Teachers used to ask grade-school students this question: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
Maybe they still ask. A lot of people now have taken this question and even later in life said "When I grow up..."
If you think about it, this question is probably one of the first probing questions asked of a child. It assesses the values and the dreams of a young person who hasn't yet experienced the limitations and roadblocks life will inevitably throw their way.
I wanted to be an astronaut. Space was a national obsession in 1960s America. NASA was located only a few hundred miles away. The U.S. was the leader. Launches and excursions dominated the news when they were happening. When Apollo I burned up on the pad, it was one of the awful events of the era, almost as bad as the murders of JFK/MLK/RFK, Manson or Kent State.
Reality set in later when I got too tall. Space flyers had to be shorter to fit into the confined craft. I outgrew my dream.
My heroes later became explorers of truth: Men with names like Woodward, Bernstein, Thompson. Journalism became something I was interested in before I knew it had a name. It took a long time for that dream to start falling apart, because it took a long time for journalism to lose its way. Now that game is dominated by bean-counters and charlatans more interested in making money than making history. Newspapers haven't lost their way because there's no interest -- the Internet and 3,000 TV channels are proof that information is a hot commodity. Newspapers have lost their way because they're too slow, and because they aren't trusted.
The speed issue can be managed. That's what the Web offers. The print product is a goner, but that's OK. It's slow, ecologically unsound, and financially wasteful. Why spend money on a print product? Paper costs money, then you have to distribute it. The Web solves those problems. Yes, people still like a physical product, but it just doesn't make economic sense for the producer. Create an online product and let the end-users print it out and carry that cost if they want it. They'll get over it.
But where traditional print entities have given way too much ground is with the credibility issue. And it's their own damn fault. The News of the World scandal is nothing. Stupid leadership has been around in newsrooms a long, long time. At one time the print media knew that the most important thing it had was its name, its credibility, its dependability. Somewhere along the way this got compromised. One factor was the increasing emphasis on profit. Print always made money but the greedheads always want more. So what did they do? The crude, simpleton approach was to cut the newshole. Instead of a product that was 70 percent news and 30 percent ads, that's now the other way around. There's so little actual news left that the value has eroded. What's worse is that some editor chooses which stories go in that small space. That editor now usually brings his or her own pressures from above and personal bias to the equation. If there are 20 stories but space for only six of them, what remains?
It should be the six stories that have the most relevance and impact to the reader, but that's not always the case. So the erosion of trust begins almost without anyone seeing. But because there are so many information sources, those other 14 stories ALWAYS find their way to light somewhere. And at that point readers realize they've been played. The odds are great that someone interested in some of those alternative stories are then going to wonder why these stories weren't given facetime. Regardless of the rationale, they're going to have suspicions. And so they no longer trust the newspaper.
When you lose someone's trust, it's damned hard to get it back. And almost impossible for them to forget.
I love newspapers and media, and when I was in that game I tried hard to tilt at those windmills and make people see this. I still think I'm correct. The six stories that make it into print should be the most important stories, period. The other 14 join them to feed your Web product. It's obvious, but not to the multitude of morons running most newspapers.
Yet somehow they have jobs (for now) and I don't. It will be of little consolation to me when these fools also become jobless, because in doing so they took a lot of good people with them. It's only noble to go down with the ship if you've gotten all the others safely to the lifeboats first. These dumbasses are instead aiming for the iceberg to prove how strong the ship is. They don't get it and it's safe to say that if they ever do, it will be too late.
So here I am in 2011. What do I want to be when I grow up?
I want to do something exciting, something that gets me enthused to come to work every day and that sparks my creativity and imagination. I want to see something in the real world that makes me think of adapting it in a natural way to my work.
I want to do something meaningful, something that enhances society. Providing important information was one way to do that, but the system has flaws. Those can be worked out, but only if there isn't resistance. Everyone has to share the mission. I've worked at a place where I was told, essentially, that slashing company expenses might not be a great idea. (You'd be shocked to know more of this story, but trust me, it is relevant to you.) I worked at a place where a part of the corporate advancement depended on very specific religious and political persuasions. Companies can easily discriminate... people don't think of this always. If you think that your constitutional right to free speech is inviolable, go tell your boss to stick it and then see if your free speech rights allow you to keep your job. I worked at a place where after the application of technology and social media tools began to produce results, management quelled it because it was creating too much work.
Do you know what you call a business that discourages growth? A failed business.
I embraced minimalism unwittingly by being involved in newspapers. People just don't make big money in some businesses. No one thinks of being the millionaire teacher, firefighter, reporter.
So while I need a job that pays a living wage, I don't need an exorbitant wage. The highest-paying job I ever had I walked away from after less than a year. It was a great job, great company, but I realized that I had to give it up and pay my soul. I miss some things about it but I know to this day I did what I should have done. Money doesn't motivate me, but some employers use this against you.
I am crafting cover letters that spell out my vision for each position. I look at it like this: if you go into something thinking you're going to conquer dragons but they're going to arm you with a butter knife, that's a ridiculous journey to set out on. On the wall 8 feet from me is written "Go Big or Go Home." If you know what that means, and you have a job opening, we should talk.