Sunday, May 10, 2009

Some days you're the dragon slayer...

...and some days you're just one of the dragon's scales.

The ad looked very promising: one of the local papers was looking for a part-time sub-editor. They needed someone who could work part of the time from home, and who could help them bring their print publication online. It seemed like too good of a fit to be true, so I quickly fired off a resume and began follow-up phone calls and emails. When I emailed two weeks ago I was told that the position had been filled.

I was, I must admit, a bit surprised not even to get an interview. I mean, with more than 15 years in community papers and other publications, I have reasonably good credentials for a job like that. Last week I figured out why my resume ended up in the circular file.

There's an old adage that every freelancer has drummed into them: don't pitch a story to a magazine unless you've read the magazine first. It's good advice. You need to know your audience, to understand what your clients are trying to achieve. I know I've gritted my teeth at the time-wasters who pitch me queries for stories that have absolutely nothing to do with the paper or magazine I'm editing. Well, it seems that I fell into that same trap. I hadn't been able to find a copy of the paper I was applying to, but I figured it would be like many community papers. Last week I got a copy of the paper.

At first glance it looked like I had expected, a typical small weekly: 20 page tab, rather poorly designed but no worse than some members of the OCNA. Then I started reading the stories. The front page had just one story: part two of a story on "the great global economic meltdown swindle." The sub-head explained that the global economic crisis is "a swindle, organised and engineered by the international banksters (sic) in order to bring about their plans for a one-world government." Oh my.

Things calmed down a bit inside, with a story on activities at the Noosa Aquatic Centre, some updates on local planning issues, calls to attend various community meetings -- all the usual stuff that fills the pages in small papers the world over. Perhaps the front page was some sort of elaborate inside joke, I thought. Or maybe the printer had been having a go at the publisher. Or maybe the editor had gone insane and laid out the page just prior to quitting in a rage. (It has happened).

Then I got to page 9, with a full page article on the economy of North Dakota, and how the state has managed to remain solvent by doing all its business through its own bank. That's followed by two full pages on how flouridation is evil, and another long column on the way international bankers have created the current financial crisis to bring about world domination (somehow the fast food industry and the pharmaceutical industry are involved too, but I couldn't quite follow it). Scattered in between all of this are articles on a jewelry store celebrating its 20th anniversary, a new sponsor for the King of the Mountain race, and a rally team confirming they'll send two cars to compete in this year's race.

"Who puts this odd publication together?" I wondered. "Who are these people?" On the masthead, where one normally finds a list of the editors, publisher, lead designers, salespeople and so on, I found the name of the "honourary editor," the name of the former editor who has moved on to other things, and a rambling editorial about the paper's goal to bring its readers "news that the major media won't print and don't want you to know about, but which we feel you are ENTITLED to know about" (emphasis theirs). Suddenly I understood why I didn't get an interview. I've spent a good chunk of my career working for "the major media", and almost all of it working for pretty mainstream organizations. In the odd world of this little newspaper, that makes me the enemy. In their eyes I'm not a solution: I'm part of the problem. Hiring me would be like letting an Imperial storm trooper join the Jedi academy.

The job search goes on. But it's not without its lighter moments.

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