my first set of parents died.

Parents 2.0 are vaccinated. I’m half vaccinated, with the second shot to come early next month. We decided we’re comfortable visiting.

We ate lasagna with garlic bread and fresh salad. Dessert was strawberry shortcake.

We chatted after dinner and we all took naps. Afternoon turned to early evening and I decided to go home. Mom 2.0 gave me a hug and plastic sack with a quart of homemade chili and a leftover piece of lasagna.

I stepped off the back step and something went wrong. I don’t know if I missed the step or seized up because of the pain in my right knee.

It felt as if I was falling down forever, caught between the moment I knew I was going to fall and the impact with the cold concrete driveway. The chili and lasagna took a flight. I landed on my left side.

My friend Megan Gogerty is trying to win a rolling skating contest by skating every day in 2021. She posts funny videos on Instagram about roller skating and reading “War and Peace.” Megan has diverse interests.

In a recent video, she mentioned that it’s better to fall on your side than your back or front. Maybe I had that in mind when I crashed, but I landed on my side. I don’t know if it hurt any less, but I walked away without any broken limbs. So, Megan, if you’re reading, thanks.

I rolled over on to my belly and then my right side. My right shoe had come off. This must be how turtles feel when they’re stuck on the back of their shell.

My parents came out to help me up. This embarrassed me. I’m 45 years old and weight more than a quarter ton. Here two 72-year-old people were trying to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

I rolled on to my belly, got one leg under me and kicked another one behind. My folks each wrapped their arms around arms.

They both have a pretty good grip, especially Dad 2.0. They raised me to my feet and quickly sat me down on the picnic table. Mom 2.0 collected the scattered leftovers sack and went inside to repackage them.

Dad 2.0 sat with me on the bench, his grip like a vice on my right arm.

“Are you hurt?” he asked.

I knew he was asking about my physical condition. That’s not the question I answered.

The long virus year hurt us all in multiple ways. I lost my job. I lost two jobs. I was basically housebound for a year and my body suffered because of it. I was trying to get through school and become a teacher.

Some asshole stole my identity with algorithm and now I can’t get my unemployment check because the government leaders take six-figure salaries to make sure their offices make dealing with them as difficult as possible.

I’ve applied for rental assistance from the county. If things don’t work out soon with the unemployment office, I may be visiting food banks instead of Hy-Vee for groceries.

I could lash myself a billion times for every penny I wasted on comic books or treats instead of building up an emergency fund that everyone says you need and almost nobody does.

Nearly a year has passed since I was a practicing journalist. Most days I’m glad. I don’t want to go knocking on doors of the people who suffered tragedy to ask them to tell me their secrets anymore. I don’t want every paragraph I write to be subjected to the hideous system where my art is put on a spreadsheet and its value decided by how many people clicked on a goddamn link.

Yet, being away from the newsroom, as battered and empty as it was when they kicked me out, still burns. And that makes me angry.

I don’t want it to hurt that I got laid off by the one institution I ever wanted to work for, but it does. I know the place isn’t what it used to be, and it’s never been what I fantasized it would be.

But I always loved having my byline in the newspaper – even in the last few years, where I started to hate what our company had become.

They told us in college, way back in the early 1990s, that our generation would not work in one place. I was going to prove the exception and get a job at the local newspaper and worked there until I died.

It didn’t work out that way. The teachers were right. I was wrong. I don’t know why I’m still upset about it.

But in that moment, sitting on that bench with Dad 2.0 by my side, I felt more frightened and more vulnerable than I had at any point during these recent personal disasters.

I cried. Not much. But a tear in each eye that streaked down the cheek, hot on cool skin.

I know I have many blessings, Parents 2.0 chief among them. I have a handful of good friends who love me as I love them. I have shelter and TV and comic books and toys stacked floor to ceiling. I know I’m not the saddest case in the world. But that’s a fallacy of relative privation, the rhetorical concept that just because your problems aren’t the worst in the word does not mean they are not significant problems for you.

So, when my dad asked me if I was OK, I said: “It’s just a lot of shit, Bob.”

He still held my right arm. He looked at me through his bifocals and I could feel his sadness and worry.

“I know,” he said.

And we sat there together on the plank of the picnic bench, father and son, with the cold wind blowing across our faces on an early spring evening.

My mom joined us. I started to jabber about being a failure. She stopped me.

“It will work on,” my mom said. “It always has. It always will.”

I make a practice not to disagree with my mom. She’s right more than any of the teaches I ever had. They helped me stand and gathered my cane. They walked me out to my car and told me to be careful.

I thought again of my roller-skating friend, Megan. She recently wrote a lovely essay titled “A Reminder That This Is Impossible: And yet we’re doing it anyway.”

I find it best to avoid disagreements with Megan. She is right a lot, too.

