Friday, June 21, 2013

journalistic daydreaming

Once, as a newspaper employee in the editorial department, it occurred to me that when it came to hiring reporters, it might be just as well to fire the personnel department ... later to become known with an oozing disdain as "human resources."

Instead of filling out forms listing previous employment or what college someone attended, the applicant would simply be given three or four hours to walk downtown and find a story -- any story -- and then come back and write it. The editor who could not discern from such an exercise whether the applicant had what it took to be a reporter did not deserve to be an editor.

Whether the applicant had been to Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton or the Shawnee Agricultural Institute and whether, while there, s/he had put in heart-felt hours on the school newspaper or yearbook or studied something called "journalism" ... yes, all this and more like it could be captured on personnel forms that might later appear to excuse any lapses in executive judgment, but the reliance on paperwork always struck me 1. as skirting the issue at hand and 2. as laying a groundwork for mediocrity: A clerk with the right credentials is still a clerk.

The old man on a park bench.

The firefighter buffing his truck to an impossible luster.

The business owner sweeping a sidewalk in front of the store.

The cop car parked in front of Dunkin' Donuts.

The bum and his belongings resting in a shadowed alley.

But, but, but ... I can hear the chorus of thoughtful and caring disagreement, exegeses that cocoon both the applicant and the employer. Paperwork is not the sole yardstick, these voices chorus. Paperwork provides context. Credentials and curricula vitae make a difference.

And I agree, such things do make a difference. The only problem is when what was once making a difference segues into a mealy-mouthed yardstick for judgment.

Three or four hours. Bring me a story. If you can't do that, there are any number of professions out there that are more than willing to be impressed with paperwork ... if not actual work.

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