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.

Iowa, Media, Newspapers, People, Unemployment

I shall teach

I shall teach.

I am 45 years old. I’m out of work. There’s a global pandemic. Nothing seems right with the world.

And the only trade that seems more troubled, more affected by society’s idolatry and hedonism than journalism is education.

Well, reporters, teachers and cops. They’re all tough jobs in any era.

I’m too old and too fat to go wheezing around town after the city’s scofflaws.

But I damn well know writing.

So, I shall teach.

I believe writing is a primary form of self-expression and the mastery of it can lead to a happier, healthier life.

If nothing else, you can impress people by hiding what you don’t know through artfully stating what you do know.

Being full of shit is an employable skill.

Yes, I shall teach.

But first I shall learn.

Monday begins the new semester at Drake University. I will be a graduate student in the School of Education.

I’m in a master’s degree program. My adviser and I have mapped out an aggressive course of study.

If all goes well, I’ll be student teaching in a year and hitting up Des Moines-area districts for a full-time gig at middle schools and high schools come January 2022.

I am not a tourist in education. This is not a placeholder. This is the second half of my working life.

I’m middle-aged. I gave 23 years to journalism. I’ve got another 22 years to work before I earn Social Security.

I was a journalist. I will be a teacher almost as long. That will be a good life, a life spent in public service — especially the second half.

I graduated high school thinking I would become a teacher. I remember asking my high school principal to save me a job when he gave me my diploma in spring 1993.

I planned to be a history teacher when I enrolled for classes at Drake that fall.

Then I got a job covering football for the campus newspaper. That began 27 years of getting paid to stack paragraphs.

That run ended in May. You know the story: Pandemic plus corporate cutbacks equal the end of careers.

I’ve dwelled on the end too long.

It’s time to get up, dust off and take a bold step in a new direction.

Yes, I shall teach.

Reset. Back to school at middle age.

There’s no institution that has served me better than Drake. It has always been there for me when I needed to grow and regenerate.

First, I was an undergraduate and learned my passion for my first trade.

Then, about 15 years back, I was out of work in journalism (this is a theme of the industry in the 21st century), and I worked at Drake in public relations.

And now, in the middle of my working life, I come home to Drake yet again. There must be a reason why I’ve lived in the neighborhood since I came back to Des Moines in 2004.

I’ve already contacted the campus newspaper editor about work. I need to embed myself amongst our youth and understand how they think, how they uptake and process information.

I expect to learn from my students far more than I’ll ever teach them. I might as well start by getting to know the loads of students around me at Drake.

I don’t want to be just a teacher. I want to be a great teacher.

I realize I’m an old man by the standards of youth. It feels strange as hell to be a rookie in my 40s.

But not entirely unfamiliar. The last few years of my journalism career consistently felt like I had gotten off the bus in the wrong neighborhood.

I didn’t know where I was, what I was doing or who I was doing it for. The trade was a mess and the people who struggled the most often were those who had practiced it the longest.

The advantage teaching has over journalism, one of many I hope, is that you always know who you serve: The students.

Right now, I am a student again. Well, that’s not quite right. I’ve always been a student. Good journalists study people and society.

I was a good journalist, even if the greedy corporate hustlers eventually decided they could do better without me.

I will strive to be a good teacher.

All it takes is everything I’ve got.

And when that’s gone, I’ll find some more and give it that, too.

Yes. I shall teach.

Daniel P. Finney, winner of invisible cat’s cradle competition

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.

humor, Iowa, Media, mental health, News, People, Pop Culture, sports, Unemployment

2020: Apocalypse Slow or the derecho and the damage done

I thought the apocalypse would be faster.
The Death Star shows up in orbit and “BOOM.”
The deity returns. The faithful rapture. The sinners burn.
Thanos collects the infinity stones. Snap. Half the universe turns to dust.

But 2020 indicates an apocalypse is merely a steadily increasing series of indignities ultimately ending in madness.

The latest example of this ill-fated year came earlier this week when something called a derecho decimated the Midwest with a trail of death and destruction across a 770-mile, 14-hour trek from South Dakota to Ohio.

Wind gusts measured at 122 mph, the equivalent of a Category 2 Hurricane.