My parents helped me to my feet. I leaned on my cane and waddled out to my car. I drove off to try and keep on keeping on in the age of impossible.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. 
Venmo@newsmanone
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

humor, Media, mental health, News, Newspapers, TV, Unemployment

How to lose a career in TV in three months: A story of failure and survival

From the desk of friendly neighborhood Paragraph Stacker Daniel P. Finney of Des Moines, Iowa.

My brief career as a TV journalist ended shortly before 5 p.m. Thursday, March 4, 2021.

Failure is a hard thing to admit, but I failed and failed badly in the role of assignment editor at Local 5 Iowa. Maybe that’s not the sort of thing a freshly unemployed person is supposed to admit, but it’s the truth.

The news director hired me because when he worked at a different station, he’d had a good experience with an old newspaper guy in an assignment editor’s role. I hoped to repeat that model for him at WOI-DT, but I fell flat the first week and never caught up.

They tried to teach me. I tried to learn. But in the end, I couldn’t keep up.

So many feeds of information swirled around through so many different mediums of communication that I always felt in the wrong place at the wrong time and constantly in fear that I had forgotten something.

I think the biggest problem was this was primarily a scheduling job. I thought I could handle that. I was wrong.

The work was more than keeping the book straight on where and when reporters and photographers are supposed to be. The job included finding sources and booking interview times, generating ideas at a frenetic pace and helping people decide how and when their stories should air.

I sometimes updated the website, tried to lead meetings – which was a fumbling mess – and make sense of the screeches from a dozen or more police scanners while I monitored social media feeds and text messages.

I had no idea what I was doing, and I was doing it all – or more accurately failing to do it all – at a dead sprint.

My bosses tried their best with weekly coaching sessions, but we all grew frustrated. They needed more out of me and deep down I knew I didn’t have what they wanted.

In the end, the problem was I’m a writer, and assignment editor at a TV station isn’t a writer’s job. The skill that I spent nearly three decades developing from high school sports stories to a city columnist just didn’t translate the way the station needed.

I felt like a relic of a different time, a Neanderthal banging at the keyboard with jawbone of an ass.

I leave with no bitterness. I met some excellent journalists. I made one or two friends. I learned a lot.

The biggest thing I learned was what a dummy I had been about TV news my whole life.

The creation of a single TV story takes a tremendous amount of technical acumen and rigor. WOI produced six news shows a day filled with stories created by a small, hard-working staff.

I used to describe TV reporters as “the hairspray mafia” when I worked for the local newspaper. Only my ignorance surpassed my arrogance.

I meant it as a friendly jibe against the competition; but it was more than that. I worked for a newspaper and felt superior. I thought print news possessed a more direct and intellectual connection to its audience.

Maybe that was true once, about 25 years or more before I was born. But TV ruled the house all 45 years I’ve lived. I know from my own mother’s talk about various anchors that she feels closer to local TV journalists than any writer in the newspaper, hopefully excluding me.

TV and print both face the same fade in audience today, as people choose news and information delivered through social media and darker recesses of the internet.

The most important thing about internet news seems to be that it’s free. The second most important thing is that it tells you want you already believe even if it ignores the truth.

Nobody likes a job to end, not really. Jobs mean regular pay, benefits and a certain kind of security.

But this job taught me not only to respect the trades I don’t know but that sometimes even money and insurance are not enough to make a job worth it.

My primary feeling throughout my more than three months at WOI was anxiety. I worried I was failing, that I was letting people down and that I was making a fool out of myself.

To what degree each of those things was true versus the degree to which my own never-ending struggle with mental health exacerbated probably is impossible to measure.

What I know is I had a job at a TV station. I was really bad at it. And when it ended, it felt as if a steel girder had been lifted off my chest.

I don’t know what happens next. I guess that’s what it’s like when your show is canceled.

I’m still in graduate school at Drake University. I plan to earn my teaching certificate and be licensed to teach middle school and high school. I might even teach college when I earn that master’s degree.

If any angel investors want to put me on “scholarship,” I’m not too proud to accept the help. (Seriously, your gifts and donations help not only with this website, but with a struggling newsman trying to make his way in the universe.)

I’ll be blogging more. I may delve into more controversial topics.

This adventure has ended.

A new one awaits.

Daniel P. Finney once tried to work in TV. It went badly.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. I’m freshly unemployed and have a big tax bill to pay. All donations are greatly appreciated and needed. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, Iowa, Media, News, Newspapers, TV

My first week in TV: Be careful with the grommets and know your vocabulary words

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, paragraph stacker, Des Moines, Iowa.

In the vernacular of Twitter cliche, which is the parlance of our times, if you had “Daniel Finney” takes a job in television news on your bingo card, you win 2020. The person who least expected to be working in television not just this year but any in his lifetime is the aforementioned, or, as I like to call myself in private, me.

The pace of TV is so much faster than the print newsrooms of my youth — and the assignments I’ve had the last eight or nine years — that I felt like I started the day three laps behind in a four-lap race.

My job title is assignment editor, which sounds like I’m handing work to other people. That’s sometimes true. Two people where shot last week, so I sent the night reporter out to get video and canvass neighbors. I gave out another story about an area Santa Claus who had a special story.

