By Tim Hayes
A good friend and fellow professional communications expert posted an article on Facebook the other day about how poorly current college-age journalism students responded to a job opening at a news service. It made me sad for two days.
The article began by explaining how often applicants misspelled the name of the person who issued the job posting. That’s as bad as legendary racehorse Seabiscuit tripping and falling right out of the gate. The grammar gaffes and punctuation pratfalls continued from that less-than-stellar start, tumbling and careening and snowballing into a hopeless mish-mash of tragically terrible writing.
And these are aspiring journalists, mind you.
I will admit that it has been quite a while since I sat in my college journalism classes, making plenty of stupid mistakes, and I would most likely shrivel up and die of embarrassment if one of my early and amateurish bylined articles in the college newspaper came across my desk today.
But here’s the thing – we were held to a standard by our professors. If you wrote a story that had a proper noun (other than a person’s name) spelled incorrectly, or that otherwise had improper spelling or punctuation or grammar, each mistake brought your grade down by one letter. Spell a name wrong, and you got an automatic “F.” Pile up enough of those clunkers, and you’re taking that course again next semester.
But you hardly ever made those mistakes again. We learned by knowing and being held to a higher professional standard. No exceptions.
Not to pick solely on journalism majors, but it feels like too many young people entering the workforce across the board have been permitted to slide by during their academic careers – and the waiting world of business stands royally and spectacularly unimpressed.
I blame not only lax standards, but also modern conveniences, for this breakdown in quality, work ethic, and aspirational excellence. Take search engines like Google, Yahoo, and the others, for instance.
Back in the old days, a college assignment meant: determining a thesis about which you wanted to explore and write a paper; physically walking into the library; figuring out how to find books and other resources where the information you wanted could be obtained; sifting through index cards and writing down shelf numbers; navigating around the library, picking books from the shelves; searching and reading those books for passages you could use; transcribing those passages on paper, along with all of the bibliographical information needed to cite your sources; returning the books to the librarian; and walking back home with your notes.
Today, you enter a general word or phrase on your iPhone and within one second, an entire listing of applicable resources appears – and it required zero effort on your part. This sends a wrong signal and sets a bad precedent, if you ask me.
I’m not against speed, ease, and efficiency, per se. The part that bothers me, however, is that the generations entering and about to enter society believe that everything should come that quickly, that easily, and that efficiently. And it won’t. It just won’t. But as they discover this hard, cold fact of life, what will be their reaction?
Surrender? Complaining? Buck-passing? Settling for the path of least resistance and a substandard result? Or, fighting against every lesson they’ve ever learned and every impulse they’ve ever had indulged, will they buckle down and do the hard physical and mental work necessary to reach an honest, high-quality, admirable outcome?
Please pardon the mini-rant. This doesn’t apply to everyone, of course, and many young folks demonstrate admirable commitment, perseverance, and justifiable pride in their work. I don’t intend to come across as some fuddy-duddy oldster, shaking my fist in quivering defiance, shouting from my flaky front porch, “Get off my lawn!” past my Polident-polished false teeth to the neighborhood smart-aleck juvenile delinquents.
I just hope that everyone – regardless of age – knows what it’s like to be held to the highest standards of professional and personal behavior. It is more difficult. It is more challenging. It is more rewarding, in the end. And, from my vantage point, it is more important than ever.
Copyright 2016 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting