linkedin

Why LinkedIn needs to adapt to user needs

Wow. Here I am again, writing about my old friend LinkedIn.

I wrote about LinkedIn when I was a staff writer at CareerBuilder (when I wasn’t writing about CB’s own network, BrightFuse), and again when I was pounding the cold, unfriendly pavement in a long, post-layoff hell.

In 2014, after taking a few years to return to the halls of higher education, I’m a few months into a new job search. And while LinkedIn still has some amazing networking components and a healthy database of job listings, I don’t think it’s evolved to be all that it could be.

I’m talking about two main points here: industry, and location.

INDUSTRY: It’s been drilled into many of us that we must respond to the job skills market, that we should be agile and flexible in terms of our skill set, our experience and our interests. And many of us are starting second or even third careers, in clusters of competency that don’t always obviously relate to one another, or that may speak to different strengths we have.

This is certainly true for me. I’ve long had a dual career path. I have amazing organizational and administrative skills, and I’ve been really good at leading projects and processes in my corporate jobs. I seldom learn a job by repetition, preferring instead to be analytical and to understand how different parts of a system interact and relate to one another.

I also have years of experience in a distinctly different area, as a writer and journalist, working in both social media and print. I’ve written feature stories, annual reports and PR content. I’d say that’s pretty flexible.

linkedin_logoAnd yet, LinkedIn has a limited number of industry labels, of which you can only pick one. Have a “slash” career with multiple clusters of experience? Too bad.

LOCATION: The days of working the same job for 40 or 50 years is a thing of the past. For many of us, it also means that living in the same area for 40 or 50 years is also an outdated concept. Since 2000, the launch of my professional career, I’ve lived in three different cities.

I wasn’t being flighty or undependable – each job lasted for several years and I achieved a lot in each one of them. But I responded to opportunity, as well as changes in my personal life, when I moved to a new town.

In a tight job market, it would be a godsend to be able to indicate more than one potential location on your LinkedIn profile.

Yes, there are ways to work around this; joining a LinkedIn group in cities of interest is a obvious way to build visibility. But it seems like having multiple choices for city/region would help us job seekers be more visible to potential employers — or at least tell a clearer story about our long term intentions.

PLAN OF ACTION: I do understand LinkedIn’s perspective, and the perspective of the companies who are searching for candidates. The system should be straightforward and simple.

And clearly, opening these fields to a free-for-all would be an absolute nightmare.

For all the benefits of CareerBuilder and Monster, its ease of use invites a lot of candidates who, despite good intentions, are just not qualified for the jobs for which they are applying. It becomes very easy in the dark pit of a long, arduous job search to just apply for every damn thing you see. I’ve been there, wrote the book and saw the movie — it’s sorely tempting to start flinging your resume at as many walls as you can in the hopes that it will stick.

One idea would be that LinkedIn industry and location fields would still requires a single primary selection, but allows a secondary selection field where additional industries and/or additional cities could be entered — a searchable field, of course, that hiring managers and HR people could see in a search for candidates. (Obviously, one that would also be visible and easy to understand if the job seeker used LinkedIn to apply online.)

I would be completely OK with LinkedIn including these benefits as part of their Premium package. I think that would minimize the risk of the free-for-all scenario playing out, but would still allow people who really need to use those fields the capability to add them to their profiles.

Regardless of my own personal preferences as a user, it seems to me that LinkedIn needs to become more agile and flexible, and respond to the needs of its users. It’s the 21st century workforce marketplace, after all. Time to get on board!

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The great Madison debate

Don’t you have the feeling sometimes that all the fun stuff happens after you leave a party? I swear, my timing is off.

I lived in Madison, Wisconsin for five years. It was peaceful and tranquil – but once I leave? All hell broke loose!

First, the election of Scott Walker and the subsequent political controversy shakes Madison to its core and brings thousands of people to the Capitol grounds for months. I’m not sure it that was really “fun,” but it was certainly eventful.