Usually, the reporters come up with most of their ideas for stories. Sometimes I might ask a question or make a suggestion about how to execute the story. All the reporters and photographers have a lot going on. Everybody is working on short-term stuff for that day’s broadcasts and long-term stuff for special packages and future evolutions of specific shows.

My job is like a traffic cop. I make sure everybody is heading in the right direction and all the lanes are moving smoothly. When I say “I,” I really mean a future version of me who knows what he’s doing. The first week the people who did this were the executive producer and the show producers I worked with.

They patiently explained to me everything from the vocabulary used in scripts for anchors to exactly where to put my cursor to on a screen to place a pink grommet. That’s not a joke. You can really mess something up by put a pink grommet in the wrong spot. You shouldn’t mess with the blue grommets either.

TV is like the military in this way: It comes with a blizzard of acronyms. There were so many that I had to ask my boss to write down the most common ones so I could study them. Don’t quiz me. I’d fail.

Print journalists often turn their noses up at TV journalists. I did. It’s a human weakness. People in competition need to believe their way is superior to the other ways. The reality is they’re just different. And it’s also true that the print culture felt a lot more like the broadcast culture at the end of my time at the newspaper.

After a week on the production side, I learned how little I know about the difficulty and skill involved in putting on a single 30-minute news broadcast. I’m thankful for the patient producers who helped me feel like I was contributing and not flailing helplessly like a child in the deep end without his water wings.

A new week dawns. Let’s see if we can do better.

Insert obscure pop culture reference and self-deprecating Daniel P. Finney caption here.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

comics, des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Media, Movies, Music, Newspapers, People, politics, Pop Culture, TV

HOT SHEET: The strange occurrence on 24th Street

Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake Neighborhood Station, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM ONE: A faint knock on the door shook the typist out of a nap inspired by the late afternoon football game.

ITEM TWO: The typist found a blue-eyed boy with tousled brown hair clad in faded blue jeans, high-top basketball shoes and a faded replica Walter Payton jersey with a set of headphones with orange foam covering the speakers and a portable cassette player hanging from his belt.

ITEM THREE: The typist recognized the boy immediately: It was his younger self at about age 10.

ITEM FOUR: The child had become unstuck in time.

ITEM FIVE: Author Kurt Vonnegut made up the phrase “unstuck in time” for his famous novel “Slaughterhouse-Five.”

ITEM SIX: Dan-10, as the typist would call him, had not yet read that book, nor had he known the loss of his parents by age 14, understood the true weight of his struggle to survive while they lived and the profound sadnesses of the many failures and regrets carried by the typist, Dan-45 as he would call himself.

ITEM SEVEN: Dan-45 invited his younger self in for milk and cookies, except he had no cookies to offer the boy as Dan-45 is diabetic and such things were bad for him.

ITEM EIGHT: Dan-10 settled for a can of Cherry Pepsi, which he declared almost as good as the fountain cherry Cokes at Montross Pharmacy on the Winterset square.

ITEM NINE: The boy sipped the pop and walked around Dan-45’s apartment; He marveled at the collection of pop culture ephemera.

ITEM TEN: Dan-10 peppered his older self with questions. Many exchanges went like this:

Dan-10: “Who’s the lady in the poster?”

Dan-45: “Taylor Swift. She’s a singer. I like her.”

Dan-10: “Is she like Madonna?”

Dan-45: “Yes and no. She’s her own artist.”

Dan-10: “I have a crush on Madonna.”

Dan-45: “So do I.”

ITEM NINE: Dan-10 noted Dan-45 had a lot of toys. The boy asked his older self if he still played with them. Dan-45 said he did, but not as much as he used to. Dan-10 retrieved a few Transformers from a box by Dan-45’s desk and they had an adventure on the coffee table. The good guys won.

ITEM TEN: Dan-10 was curious about Dan-45’s TV. The middle-aged man turned on the TV and tried to explain how streaming services worked.

Dan-10: “You mean you can watch anything you want any time you want?”

Dan-45: “Well, almost.”

Dan-10: “Can we watch ‘Doctor Who’ with Tom Baker? Iowa Public Television is showing the Colin Baker ones right now and I don’t like them as much.”

Dan-45: “You bet we can, buddy.”

And so we watched “City of Death.”

Dan-10: “I have a crush on Romana.”

Dan-45: “I do, too.”

ITEM ELEVEN: The two Dans spent some time reading comic books and eating lunch meat sandwiches with cheddar cheese and yellow mustard on a Hawaiian bun. The afternoon faded to evening and the sun set. The streetlights started to flicker on.

ITEM TWELVE: Dan-10 said he better be getting back home again. Dan-45 walked him to the door. The middle-aged man felt sad for the boy. He knew the next half-dozen years would be really hard on him and there would be many rough patches after that, like now. Dan-45 had told Dan-10 little of the future, but mentioned the virus and how people aren’t very nice to each other.