The storm snapped power poles, uprooted trees, rended corrugated metal buildings and stripped roofs and generally smashed around like the Incredible Hulk in a particularly foul mood.

Many Iowans are well into their fourth day without power. Some utility companies say it may be up to three weeks in especially decimated areas such as Cedar Rapids and Linn County.

This is another below-the-belt punch in a year that has battered our collective groins like the men in “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

We Iowans can take harsh weather.

Blizzards? Meh.

Century floods? Been there, done that.

Tornados? Scary, but we cope.

But a derecho?

It’s rare for Iowans to have to learn a new word for weather. Most of us think “thunder snow” is made up.

2020 was already the year of COVID-19, the global pandemic that cancelled everything.

Adults worked from home which, after six months, feels like living at work.

The pandemic put more than 30 million people out of work, including your friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker.

This led Congress and the president to engage in fruitful talks to come up with a stimulus plan that benefited struggling America.

Nah, I’m totally kidding.

They did what they always do: Lock down in partisan bickering that accomplished nothing except give politicians a chance for demagogic bloviation in front of the flaccid press corps.

Racial unrest spurred by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody forced our nation to take a long, hard look at itself and a lot of people found our guiding principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to be empty platitudes.

We can’t visit our elders, who are the most vulnerable to catch and die from the virus.

Our go-to distractions from national misery are cancelled or jumbled up.

Some college football conferences are playing in the spring. Some are playing in the fall. Some aren’t playing at all.

The NFL is busy trying to figure out how to make more money off of all it.

They cancelled the Iowa State Fair.

I’ll type that again for clarity: They cancelled the Iowa State Fair.

There is no greater sign of the apocalypse.

My fellow East High School alumni were so discombobulated by the disruption in their annual gathering at the Bud Tent that they scheduled a series of alternative East Side Nights just to make sure they kept their Busch Light-to-blood ratio at proper levels.

Nobody wants to detox in a pandemic.

I don’t really believe the world is ending.

But this is a one thing after another after another after another.

A week or so ago, I went to make a deposit in an ATM. The first one I hit was out of order. The second ATM didn’t take deposits. The third one, the one closest to my home, had been hit by a truck and would be out of service all summer.

That feels very 2020.

At this point, if it started to rain fire and locusts devoured the fields, I would shrug and say, “Well, that’s 2020.”

The year shows no signs of improvement. The virus marches on and deaths are on the rise. Congress remains impotent.

And, oh yeah, the presidential election is in November.

The current president has suggested he might not leave office if he is defeated.

Maybe that’s more empty banter.

Or maybe that’s for real.

If nothing else, we’ve learned that our government basically runs on the honor system and we, as citizens, have foolishly entrusted its function to dishonorable people.

Regardless, the lead up to the election is sure to be filled with bile, lies, fear and loathing. And those are just the campaign ads.

A friend suggests Nov. 4 through Dec. 31 could be the most frightening period of the year.

I don’t think he was kidding.

In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s right.

And that really does scare me.

Daniel P. Finney, area bald man

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, mental health, News, People, Unemployment

No time is a good time of day when you’re unemployed

Photo by Dan Meyers via Unsplash.

The daytime is the worst.
All my friends are at work.
I am at home.
Unemployed.

Driftless.

Listless.

Purposeless.

I stare at job boards. I apply. I call. Any news? Any openings?

Maybe it’s a special day where I’ll get a form letter rejection via email.

And, oh, look at that inbox: The only job I managed to get an interview for since the old shop discarded me writes to tell me they went another way.

My self-esteem is crushed out like like a cigarette butt in an ashtray.

The summer is nice.

I go to the pool on the days my spine doesn’t feel as if it is being twisted like the handle of a black pepper grinder.

But it is August. The days grow shorter.

It feels like my feet are nailed to the floor while time hurtles forward. Everyone else moves on with their lives. I’m stuck like a wind-blown reed.

I know I’m not alone. I’m one of nearly 170,000 unemployed Iowans and as many as 30 million unemployed Americans.

But the days are lonely. There is nowhere to go. There are no people to socialize with.

