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The Word-Processing Niche That Time Forgot

Why is it that newspaper filing system software is so piss-poor? Is there some reason why it all needs to be command-line legacy cruftware, some hidden purpose I’m missing? I swear, I don’t understand it… Do most newspaper higher-ups put up with all this because they haven’t spent a lot of time outside of journalism, and therefore have been passed over by advances in word-processing technology and don’t know what they’re missing? For once I’m not saying that to be derogatory, I’m serious: I’m genuinely baffled by the fact they haven’t mutinied yet.

I was in the office at My Intended, the paper where I’m freelancing and applying for a job, for far too many hours today. The editor I’m working for sat me down at an ancient-looking beige box running Windows ’98 and opened up an editing system with huge text and a set of command keys completely alien to me. No simple copy or paste commands, and the “edit” menu gave no clue as to how to accomplish a “cut” function. I was later told it was a delete-undelete function rather like the one in Pine, but not enough so that it became a habit for me by the end of the day. To make a paragraph break, you had to hold down shift while hitting return. To save an article, you had to hit what they were calling the “command” key (which was actually the furthest right button on the upper row of keys, marked “pause”), then period, then W. Who the hell thought this up?! Did they speak English?)

After four hours working like this — during which this particular box crashed four times in a way that would not be swayed by the three-finger salute — I started to feel completely handicapped. I sought the help of the city editor, who I am supposed to be impressing with my ability to overcome my lack of daily reporting experience.

After executing a few keystrokes that returned me to my now slightly lossy article, he returned to his desk. Not only did I still feel helpless to find my way around the system, I also felt helpless to explain to him what it meant to me to be working with software that was so completely alien. How was I supposed to explain to a man in his sixties that I literally can’t think when the monitor is only twelve inches and the text is huge, because I can’t see where all my thoughts are?

I always want to say it’s like being brain damaged, because my reflexes are so accustomed to standard software by now that it’s almost like having a direct neural patch into the machine, but I didn’t figure someone his age would understand that. I thought about telling him it was like I was being asked to play a concerto with one hand tied behind my back. In the office, sitting right in the midst of the editors, it certainly induced that kind of performance anxiety. Or it was like I’d been playing a Stradivarius and had been handed a banjo. In a moment of poor judgement I told the city editor the latter. He retorted that it really wasn’t that bad a system, considering what they could have gotten.

The horrible thing is he’s not wrong, either. This system at least had a usable mouse. At the small-town paper where I had my first internship, they used old one-piece consoles with spinach green monitors, again with command-line software. Even at the Village Voice they use some arcane software where you have to do all sorts of complicated things to quotation marks and apostrophes to make them come out right.

Anyway, the moral of the story is don’t ask me how it went, because I don’t want to talk about it. I’m not going to get that job. Going three times as long as my space budget and taking a whole day to do so, not to mention forgetting to scrounge up pictures, is not impressing anyone.

So it’s back to the world of occasional communcations jobs, right?


You know that song Eminem sings about having to do your best when you’re on stage singing your rap? OK, so he doesn’t say it that way at all… It’s the song from 8-Mile — ya better LOSE yourself in the MUsic, the MOment, ya OWn it, rah rah rah? I like that riff… Yeah, I’m gonna write a song like that for all the unemployed yuppies out there like myself, only it’s not going to be You only get one shot, you can’t miss your chance to blow, it’s gonna be all You get plenty of chances, only y’a gonna be stuck doing the shitwork editing for Miramax, HUH! Y’a gonna get stuck under the glass ceiling in publishing, HUH! Y’a gonna code apps for Microsoft, y’a gonna write ad copy, y’a gonna get stuck in a dead-ass nonprofit writing grants for programs with no proven benefit to society — AWWWWW SHIT!

And of course none of it will be any good, because it’s really nothing to complain about, right?


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