ITEM THIRTEEN: Dan-10 opened the door. Dan-45 felt like he should give his younger self some sort of wisdom, but the boy spoke first.

ITEM FOURTEEN: “You seem kind of sad, but you showed me your phone that can play video games, watch movies and TV and listen to any song you ever heard whenever you want,” Dan-10 said. “You said you wrote for a newspaper just like Clark Kent. You can drive a car, buy beer and vote. I bet nobody ever said ‘Adults need to be seen and not heard.’ You have friends that you can call long-distance for free. When I grow up, I hope I’m just like you.”

“You will be,” Dan-45 replied, “for better and worse.”

ITEM LAST: Dan-10 walked through the apartment door and seemed to fade in the bright hallway lights. He must have restuck in time. Dan-45 closed and locked the door, sat down in his big recliner and put on some more Tom Baker “Doctor Who.” Maybe the virus, the economy, politics and so many other things were just terrible. But through the eyes of his 10-year-old self, Dan-45 realized the simple pleasures of life were worth their weight in comfort.

Daniel P. Finney smells vaguely like a 1979 Strawberry Shortcake doll.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, humor, Iowa, Media, News, Newspapers, People, politics, Pop Culture

HOT SHEET: If you can figure out what this Hot Sheet is about, you could work for the CIA

Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake Neighborhood Station, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM ONE: Remember when everyone thought COVID-19 could be defeated by hoarding toilet paper? The typist just cracked the plastic on the first roll of TP he bought in the hoarding phase in March. 

ITEM TWO: Vice President Mike Pence and challenger Kamala Harris will be separated by plexiglass for their debate Wednesday. This is the only way Pence is comfortable being in the same room with a woman who’s not his wife

ITEM THREE: The typist recently ate a breakfast sandwich from Starbucks. It made him rethink his maxim that the worst meal he ever had was wonderful. 

ITEM 4: Has been suspended for 81 games after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. He was found curled up in tech support with a former Mets clubhouse boy and a Hy-Vee sack of Adderall. 

ITEM FIVE: The typist is amused when local radio stations proudly state they are “terrestrial” stations as opposed to those bastards in satellite radio. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker wants true extra-terrestrial radio. He, for one, wants to receive messages from the Vogons when they show up to destroy Earth to make way for another hyperspace throughway. 

ITEM SIX: The previous joke included a reference to Douglas Adams’ sci-fi comedy masterpiece “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” If you have not read it, stop reading the Hot Sheet, acquire a copy of the book and read it at once. The typist takes no responsibility if you laugh so much you pee your pants.

ITEM SEVEN: Two trains leave stations 60 miles apart at the same time heading toward one another on parallel tracks. Train A is traveling 30 miles per hour, while Train B is going 50 miles per hour. When do they pass each other?

ITEM EIGHT: The Hot Sheet has joked. The Hot Sheet has scolded. The Hot Sheet has begged. Now the typist is on the verge of giving in to despair. Congress and the White House have failed to act on a stimulus bill to help America’s unemployed and struggling, numbering at about 21 million nationwide. That number includes me, the ol’ Paragraph Stacker. He has faithfully searched for employment as he started graduate school to become a high school teacher, hoping that our political leaders could put aside their pettiness for the good of the American people and produce a package that enhanced unemployment benefits and gave a stimulus check. The latest news from CNBC quotes Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, as saying both sides remain far apart. The typist foolishly held to the notion that political leaders would act in the best interest of people, if not with everyday legislation, at least in crisis. The typist was wrong. The typist now firmly believes both Democrats and Republicans would rather let this matter fall apart, make Americans suffer and go home to their voters and say, “See, it’s those other jerks who are screwing this up. Vote in more people from my tribe.” Americans don’t trust their government and have grown weary of its impotence. This failure to negotiate in good faith and to reach compromise is a betrayal of the people our Congress serves at a core level. Our government does not have our backs. The typist doesn’t wish to encourage cynicism in advance of an election, but forgive the ol’ Paragraph Stacker if he feels like it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference who occupies those high offices, because in the end, we’re all screwed.

ITEM LAST: The typist is profoundly humbled by the many cards and letters he’s received by postal mail in support of this site and those who have donated money to support it. That money supports not only fees to keep this website independent, but also helps a middle-aged graduate student turn his life around and become a teacher. It embarrasses the typist to solicit money — and he would remind everyone that he thinks no less of those who can’t or choose not to — but if you wish to contribute, the information on how to send money can be found at this link: https://paragraphstacker.com/donations/. In addition, Daniel P. Finney can be found on Venmo and Zelle. The typist thanks all of you for your eyeballs and your kindness. When he lost his job at the local corporate news outlet store, he thought the time of people reading his words were over. You have given the typist new life. He remains humbled and honored.

Daniel P. Finney sleeps ion bedsheets with a pattern of buck-toothed red and blue sharks.

