des moines, humor, Iowa, Media, People, Pop Culture

HOT SHEET: A redesigned website, a job interview, a plea for Twitter followers and suggested new Arby’s-Buffalo Wild Wings-Dunkin’ flavor mashups

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, 24th Street bureau, Des Moines, Iowa.

Been doing the place up a bit.

ITEM FIRST: The Hot Sheet looks different to those who call us up on the web or on mobile. The journalism jargon for this is a “refresh.” The psychological reason for this is the ol’ Paragraph Stacker gets bored sometimes and tinkers with things. Anyway, it looks different now. If you like it, please drop the typist a note. If you don’t like it, be a good person and lie.

Experts say I need to “build my brand” by begging strangers to follow me on social media.

ITEM SECOND: The ol’ Paragraph Stacker is losing followers on Twitter. The reason for this isn’t exactly clear. Maybe he melted some ice chips by writing something that triggered their peculiar sensitivities. I have been more openly critical of President Donald Trump lately. I know that makes some people mad. And I’ve also referred to Sen. Joni Ernst as “Dollar Store Sarah Palin” on more than one occasion. What can I tell you? Sometimes I’m grumpy. Sometimes I say mean things. Anyway, if you’re on Twitter and not following the typist, swing by @newsmanone and gives us a follow. There’s content there that you don’t see here. I admit it. I only want the followers back because I’m insecure and need to be loved by strangers on a social media website.

ITEM THIRD: The typist doesn’t want to jinx anything, but he had a job interview — the first in months — and he thought it went pretty well. He would not be surprised not to get the gig. It’s in a different medium in which he’s never worked. Still, it’s almost too good to be true: Weekend hours and a flexible weekday schedule that would work around his graduate school commitments. Here’s hoping.

ITEM FOUR: The Ivy League — those are the schools for the very smart or very rich and well-connected — canceled their winter sports schedule Thursday. They punted on fall sports and have pushed back spring sports until at least April. The Ivy League could be the canary in the cavern for winter sports. The league was the first to go belly up on fall sports. COVID-19 cases are spiking and experts warning of a brutal winter. Could it be long before other leagues crash and burn in pandemic hell?

Harrison Ford is attached to the part of Daniel Finney in Daniel Finney: The Movie.

ITEM FIVE: The magazine Vanity Fair posts excellent YouTube videos of actors discussing their work in a series called “Timeline of My Career.” They are long watches, in the 20-minute range, but the typist was enraptured by the entry from Harrison Ford, the hero of so many of his favorite films. He suggests giving them a view.

ITEM SIX: Inspire Brands recently announced a deal to purchase Dunkin’, the store that sells coffee and donuts but refuses to acknowledge its delicious donut heritage. Inspire also owns Arby’s and Buffalo Wild Wings, among others. We thought it would be fun for Inspire to consider donut flavors based on the tasty recipes of their sister brands. Here’s 10 we came up with that we’re sure you can’t wait to gobble up.

  1. Salt, Vinegar and Cinnamon Donut
  2. Vanilla Frosted Bismark with Teriyaki Filling
  3. Sweet Barbeque Glazed Old Fashioned
  4. Parmesan Garlic Bearclaw
  5. Smoky Adobo Corned Beef Double Chocolate Donut
  6. Market Fresh Cranberry Deep Fried Turkey Vanilla Frosted Donut with Sprinkles
  7. Jammin’ Jalapeno Blueberry Glazed Donut Holes
  8. Beef ‘n Cheddar French Cruller
  9. Chocolate Frosted French Dip
  10. Caribbean Jerk Glazed Dunkin’ Stick
When naked, Daniel P. Finney looks like a melting clock from Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory.”

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, 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.

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.