Dead on Arrival

Today I read that the Times-Picayune laid off half its staff. This news was greeted with the usual comments from my former colleagues:

Newspaper management are the dumbest fcks inthe history of American dumbfckery and they’re not getting any smarter. God, I hate these people.

Welcome to the mass of unemployed journalists, and good luck trying to find another job in this economy, especially at a newspaper, and if you’re over 40, forget about it

In a few months, we’ll be hearing from those laid-off Times-Picayune folks wondering why, with three decades of reporting and editing experience, they can’t even get a follow-up email in response to an application.

I can tell you why.

This week, I’m screening applicants for three jobs with an international journalism training organization. On a two-minute scan of the resume / cover letter, I reject those who clearly aren’t qualified.

Many of the first-glance rejects are people fresh out of college. While I credit them for having some chutzpah, the applications are annoying for the same reason. Even a 21-year-old ought to know that they don’t have the experience needed to teach journalism, let alone design a training program for journalists in another country.

But this post is not about them. [A word of advice, though: Do not substitute verbiage for experience, as in offering “impeccable grammar, searing wit, and an inculcated appreciation of the merits in hard work.”]

Today’s subject is the many others – at the opposite end of the experience scale – that I rejected with the label “DOA”.

These are my former colleagues, the ones who were incredulous when I quit my last full-time newspaper job so that I could freelance, travel, get a master’s degree, and try new kinds of work. That was in 1995.

For years I have held my tongue while my former colleagues whined about the decline of the industry but did nothing to stop it, and did nothing to develop new skills. They kept buying bigger houses further away from the city and nicer cars to make their 40-minute commute, all the while shaking their heads at the state of corporate-controlled journalism.

And now, it’s written all over their application that these people are walking zombies.

Here are the clues:

  • They’ve worked in standard jobs at mainstream American newspapers, for 20 or 30 years.
  • They have not freelanced, blogged, or had volunteer jobs in any form of media beyond the sacred words-printed-on-paper.
  • They have no foreign language skills and not a whiff of international experience, other than going on cruises during their annual four weeks of vacation, or adopting children from Asia.
  • They prominently mention awards that are for long, self-important stories that no one, including the judges, actually read.

Knowing all of this assumes that I can read their resume because they have submitted it in a standard format – not, as one person did, as a .wps. (For those of you born after 1985, that’s a document produced by Microsoft Works, which is a format so old that it can’t even be opened in Word anymore.)

Suppose I see a glimmer of life, somewhere in the application, and decide to give this person a call.

DOA suspicion confirmed when:

  • They can’t remember which job they applied for.
  • You describe the job to them, and the thing they like most is that they don’t have to relocate.
  • Their first question is, “Does this include health insurance?”
  • They are available to start work tomorrow, full-time, because they have nothing else going on.
  • They were shocked when they got laid off from their last job.
  • They were the least senior manager – everyone else had 15 or 20 years as a manager with that chain.
  • They have not mentored anyone – oh, except that intern who sat at the adjoining desk in ’82, took her out for regular beers.
  • Their notion of working in a team is that there will be more time for teammates to swap war stories.
  • They are on Linked-In – but only since they got laid off from their last newspaper job, and only because it was recommended in job counseling.

And I can guess that they are on Facebook, just long enough to boast about their kids and join the chorus of colleagues moaning about the decline of the American Media. And how it’s all the fault of bloggers and Twitter.

You know what they are qualified to do?

Another standard job at another mainstream newspaper.

If I hired these people, they would be Dead on Arrival, and so would the project.

Just like mainstream newspapers are when they land at your front door.