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.

des moines, humor, Iowa, Media, News, Newspapers

HOT SHEET: Bears survive, Old Man Brady falters, Northwood volleyball poster provokes and prayers for Grandma Lois

ITEM ONE: Behold the power of reverse psychology: Hot Sheet predicted doom for the Chicago Bears vs. the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Ford’s Field. Hark! T’was but a ruse! They typist’s faux bad juju produced a dramatic come-from-behind win for the Monsters of the Midway led by none other than the much-maligned Mitchell Trubisky. Hope bursts for this big-and-tall Bears backer. The joy lasted for the time it took an autumn leaf to unmore itself from tree branch and flutter to the ground. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker is not fooled. These are the cruel tricks the Windy City’s pro football team plays on its devoted throngs. We know — oh how we know — just how rapid the taste of victory washes from our mouth with the foul and fetid flavor of the screw cap wine that is a Bears’ season. The losses shall come, maybe next week. The Hot Sheet shall burn its Trubisky Funko Pop! figure in effigy in hopes of repeating the good vibes that clearly comes from this gloomy smack.

ITEM TWO: Tom Brady looked very much like a man too old to be playing pro football in his debut for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at New Orleans. He threw two interceptions — one a pick-six — and generally looked out of sync and frustrated. Brady threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, but he managed to complete two of three passes to his pal Rob Gronkowski, whom Brady coerced out of retirement. The typist admits fondness for Brady, who at 43, is two years younger than the ol’ Paragraph Stacker and still playing pro football. One gets to be the typist’s age and one starts to have fondness for middle-aged people pushing the sun up into the sky one more time. Hot Sheet isn’t ready to shovel the dirt on Old Man Brady just yet. Childhood hero Joe Montana had two productive seasons in 1993 and 1994 for the Kansas City Chiefs after leaving his longtime home with the San Francisco 49ers. Of course Old Man Joe was six years younger than Old Man Brady.

ITEM THREE: The Northwood-Kensett High School volleyball team created a poster of the girls’ volleyball team posing with local police under the headline “Back the Blue: Whatever It Takes.” The posters were made in August and sold as a way to raise money for the school’s post-prom, reports the Mason City Globe-Gazette. However, some argued the poster was in poor taste given the recent national unrest over police killings of Blacks and systemic racism. A taste of the backlash comes from this Twitter post: “First of all, I am appalled by the ignorance people have for the current environment of the US and second, wtf??” The photographer who took the photo decided not to sell the poster, then changed her mind and offered to obscure or digitally remove any players who didn’t want to be in the poster, per the Globe-Gazette. The poster was not created with district supervision, the Northwood-Kensett superintendent said in a statement. Stripped of context, the typist supposes someone could twist the meaning of the poster to be something more sinister than high school kids posing with their local cops. In context, “Back the Blue” refers to the school colors, which are blue, white and red, as well as the “blue” referring to law enforcement in general, though the cops in the poster are wearing khaki uniforms. “Whatever It Takes” is a longtime slogan of the volleyball team. I suppose in the twisted minds of radicals, this statement could be construed as endorsement of police violence, but the mental gymnastics it takes to get that point are so exhausting one wonders how tortured a mind must be to reach such a conclusion. Hot Sheet rejects the extremist notion that any support of police is akin to racism. It is entirely possible to support both Black Lives Matter and police. The “all-or-nothing” approach to any idea is a pathway to madness and self-destruction. If kids want to have their picture taken with local cops for post-prom, the ol’ Paragraph Stacker chooses to read that as community spirit unless proven otherwise.

ITEM FOUR: Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is quitting as U.S. Ambassador to China after three years, reports CNN. The Leland, Iowa, native was one of President Donald Trump’s first ambassadorial appointees. The New York Times writes: Branstad “found himself on the front lines of President Trump’s trade war and, by this year, a downward spiral of tensions that, to many, has heralded a new era of Cold War-like confrontation between the world’s two largest economies.” The Times goes on to note Branstad visited 26 of 34 provinces, including a visit to Tibet. Hot Sheet was never a big Branstad backer, but felt some sympathy for his fellow Iowan thrust into the madness of Trump’s erratic and irresponsible foreign policy. When Branstad took the gig, the typist was glad to be rid of him as Iowa governor. Still, the ol’ Paragraph Stacker remembers Branstad with some fondness. In decades earlier, we both had tickets to Drake University women’s basketball games and more than once stood in line for popcorn together. Hot Sheet doubts one can run into the former governor of New York in line for snacks at a women’s basketball game.

ITEM LAST: Hot Sheet asks for prayers and well wishes for the typist’s grandmother, Lois Newcomb, who is in the hospital with excessive water in her tissues and a heart ailment. Grandma Lois is the mother of the ol’ Paragraph Stacker’s Mom 2.0, Joyce Rogers, the kindly east Des Moines hairdresser who raised him after his first set of parents died. Lois is 93, a kind and accepting soul, who has seen a lot of social changes play out in her own family. She made special effort to welcome yours truly into the family nearly 30 years ago. For years, Parents 2.0 and the typist ate Wednesday dinner at Lois’ house. And until she moved to assisted living a year ago, Lois made sure to make oyster soup once a year for the typist, Aunt Janice and herself as we were the only three in the family who enjoyed the stuff. At present, Lois is resting and due to COVID-19, visiting is kaput.