More recently, there’s been a spirited debate happening about the pros and cons of life in Madison.

The catalyst was an article in a newly launched magazine (with a primary focus on Minneapolis and the surrounding region). Writer Frank Bures, a Madison expat, wrote an article for the magazine Thirty Two, about Professor Richard Florida’s ideas about the “creative class” and how that new cultural class is reshaping our economy and our cities.

Before I go any farther, let me be clear about a few things: Madison is an acquired taste, and I definitely acquired it in my time there. There is much I like about the city. The people can be ridiculously kind and polite to each other. Clerks in the grocery stores and shops were so warm and friendly I was half-convinced they were flirting with me. The outdoor spaces in the area are magnificent.

Professor Florida included Madison in his list of creative class strongholds. And that’s what much of Bures’ article is about – that while conceptually Madison should have had a vibrant economic and artistic culture, attracting new people and new energy, the reality of Madison was quite different.

A new flow of students and newly elected politicians may bring energy to the polar ends of State Street, but much of the rest of Madison is a very traditional town and a very insular one. Many of the people I worked with had grown up in and around Madison, attended high school and college there, met and married their spouses there, and were raising children there – and so had their parents and grandparents. Those are great things, but substantially different than what Bures expected – and what I’d expected, too.

How insular of a town? Hell, I’m a self-confessed introvert and I had connections to almost everyone mentioned in Bures’ article. Including Bures himself.

  • I was in a class Bures taught about how to market your freelance work. (It was part of the University of Wisconsin’s continuing education class offerings and ran for two weeks.)
  • One of the first people I ever interviewed as a freelance writer in Madison? Penelope Trunk. I talked to her by phone on an article about Madison. My editor killed her comments as she was, at that time, a contributing writer to a competitor’s site. She was a memorable interview.
  • I’d even – for a whole two seconds – met Jamie Peck, the former UW professor mentioned in the article. (A friend of mine was a professor as well and had a neighboring office in the science hall.)
  • Look to the left of this post – see the blogroll? You’ll see two names – Bures and Trunk – that have been part of this blogroll pretty much since I launched this back in 2009 (though I haven’t spoken with or corresponded with either in years).

One of the best things about Madison – the Farmer’s Market

Those are not unusual connections in Madison. It’s a tightly knit community and that’s true for all professions.

All the artists and writers know each other. Before a lot of outside money and outside influence came into Wisconsin politics, those folks also  had known each other for years.

I never felt unwelcome in Madison, but I was also never part of the inner circle, and never spoke the shorthand that everyone already knew. And that does make a difference. It made it very challenging to make friends. Bures’ descriptions of some of the people he met in Madison are very accurate.

Madison claims to appreciate diversity on paper, but in many cases it’s less a true appreciation of differences and more of a celebration (but not necessarily acceptance) of eccentricity. There are many colorful street people and musicians in Madison and people acknowledge them – but they’re not quite welcoming them into their homes, or breaking bread with, say, the Piccolo Man.

And for a town that celebrates diversity on paper, it’s unwelcoming to many African-Americans; I’ve seen the body language of people on State Street when an African-American is present and it speaks volumes. The segregation in Madison is just as vivid as it is in Chicago.

One of the biggest challenges for me when I lived there was that Madison was not a very fun place to be single. As a member of the LGBT community, it was even more challenging, but the reasons that Madison’s single scene was such an uphill battle are pretty universal – the dating pool is remarkably small and many good candidates in any age range are usually married and raising a family. Those strong family ties also meant that many people are caring for – and living with – their parents, which doesn’t always make for a positive in the dating world!

Bures makes a number of points in his essay (worth a read at the link above) but in essence, he says Florida’s theory about cause and effect of the creative class being the economic engine of any city (including Madison) just isn’t so.