I never married. I’m too hard to get along with. There’s too much about my mind and body that is incompatible with companionship.

That is for the best. I feel like I fail myself every day I don’t get a job. I don’t know if I could take the strain of failing a wife or children.

Sometimes I allow the madness into the house. I turn on the news. It isn’t really news anymore. Maybe it never was. It’s just partisan sniping designed to make people angry and afraid.

Anger and fear are primal emotions. They motivate you to keep watching and keep checking for status updates. The news, as it is these days, is poison that we drink like Busch Light.

I let the news-cancer in for a few moments to try and glean facts from the cacophony of misinformation. Will the government pass a stimulus? Will they put aside their pettiness and petulance long enough to help the 30 million suffering?

The answer ranges from the negotiators are “far apart” to “close to a deal.” The truth is the reporters and the commentators don’t know a damn thing.

But they have to update websites.

They have to broadcast.

They have to spin.

They have to build their brand.

The thought of the state of the trade I gave so much of my life to fills me with bile, rage and anguish.

So I turn away and wait for happy hour.

I don’t mean the bar.

Happy hour in unemployment runs from 4 p.m to 6 p.m., when my friends end their workdays. I can call. They can text. They chat.

I call my friend in Reno. We chat by video. She isn’t much for phone talk. She indulges me for a few minutes each day.

I call my friend in Urbandale. We used to eat dinner once a week. I haven’t been able to see her since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

I call my friend in Memphis. He’s my best friend. The pandemic intensifies his work stress.

Soon, dinnertime comes for friends.

And the silence falls.

Families tend to children and household tasks.

Bedtime arrives for older families.

The night grows old and gives way to the small hours of the morning.

This is the best time.

Everyone is asleep. I stay awake. I watch old TV. “Hill Street Blues” and “Miami Vice” are favorites. Sometimes I watch cartoons, “The Transformers” and “G.I. Joe.”

They remind me of the days before adult responsibilities, when play was work and the worst part of the day was being sent to bed early or eating pickled beets.

I stay awake while everyone sleeps. I am calmest during these hours. It’s odd, but when the silence falls on the day, this is when I feel most a part of my community.

We are mostly idle in these hours. I am awake to savor the unity, even if no one else realizes it but me.

Soon the sun will squeeze through the vertical blinds and lay bright diagonal lines across my carpet.

The workday begins. Friends rub sleep from their eyes and go to jobs. I check the job boards. I apply for a few jobs. Then I take a long nap and let the world go by without me.

It’s the only way I can take it.

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.

News, Unemployment

Are you a ‘doer’ or an ‘achiever?’ The answer may determine your future employment

Photo by 傅甬 华 via Unsplash

The job search drags on with zero positive signs. I paid a company to read my resume and offer feedback. They said I sound more like a “doer rather than an achiever.”

I relayed this statement to Mom 2.0, the retired east Des Moines hairdresser.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she said.

I’m not sure, I said.

From the context, I would guess that “achievers” are preferred over “doers.”

I disagree with the distinction.

In my old shop, I was assigned stories to write. I optimized the files for search engines. I arranged for photos and video. I made deadlines.

I met or exceeded the standards of the shop and the trade as a whole.

Does that make me a “doer” or an “achiever?”

It seems like pointless semantics.

I did the work.

I achieved my goal.

I think the “doer vs. achiever” dichotomy comes from the bent minds of corporate America, a way to denigrate the great and good “doers” of our workforce.

The kind of person who prefers an “achiever” over a “doer” is the kind of jerk who says “lead, follow or get the hell out of the way” as if it were a fresh call to action rather than a trite cliché.

But let’s unpack this farther. Let’s say “achievers” are leaders, the upwardly mobile rising stars who seek to transform organizations with their emerging brilliance.

Fine.

What about the followers?

You need some of those, right?

You can’t have an army of all generals. You need some privates and corporals to get things done.

I prided myself on being a guy who got things done. I took assignments big and small and got them done, done well and on time.

That somehow makes me lesser in the eyes of potential employers.

Of course it does.

Everything I’ve learned during this stint of unemployment is how inhuman our work life truly is.

Companies long ago gave up on having actual people read resumes and interview people. They turned that job all over to software that combs through resumes with an algorithm.