OK, let’s close the book on this one. Go forth this week, my friends. Remember to drop a donation if you can. And, as always, behave and be kind.

Daniel P. Finney has a Runza on his hat and you should, too.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way poking fun at the passing parade.

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.

des moines, humor, Iowa, Media, Movies, News, Newspapers, People, Pop Culture

HOT SHEET: Everybody out of the pool, Long John Silver’s nostalgia, Twitter loves Kamala Harris’ casual footwear and genderless Sue the T. Rex returns to Des Moines

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake Station:

ITEM ONE: Monday marks Labor Day, a day when most Americans are released from work to honor the successes of the labor movement. Unions’ hardscrabble battles against power brokers in the 19th and 20th centuries won more than niceties such as paid holidays, vacation and the 40-hour work week. It helped manufacture the American middle class. Today, the paradigm slashes back across the throats of the middle and working classes. The 10% wealthiest people own about 70% of the nation’s net wealth, a figure that’s on the rise, per the Pew Center. Meanwhile, with 68% of Americans with at least some involvement in the stock market, corporations face America’s collective greed. Companies led by soulless hustlers snuff out jobs, extend workdays and squeeze benefits. Perhaps Labor Day should be less a day to remember yesteryear and more a time to reassert our value as workers for the future.

ITEM TWO: Deflate your rubber duckies and tuck away your floaters and noodles, the pools — the ones that bothered to open in the pandemic — are closed. Your typist notes this with sadness in extremis. The year 2020 has already seemed like a long, dark winter. The unofficial end of summer starts the actual long, dark winter. In the words of Mike Pauly, former Des Moines Register news editor, who closed each night’s final edition with the declaration: “Everybody out of the pool.”

ITEM THREE: Unavailable due to Labor Day holiday.

ITEM FOUR: Nostalgia plays a powerful role in the ol’ Paragraph Stacker’s life — sometimes to his detriment. Autumnal thoughts turned to late Grandma Rogers, who often accompanied the typist to Long John Silver’s for “fish and chips” when Parents 2.0 took their annual fall vacation. The typist sampled said fast fish but any hope of an endorphin boost shattered like rose-colored glasses once the gastronomical abomination reached the stomach. Be advised: Any cheerful recollections of LJS should be tempered against the grisly reality. To misquote the Bard: “Out, damned grease!”

ITEM FIVE: Some Twitter users worked themselves up into a frothy lather when Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris wore low-cut Converse Chuck Taylors at a campaign event Monday. This kind of substantive observation is why Twitter is such an excellent medium on which to follow the decline and fall of the American democracy. Forget what Harris’ policy views are. She wears sneakers just like regular folks. A woke warrior might note that comments on women’s fashion in the political sphere trends toward sexist, but those rules tend only to apply to conservatives who make said observations. Worst of all, Converse Chuck Taylors offer almost no arch and heel support, which means a potential veep risks Achilles tendinitis every time she slides on her Chucks. For shame all around.

ITEM SIX: Update on #OldManStudent. As previously noted, the ol’ Paragraph Stacker returned to Drake University to finish his master’s degree and earn teacher certification at age 45. Times change and so too did the back-to-school experience of young Finney before kindergarten in 1980 vs. the middle-aged typist’s return in 2020. The latest example: In school days of yore, it was entirely likely my younger self would have dashed off to school and forgot his lunch. These days, it’s more likely that I’ll fire up my Zoom class meeting without having taken my pills.

ITEM SEVEN: Sue: The T. Rex Experience, a travelling exhibit about the history of prehistoric giant lizards, has returned to the Science Center of Iowa, WHO-TV reports. The report also notes that Sue’s pronouns will use the they/their pronoun alignment because there’s no evidence the fossil construct was male or female. The typist recognizes there is no comment he would make here that won’t result in hues and cries of rage and anguish from at least one group of extremists. So, Hot Sheet says only this: “You’ve given me a lot to think about and I think I’ll stay home and quietly ponder it.”

ITEM EIGHT: Speaking of sues, or lawsuits to be more precise, the Science Center is suing their insurance company over its failure to pay up after a 2018 flash flood destroyed the museum’s IMAX theater. Until repairs are made, Iowans continue to watch boring nature films on Iowa PBS.

