29 Years
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How they’re doing it in America

Monday, August 19, 2013
By Carol Andrade

Page –A1 by Cliff Anthony .

You know how one is always curious to know how “others” compare with oneself in a host of situations, professions, vocations, ambitions and goals?  Journalists, those peculiar creatures who subscribe to few social constructs in a “normal” way, are actually no different. And so it was with considerable interest that I approached this book.

Written by a journalist with 25 years and several awards under his belt, Page –A1 is actually aimed at those who are either new entrants to the profession or students who cannot make up their minds about whether they want to be part of this 21st century juggernaut called media. A truly “portmanteau” word that comprises a host of jobs, both traditional and completely non-traditional, it attracts millions of youngsters all over the world each year, eager to be a part of a vocational universe that is changing the planet as I write this. Constantly evolving with chameleon-like speed to adjust to information technology, it demands a like ability to change in its adherents. That is why there is never a dull moment to those who choose to enter. It is also the reason for much burnout, but that’s another story!

For the purpose of this book, however, set in the first decade of this century, media means journalism and in particular, print journalism struggling to make its peace with the world-wide web and rapidly evolving trends in news consumption.  It is the story of young Jack Stefancic’s  journey through the first year of a job in a small-town newspaper called The Crazewood Journal,  the travails he undergoes in the newsroom and on the beat, the moral, social and economic dilemmas that he faces, all of which might sound very impressive when couched in these terms, but is really not, because Anthony brings to the work not just a sharply observed  (and remembered)  professional  portrait, but also much humour.

So Jack starts out at first as a rookie reporter getting “crappy” assignments, facing newsroom manipulation on the very first day when a sexy colleague steals his byline. It moves on to his dismay when he realizes that  “job satisfaction” doesn’t always make up for receiving a salary that keeps him at subsistence level and that journalism is far removed from all the grandiose dreams that he once held about it, that most of it is dogged foot-slogging and doing really unpleasant stuff. But the good bits, far outweighed by the bad, are usually enough to wipe out all the unpleasant memories.

It is also a very affectionate look at the small newspaper in America now rapidly going out of business against a scenario of ramped up internet connectivity and the demand for instant gratification when it comes to news. Although very American in its ethos, Anthony manages to draw swift pictures of the quintessential newsperson with his (or her) eye on the main chance, laying bare the inside stories of a constant battle for revenue and the impact this has on the lifestyles and working styles of today’s journalists.  And there is more than enough for readers in India to connect with as well, especially those who still remember the thrill of working in the newsrooms of a couple of decades ago, sans  technology, pretty much sans infrastructure and pretty much sans the co-operation that the US takes for granted.

Page-A1 is also a look at practices and methodologies that have long been adopted in newspapers, and which are now being successfully challenged by new and social media, and in its portrayal of the modern-day realities of convergence and  multi-tasking. Faced with a new managing editor who believes in emails over verbal communication, Stefancic, still being subsidized by his parents  even in his new job, is told that the newspaper is going online with a vengeance, and that the staff will have to write continuously to fit the new news cycle. Irritated at what he considers exploitation in a tight job market, he is still excited and intrigued by the opportunity to stretch his resources still further. And it pays off in increasing front page (or Page – A1) stories.

Meanwhile, Jack also has the comfort of knowing that if journalism doesn’t pay off fast enough to suit his goals, there is always his other job, as the manager of a gas station, to fall back upon. Not exciting, not as prestigious, but definitely better paying. The funny thing is students of journalism are also beginning to realise that a course in journalism pretty much prepares you for a host of other openings. Perhaps not yet as gas station managers, but in the wide range of fields where getting information and communicating effectively are qualities to be prized.

If you can do this successfully in India, anywhere else is a breeze!

  • Published by AMC Publications LLC, Cleveland, Ohio.

Page-A1 is available at area bookstores upon request. Price: $14.95 ( Rs.800). It is also available at Amazon ($14.95) and on Kindle: $5.95 (Rs. 350).

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