Fears of change

I jumped into online journalism in 1995, at a time when it took some guts to do that. I was a White House reporter and had gotten some interest from major metros, and more than a few reporters told me I was nuts to shift to “new media.” The nascent medium was for nascent journalists, they said, and the only veterans making the jump were people who had run out of career options.

That was ridiculous, of course, but it also was a symptom of classic newsroom curmudgeonliness. Newspaper newsrooms of that era were about as change-resistant as you could get, and anyone pushing change was instantly suspect. At that time, there were still people bitching about having to use a computer as opposed to a typewriter, a fact that went beyond curmudgeonliness and straight to childishness. The worst part is that people got away with these temper tantrums, with corrosive results.

So I jumped into the online world — not just because I felt so comfortable there (I already had been online for more than a decade) but because I wanted to get away from these entrenched newsroom assholes.

Seventeen years and a lot of adventures later, I worry that it will be me who develops late-stage curmudgeon sickness. I already notice that if I gripe about something, my younger colleagues may hint that I have an old-fart problem. But I really have the opposite problem — when change doesn’t occur, and I expect it to, I become frustrated to the point where the anger can paralyze me. And I particularly have to fight off bouts of destructive self-pity when this sort of thing happens.

Steve Buttery, who’s older than me, feels my pain. He sees these issues and writes about them in this open letter to a newsroom curmudgeon.

My favorite part: “Maybe you think you’re too old a dog to learn new tricks. Bullshit. I am 57, probably older than you but certainly a contemporary unless you’re past the normal retirement age…I also stumble and fumble in learning new digital tools and techniques. But learning new tricks helps me feel young again. It energizes me and it can you, too.”

I’m right there with you, Steve. It’s change that energizes me. It is the atmosphere of change that has attracted me to new jobs, and it’s the lack of change that has caused me to leave some old ones.

I’m a Sun Tzu kind of guy — I really try to avoid unwinnable battles — but I don’t always see the difference between a battle that will be lost and one that might be lost. Change usually involves fighting the latter battle. If you don’t fight, change doesn’t happen. And then you have a career that is full of yesterdays, instead of a career full of tomorrows.



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