ITEM LAST: In response to some reader questions, let’s define terms: A “roll call” is how cops begin shifts — also called watches — every eight to 10 hours. Roll call is also how teachers used to take attendance by calling the name of each student. The 1980s classic cop drama “Hill Street Blues” opened most shows with a roll call. A recent reviewing of all seven seasons by your typist inspired this series of columns. “Typist” and “the ol’ Paragraph Stacker” all refer to yours truly, Daniel P. Finney. I am the one and only author on this site. I am not a true sergeant of any kind, but the “sergeant of the watch” is another term for desk sergeant or the officer who handles the administrative tasks of the officers on patrol that shift. “Roll Call” is officially rechristened “Hot Sheet,” another old cop term for a list of active cases, wanted persons and other topics patrol offers are ordered to keep in mind as they work the streets. Hot Sheet seemed a better name since we weren’t truly taking attendance, but offering items of note. Hot Sheet will not be the only kind of column that appears on paragraphstacker.com. The typist explores writing styles as he learns to teach writing.

Finally, paragraphstacker.com remains free, but at-will donations are welcome and encouraged. See the bottom notation for the link.

That’s it, my friends. Let’s roll.

And, as always, be kind and behave.

Daniel P. Finney once ate a sandwich that was THIS big.

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.

des moines, humor, Iowa, Media, News, Newspapers, sports, Unemployment

ROLL CALL: Pandemic makes fools of Iowa’s top officials

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake University Station:

ITEM ONE: Iowa State University reversed it’s dunderheaded plan to have 25,000 fans at the Cyclone’s opening football game next Saturday in Ames during the COVID-19 pandemic. ISU President Wendy Wintersteen punted after “receiving feedback from the community.” No word on whether the Center for Disease Control plans to release news that one of the symptoms of coronavirus is making public officials look foolish.

ITEM TWO: Speaking of public officials who continue to look poorly prepared in the pandemic, President Donald Trump issued an executive order for an extra $300 to those unemployed because of COVID-19. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the Hawkeye State up for the bonus, but nearly a month later the beneficiaries bank accounts are as empty as Trump’s unconstitutional order.

ITEM THREE: Iowa is one of the hottest spots in the nation for coronavirus spikes. COVID-19 cases are up 81% in the last week, per the Washington Post. The state trails only South Dakota in per capita increase over the same period. Reynolds responded by closing bars and nightclubs. But restaurants that serve booze are still open. Can the good governor explain what magic ingredient in food keeps the coronavirus away from restaurants? The ol’ Paragraph Stacker suspects that the said additive is the powerful lobby of the Iowa Restaurant Association. This is not to say the desk wishes restaurants and bars shuttered. Lord knows those businesses and their employees have suffered enough in this rancid year. Rather, the desk advocates public policy that makes sense and feels less willy-nilly.

ITEM FOUR: The White House coronavirus task force dubbed Iowa a “hot spot” for COVID-19 outbreaks and encouraged a statewide mask mandate, according to the local Gannett Outlet Store. This column previously poked fun at Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie’s citywide mask mandate, but we now admit we were wrong in the face of this new data. Reynolds should issue the order. Her coronavirus policy largely appears to be moves to placate her buddy Trump and a pathological inability to admit her errors. Some might tell her that the White House task force on the coronavirus works for Trump. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker worries she might not know that.

ITEM FIVE: School districts continue to grapple with the Iowa Legislature’s back-to-in-person-school mandate. A friend tells the ol’ Paragraph Stacker that Carlisle started the year with seven teachers on coronavirus quarantine the first day. Ames, in COVID-19 slathered Story County, is online only. West Des Moines and several other districts went with a hybrid model. Des Moines lost a longtime teacher to the virus, per KCCI, though a reader wisely notes the teacher had not been with students for some time. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker reminds parents that they all have the option of taking their kids online only and right now, that seems like a damn good idea if you have the resources to make it work. Don’t expect any help from your state government, which has neutered local control of schools and kowtow to Trump’s high body count, low common sense style.

ITEM SIX: Sen. Joni “Empty Suit” Ernst continues to prove her mettle as a Trump backup singer. At a campaign stop in Waterloo, Senator Do Nothing babbled a conspiracy theory that the U.S. pandemic death toll was inflated, per the Washington Post. But experts — smart people who use actual data — say the death toll likely is underreported because the largest cities lacked the ability to count their dead. Here’s hoping Iowa’s Dollar Store Sarah Palin receives irrefutable data from the ballot box in November so she can go back to her favorite pastime: pig castration.

ITEM LAST: This column is more political, and decidedly more leftist, than the usual paragraphs issued from this desk. Don’t be fooled. Your friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker has not joined anybody’s team. The desk opposes stupidity and ignorance regardless of its form. This collection of sentence slinging might please the overzealous lefties who suggested I supported white supremacy a few weeks back. But this column shall surely elicit at least one “cuckold” comment from the irascible righty rage machine. So it goes. I will say this in response to all extremists inclined to such chatter: Honorable people disagree.

The desk is clear. Let’s roll.

Behave and be kind, my friends.

Daniel P. Finney covers novelty stocking caps for ParagraphStacker.com.