I’m just starting to explore urban studies as a field, so I can’t speak to theory with any authority. And I found a great deal of thought provoking content when I read Professor Florida’s book Rise of the Creative Class several years ago. I look forward to exploring these ideas much more in my studies this years. (NOTE: Florida responded to this article in an in-depth letter, which prompted a counter response by Bures.)

Yeah…I don’t quite get it, either.

There’s a whole other realm of discussion about Madison in the context of urban studies – and I could fill a whole separate blog post with that debate.

There’s much to discuss about Madison’s growing suburban sprawl, as well as the lack of sensible public transit options and the utter failure that happened when previous attempts were made to have a discussion about those options.

Transit planning isn’t happening when a major artery in and out of the city still has an active and busy rail crossing running on it, blocking traffic for up to a half an hour some mornings. (They’ve redone and rebuilt the road a number of times but apparently never thought to put a bridge or tunnel on the road or the tracks so that the east side didn’t come to a complete halt.)

And while the height limit for buildings close to the Capitol is appreciated to maintain a view of the Square, density is desperately needed, particularly as the east side of Madison starts to evolve.

But I will say that I believe Bures’ essay is spot on in many ways. One of his more stinging comments is that Madison is a “giant suburb with a university in the middle.” I’d say that Madison’s biggest strength is State Street, bordered by Capitol Square to the east and the university to the west.

Both the university and the state jobs bring in college-educated workers, many with PhD’s, and an economic engine that attracts new infusions of capital – monetary capital and human capital – all the time. The influx of students and their energy and enthusiasm in pursuing a degree and a profession add fuel to that formula. Much of the rest of Madison is, in many ways, a cluster of suburbs sprouting up around the isthmus.

The reaction to Bures’ essay has been mixed. I never saw it as an indictment of Madison as a place or of its people – more as a critique of Florida’s theory vs. the reality of the city – but nonetheless some Madisonians are taking it personally.

When I first read the response of Brennan Nardi, an editor at Madison Magazine, I felt that her narrative came across as patronizing, and her knee-jerk response was utterly predictable, topped off by the dismissive comment, “Unless you are extraordinary, you have to actively pursue the good life, not passively expect it to find you.” Thanks, Mom!

But Nardi makes some solid points in her rebuttal, and the main one is one that has been overlooked by just about everyone: Madison isn’t that flush economically. It’s still a mid-sized town in a state that, like every other state, is facing budget shortfalls. Madison is an affordable place, but many of the best neighborhoods to live in thrive on their offbeat charm and old housing stock. Fresh financial investment is more rare than people think in Madison.

Overestimating the wealth, the need and the growth potential of Madison is a pitfall that the city’s fallen into twice now, with the building of Monona Terrace and the Overture Center. They’re great buildings in great spaces, but questions exist about their sustainability and whether Madison will ever have enough need to fill the cavernous space of those halls – or enough business to sustain them for the long run.

And the local job market can, at times, be as tranquil and sedate as the city itself. Nardi notes (correctly) that many in cultural fields can max out on opportunities or salary. Jobs are just not that plentiful in Madison, for any industry. State jobs and university jobs are rare and it’s a super-competitive process to land one. And if a professor is hired at UW, their spouse has to find a job in Madison too, and so on.

Madison is an interesting, unique space, and I still cherish my time living there. But it’s not Nirvana. Then again, there are pros and cons about every city I’ve ever lived in. Textbook theory may be a useful tool, but in the end you have to dig deeper to find out what place works for you.

EDITED TO ADD: Bures wrote another related essay here. To me, this relates in many ways to much of what I’ve posted about recently, including the career and job searching posts I’ve written and the recent debate about the value of music and downloading, and how musicians make a sustainable living. There’s a definite change and evolution happening in how we look at where we live and how we make a living.

Harpo, Oprah and the West Loop

It’s been a year and a half since Oprah Winfrey’s daily talk show ended.