When the obituary for America is written, the cause of death will not be the failure of humans to govern themselves, greed, the COVID-19 pandemic or even global warming.

No, America was murdered by algorithms.

From Facebook and Twitter to Google, the entirety of marketing is an attempt to pander to or trick algorithms into putting products in front of consumers who are busy taking their selfies in front of Rome ablaze.

The resume critique suggested I quantify my work achievements. Whenever possible I was to attach a number to statements about my work.

I did not work in sales, although at the end, it sure felt like I did.

This is what I did for most of the last 23 years: I talked to people on the phone, looked at documents and wrote down what they said.

Sometimes I went to an event, like a homicide or fire, and talked to people who were there. I wrote down what they said and put it in story form.

There are no numbers for this. I suppose I could somehow figure out how many stories I wrote for my old shop. But what difference does that make?

I could have written a million stories, but if 998,000 of them were garbage, who cares?

Quality over quantity, right?

Wrong.

Quantify everything.

It is the way of the algorithm.

It is the way of the achiever.

All hail the great Achievers!

My favorite movie is the Coen Brothers’ “The Big Lebowski.” In the movie, a blowhard who poses as a wealthy philanthropist brags about his achievements.

In the end, viewers learn the blowhard actually receives an allowance from his daughter, an artist who controls the estate of her wealthy late mother.

The achiever was a bum. He wasn’t even a “doer.”

I think I probably am a “doer.”

I’ll wear that label with pride despite the contempt the achievers have for people like me.

I like it, in fact.

Doers don’t preen. They don’t have their eyes on the next promotion.

They just want to get the damn job done.

Here’s to the doers, my people and my tribe.

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.

des moines, Iowa, Unemployment

Writer no more? That looks like my future

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.

des moines, Iowa, News, Newspapers, People, Unemployment

The Long Goodbye: How Journalism is finished with me and it’s about time I got over it

Photo by Ustav Srestha via Unsplash

I got a call from the old shop last week. I applied for a couple jobs there. It was a long shot. The company cut my job twice in the last dozen years. I continue to knock on the door.

At this point, I feel like John Cryer trying to woo Molly Ringwald in “Pretty in Pink.”

He was in permanent friend zone.

I was in lesser regard with the old shop.

The former boss called. It was a brief, cordial conversation.

I got the answer I expected: I’m out of consideration for the jobs I applied for.

She said she didn’t want to close the door all the way. The subtext is the door is closed and locked.

Or, at least, that’s how I felt.

I thought I would grieve.

I was sad, but the sadness held on for far less time than I anticipated.

What I felt more than anything was relief.

I knew, categorically and without question: Daily journalism was done for me in Des Moines and probably Iowa.

Unless the Cedar Rapids Gazette suddenly decides they need a columnist in Des Moines or the Winterset Madisonian decides it needs a new editor, I think my days in paragraph factories are finished.

The truth is the way I practice journalism and the way journalism is practiced today are too different. I avoid implying my way is better. My way is older and slower. The new way is faster.

I vowed I would not be the kind of person who trashed his old shop after my time there ended. I intend to stick to that vow.

I do have a few things to say about modern journalism, especially as it is practiced in the digital age.

There is enormous pressure on individual reporters. A few years ago, paragraph factories across the country made the unforgivably stupid move to get rid of copy editors to cut labor costs.

The general public doesn’t understand copy editors. The vaguely understand editors, as in the supervisors who assign stories.

Copy editors were the true guardians of facts and grammar. There were always grammatical and syntax errors that slipped into the news.

But copy editors fielded most of those mistakes cleanly. They saved reporters from stupid errors that ranged from embarrassing to preventing legal action.

With the copy editors gone, reporters are like baseball pitchers without an infield or outfield. They must pitch a perfect game or risk routine ground balls rolling to the outfield wall for Little League home runs.

This move to cut copy editors and shift their duties to people whose first responsibility is to make websites work came at a time when news outlets regularly shed employees through retirement buyouts and layoffs.

In short, newsrooms got younger and cheaper, but also more inexperienced with fewer people to guide them.