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.

des moines, Iowa, Media, mental health, News, Newspapers, People

How an episode of ‘Black Mirror’ explained the end of my career in journalism

My friend Mandy Stadtmiller suggested I watch an episode of the British TV series “Black Mirror.” She told me the show is an “anthology of dystopias.” Mandy is an author. That’s the kind of thing authors say.

She explained it was kind of like “The Twilight Zone,” only more depressing.

I avoid depressing things for entertainment. I live with depression. I feel no need to pour it in my brain through my eyes and ears.

I don’t listen to Coldplay or Morrisey. I saw “Schindler’s List” just once. I prefer fantasies where the good guys win and the lines of good and evil are clearly delineated.

Still, Mandy is very smart. I trust her recommendations. So, I watched the first episode of the third series, called “Nosedive.”

The story takes place in a not-too-distant future where people’s value is determined by their social rating. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Lacie, a young woman desperate to raise her 4.2 rating to 4.5 to get a discount on an apartment.

Lacie receives an invitation to the wedding of her childhood friend, who rates a 4.8 and has a guestlist of highly rated luminaries.

Lacie believes if she can just nail her maid-of-honor speech she will collect enough positive ratings to improve her social status.

Perhaps predictably, things break bad for Lacie as she travels to the wedding and her social rating plummets so far that she’s disinvited from the wedding.

Lacie shows up anyway and melts down in front of the crowd. The crowd decimates her social rating and she’s arrested.

In jail, cut off from the social rating system, Lacie and another prisoner playfully trade profanities and insults free from the worry of losing any status.

The episode is funny in parts. Cherry Jones plays a truckdriver with a downhome, who-gives-a-fuck mentality that brightens what is otherwise a terrifying look at how desperately we crave approval through social media.

The episode is good speculative fiction. It pushes the present slightly forward and only a bit askew.

I found the episode revelatory in how well it portrayed the tremendous burden social media places on people.

As I continue to detoxify from a career in journalism, I start to realize how much anxiety and depression the final years of my career produced.

Allow me to preface this: What I went through at my former shop is a story repeated in scores of newsrooms across the nation as the trade copes with staggering and likely catastrophic changes.

I hold no specific grudges against my former employer. How things ended for me there could have easily been repeated at any other newspaper in any other city. It only hurt more because this was my hometown paper.

The industry changed so drastically in the second decade of my career that I barely recognized my trade. I did not make the adjustment quickly enough to survive. I’m not sure survival was even possible. So it goes.

It just came to pass that the thing I wanted to do since I was a boy was not a thing that existed in the modern world. I was a village blacksmith wandering through town looking for an anvil while the cars zoomed by.

For a while, there was a TV screen in the middle of the newsroom that displayed individual reporter’s social media rankings.

It felt as if “Mean Girls” created a stock market ticker for my worth as a writer.

We lived and died by metrics — basically how many people clicked on your stories and how long they read them.

The bosses gave reporters quarterly metrics goals. The goals increased each quarter. I rarely made my goal.

Sports stories always scored well. Salacious crime drew eyeballs. Entertainment such as frou-frou food and craft beer lit up the board.

My column? Not so much.

I cracked up twice under this system. I took time away to recover from bouts of major depression during which I was suicidal.

Why couldn’t I connect with readers? Why wasn’t I good enough? Why was I failing?

I became bitter and cold. I hated my job. I hated the people I worked with. I hated other reporters who somehow figured out how to get the metrics pinball machine to light up when I could not.

And I hated myself for not being strong enough to separate my identity from my job.

Most of all, I hated myself for not having the guts to quit.

Eventually the bosses took my column away and made me a storyteller. That’s corporate journalism terminology for “reporter who writes long stories.”

Sometimes those stories did well. They often did not. The trouble with long stories is they take even longer to report and write.

When a big story flopped, I felt even more pressure to make the next story a big metrics winner.

I felt like mob hitmen pressed .45s into each of my temples while they fitted my feet for cement shoes.

My mental and physical health deteriorated.

And, finally, my job was cut.

I was devastated.

But it’s been four months now.

I see how my life mirrored the “Black Mirror” episode. I was Lacie — desperate for better ratings. I stopped being myself and tried to be what people wanted.

The experience nearly broke me.

But now things are better.

I’m free to write about whatever I want. I don’t fight the metrics machine anymore. My friend Memphis Paul and I make podcasts once a week. About 50 people download it. Great!

We record because it’s fun for two old friends to crack jokes and chat. I learned how to do basic podcast editing; a skill that might come in handy.

I keep writing my column in this blog. People like it. (Financial contributions welcome and appreciated!)

I’m broke. So what? I scrape by on unemployment. I attend graduate school.

I am going to be a teacher, English and journalism.

What I endured the last few years informs how I will approach my relationship with my students.

They will never be just a collection of numbers — test scores and gradebook points — to me. They will always be fellow humans engaged in the daily struggle to survive a world desperate to rate everyone on everything.

I will always treat them with love, dignity and respect.

That’s the only metric that matters.

Daniel P. Finney has a head that is too small for the rest of his body.

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.