For years now, the print newspaper business has been listening to its death rattles. Readership, advertising revenue and circulation are all in warp-drive decline. A culture that once embraced the unembraceables is in the Dumpster.
Which is bad news for Aspie-types fresh out of college who are trying to find employment.
Once upon a time, newspapers were safe havens for folks (mostly men) who didn’t fit the societal norm.
The presses were greasy, dirty and foul-smelling, and the stain spread to the rest of the building. City rooms were populated by rascal-types who ate too much, drank too much and didn’t get out in the light enough.
Indeed, much of the editorial crew worked the late shift, not leaving the office until after midnight when the rumbling down below signaled the birth of a fresh edition.
On Feb. 7, 1972, I reported to the Bluefield, W. Va., Daily Telegraph to begin my newspaper career. A dizzying round of introductions ensued. Guy with mangy beard. Guy who packed heat (the police reporter). Guy with food stains on his shirt. Guy with drool (the elderly sports columnist). Guy with one leg longer than the other. Guy who belched the vowels while shaking my hand. Elderly woman (society columnist) who told me she sometimes wears earmuffs to drown out the cussing.
While I was green and dumb, I immediately knew that here were a bunch of people who would never be insurance agents or loan officers or PTA members.
But that was fine with go-it-alone me. That day, I happily joined the band of misfits and never looked back.
Were we stylish dressers? Ha. Were we invited to cool parties? Ha. Did we have mainstream personalities? Lord no. Did we somehow manage to put the newspaper out night after night without fail? For sure.
I was probably 45 before I heard the words “Asperger’s Syndrome,” and it was later than that before I knew what it meant.
Looking back, there’s no doubt that I worked with at least a dozen men and women who would have been on the spectrum.
One stands out, a copy desk editor I’ll call Beth.
Lived alone. No close male or female friends. Wore the same style of clothes every day — slacks, shirt, sweater. Brought her lunch from home. Ate alone. Rarely spoke. Never socialized. Constantly had her face in a book.
Beth was the best copy editor I’ve ever seen, the head of the class on style, grammar and punctuation. She was famous for her “catches,” noticing errors in copy that would have made the writers look really dumb if the boo-boos saw print.
Like me, misfit Beth found a home at the newspaper. Could she have closed a sales deal? Ha. Could she have landed the Jenkins account? No way. Could she edit Page 1 and Metro stories until the cows came home? For sure.
But that was years ago when Beth’s skill-set had value. Nowadays, even big-city papers have drastically thinned their copy desks, and in some cases, eliminated the positions altogether.
It’s good I had my career when I did. Go-it-alones are gone, replaced by sit-through-meetings. There’s no place for me anymore.
Here’s some advice to Aspie-types about to collect college diplomas: The newspaper business is not your safe place. Learn to close deals. Learn to land accounts.
As best you can, embrace the societal norm.
And un-misfit yourself.
You’ll thank me later.
This article originally appeared on Medium
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