There were many moments in my 27 years in the industry where I thought, “This is the beginning of the end.”

The day corporate ownership decided to kill copy editors was when I realized they were committed to the end.

I see no future in which news organizations survive as corporate entities.

The insatiable hunger for wealth on Wall Street is anathema to the theoretically altruistic mission of journalism.

I intentionally preface “altruistic mission” with “theoretically.” Newspapers, TV stations and all other forms of news media save public broadcasting have always been about profit.

They still make money in many cases. But they do not make Wall Street money.

Wall Street investors — that’s almost everyone who has a 401(k), by the way — only care about how fast a company can turn $1 into $2.

The mission is irrelevant. Hell, even innovation is irrelevant. All of it falls far behind the number one priority: make more money to help a handful of rich, white men get fractionally richer.

And for newspapers, at least, that’s not working so well.

Two newspaper companies merged in 2018. The combined company was estimated to be worth about $1.2 billion when the companies came together.

Today the company is worth about $250 million. I imagine the executives talking to employees like the Dude talking to Mr. Lebowski in “The Big Lebowski” after a botched attempt to recover his supposedly kidnapped wife.

DUDE: Nothing is f——— here, man.”

BIG LEBOWSKI: “The g——— plane has crashed into the mountain!”

But therein lies the silver lining in this gray cloud: I was pushed out of the plane before it crashed.

I sure hope folks at newspapers can right the trajectory and avoid a fiery death. It looks pretty bad at the moment.

I fought that fight for 27 years. My fight is done.

It’s time for me to grow up and get a real job.

That’s not looking too great, either.

But at least I’m not on that plane crashing into the mountain.

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.

des moines, Iowa, News, Unemployment

Companies hate workers: How the job search destroys dignity

Photo by the New York Public Library via Unspash

Companies hate employees. This is the conclusion I’ve reached after two months of applying for jobs. Companies would prefer all jobs be completed by drones and Roomba vacuums.

People cost money. We know how much businesses, especially corporations, hate to lose a penny of profit to payroll and benefits.

I say employees. I, of course, don’t mean executives. Executive compensation must be protected at all costs.

We need the best and the brightest at the tops of our corporations.

That was what a former boss once told me when I asked if the executive bonus program had been suspended during a pay freeze.

That boss is now an executive. They were one of the best and brightest and I didn’t even recognize it.

Companies sometimes post ads for jobs. I think this is practical joke on those of us in the virtual unemployment line.

I envision a room of people in nice business attire laughing so hard they cry as some mope like me cuts and pastes his resume into a job board form for the umpteenth time.

I bet they’ve hacked the microphone and camera on my laptop to watch me throw a Funko Pop across the room in frustration.

(This is an exaggeration. I would never throw a Funko Pop across the room.)

I assure you the audio from my daily job search machinations would make the average gangsta rap album sound like church music.

The daily job search involves at least one breakdown in which I scream into my hands trying to format my resume into some empty fields because it failed to automatically upload into the system.

Because the resume never uploads properly. Never. EVER.

There are companies you can go to get advice on how to write your resume and cover letters.

The advice focuses on keywords. These words trip the software potential employers use to weed through the applicants.

The result is hours of work for the applicant that is wiped out by a single pass of a computer algorithm. This work rarely results in even a polite email rejection letter.

I’ve applied for dozens of jobs and gotten only three or four responses indicating that the business was moving forward with other candidates.

I got one phone call Tuesday. I lost bids on two jobs in one call.

This was expected. I applied at a place where I knew I was unlikely to be hired. The head of the shop called in person. She was gracious, but there was no home for me to be had there.

She “didn’t want to close the door completely, but …” the message was clear. The door is closed. Move along.

So it goes.

And so it has gone for two months.

Few endeavors in my 45 years have left me feeling so dehumanized than the search for a job.

I started working with a firm that helps people who lost their job find jobs. They took a look at my resume. They offered suggestions.

I apparently need a “personal branding statement.” There’s a video to watch. I’m waiting until the drug store opens so I can make sure I have enough Pepto Bismol on hand.

“Personal brand.”

Toilet paper has brands. Cows on the range have brands. I’m a person. I don’t have a brand.

I thought my value as an employee was implicit in my years of experience and the quality of my work.

But that’s an old-fashioned idea, gone with buggy whip, village blacksmiths and handshake deals.

I entered the workforce with the foolish notion that I would be judged based almost entirely on my work.

That was never true.

I always missed the thing that seemed to have nothing to do with my actual job. It was, in reality, the most important thing for the future of my bosses, all of whom were scheming to get into the best and the brightest club.

I was too cranky and bullheaded to think that was my responsibility. I was wrong. That, apparently, is the only job that matters.

Now I know.

I worry this revelation comes to late.

I spent nearly three decades honing the skill of writing, the act of using words to communicate ideas and stories to the general public.

I worry this, too, is old fashioned thinking.

Selling whatchamacallits and thingamabobs through tweets and Instagram posts is probably the last frontier for creative people inclined toward verbal expression.

My mission in life now becomes convincing a company through these byzantine electronic systems that the way I sling sentences and stack paragraphs is valuable enough for them to take a chance on me.

The results so far have been discouraging.

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.

des moines, Iowa, mental health, obesity, Uncategorized, Unemployment

Journey to health begins with a single splash

Photo by Milkovi via Unsplash

I jumped in the pool Saturday. The water felt cool, but a welcome cool against the humid late June air. I was there to work. My gym bag was filled with rehab tools: a pair of foam dumbbells, a pair of aquatic bells, a stretchy orange cord knotted in a loop and a yellow pool noodle.

My physical therapist gave me a laminated list of exercises from my last trip through aquatic rehab.

A case of pneumonia and months of layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic led to weight gain and weakness in my legs that make it difficult for me to walk more than a few hundred feet.

My doctor prescribed aquatic therapy, but the pandemic closed pools both for therapeutic and recreational use, including the one in my apartment complex.

The pools reopened, but between the time my doctor prescribed the therapy and the time the virus protocols allowed pools to open, my employer cut my job and I lost my insurance.

I bought insurance off the healthcare exchange, a part of the Affordable Care Act, which provides insurance to the poor and unemployed discounted through tax credits.

My plan didn’t cover aquatic therapy at the provider I used in the past. I could have used a different provider, but I only have unemployment to pay high deductibles and expensive copays.

So, rehab became a do-it-yourself job. Saturday was the first lap.

The first disappointment came when I pulled on my trunks. They were tight, much tighter than last year. This was to be expected, but to feel it is a tactile revelation of how badly I’ve deteriorated.

The second disappointment was how much range of movement I’d lost.

One of the exercises requires me to lift and lower my leg by pressing a pool noodle to the floor of the pool.

The biggest stress of that routine was getting the pool noodle under my foot. It took so long that I almost gave up.

The rest of the exercises went OK. I went slow. I did not want to injure myself. I went through a period of painful heel tendinitis after more vigorous pool workouts last year. I could barely walk. I don’t want to lose any more mobility.

I finished the workout. As I started to climb out of the pool, my left calf and shin started to cramp. I got back into the pool and let them spasm for a few minutes. Whatever hurt in water was going to be worse on land at full gravity.

The trouble passed and I got out of the pool just as a party started to gather. Someone was celebrating their 24th birthday.

The people who arrived were young and beautiful. Fit men with cut muscles in their arms and chests, and fit women in bikinis.

I felt like Quasimodo. I skulked back to my apartment to take a shower and pain relief medication.

I know I should celebrate the beginning of the effort to get healthy.

But I don’t.

My friend Lewis pointed out the other day: “Forty-five is different than 40.”

And it is.

My patience is thinner.

My obesity is fatter.

My disgust of myself and my failings higher.

My confidence is lower.

I would not describe myself as hopeless, but deeply discouraged.

What I’m trying to do for my health happens at the same time I’m in the middle of a seemingly futile search for a job and trying to launch a little business.

I like to leave readers with hope whenever I can. I am not a Pollyanna. Not all stories have happy endings and I won’t force one.

But this story is not about an ending.

It’s about a beginning, albeit to a sequel.

And when I close this elegant laptop, I plan to squeeze my fat butt into those trunks and go out to the pool and try again.

That’s the hope.

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.