I’m sure many viewers miss the show, but for viewers, the main impact is that the show no longer beams into their living rooms. Fans of Winfrey’s work still have her brand new network (OWN) where they can get their Oprah fix.

From this back in the day…..

I’m seeing a few more tangible repercussions of the end of Winfrey’s show up close. Why? Well, I live a stone’s throw from Harpo Studios here in Chicago.

And those studios? They’re virtually empty, and that worries me.

There’s been almost no activity there, save for the period when Rosie O’Donnell’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it talk show was in production there for five months. Hundreds of former Harpo staffers have been laid off.

Listen, businesses change and grow and relocate and are born and die all the time. I get it. And to be very clear: I do not have a chip on my shoulder about Oprah. I like her. I have some mixed feelings about how her show evolved over the years, but it had some great moments and affected a lot of people in very positive ways. I watched many episodes of Oprah and have no shame in my game about doing so.

This isn’t about her. It’s all about my ‘hood, you see.

When my partner and I first moved to the West Loop (a few blocks away) we were renters. Now we are homeowners. We’re invested in our home, our street and our neighborhood.

This sign was up for about a minute last year.

The fact that one of our neighbors’ homes, so to speak, is primarily a big empty shell is cause for concern, if not alarm.

It’s not just the actual Harpo Studios building, which used to be an armory and takes up a whole city block with Washington on its south, Aberdeen to its west, Randolph to its north and Carpenter at its east. There are also other buildings adjacent to the studio that are used by Harpo – I can count at least three other buildings in the same vicinity where Harpo staffers are located.

I hope Harpo has a long, sustainable life, but if it folds – or moves completely to California, where Winfrey herself is headquartered – that’s a huge chunk of our neighborhood to lose what was a solid economic engine.

Oprah’s arrival is often heralded as the beginning of the renaissance for the West Loop, but the neighborhood would probably survive a drastic change if Harpo leaves. Restaurant Row is a bustling thoroughfare, with restaurants by Stephanie Izard and Graham Elliot Bowles dotting the Randolph Street landscape. And in just the last few years, the Fulton Market neighborhood has exploded.

Farewell, Le Peep – directly affected by the loss of Harpo employees

But it’s foolish to think there will be no impact. Already Washington Avenue east of the studio has seen several businesses (including Le Peep) close due to the loss of Harpo-related business. I’ve seen a small spike in vandalism in those blocks, and it’s hard to tell at this point whether that’s just a summer-related spike or a more long term effect, but it’s troubling.

More puzzling is why Harpo hasn’t actively marketed the space as a usable, turnkey-ready studio space. I posted about the possibilities of this space for a film or TV show recently.

Steve Harvey’s new talk show was announced, but instead of using the Harpo space, a huge new studio has been built for him. I can understand a talk show host not wanting to follow in Winfrey’s shadow, but there’s been radio silence as to whether any other productions might use the space.

Winfrey is known for holding her cards close to her vest and limiting information about her plans (three words: employee non-disclosure agreement), but I wish that she or her team would take a moment to sit down with residents and tell us what their plans are. Or if they have any long term plans at ALL for the space.

I’m a good neighbor – I’ll come by and pay a courtesy call. (A tour of the studio would be nice, but I won’t be greedy.)

Gay fatigue and the road to reconciliation

NOTE: This post is, in part, inspired by a recent post on The Cynical Girl blog, written by Laurie Ruettimann, who’s funny and blunt and just a great writer. Check out the post, and the blog. 

It’s been a very gay summer, so to speak, and a very gay year, overall.

How so? A number of public figures have come out publicly as gay – from astronauts to Anderson Cooper. We’ve had a Secretary of State and our President make unprecedented statements about LGBT rights here and around the world. Gay marriage has been a part of the presidential campaigns, and even institutions like The Muppets and the Boy Scouts of America have been part of the conversations and debates.

A little sandwich – fuel for a huge controversy.

There’s been little in the news in recent weeks as controversial and divisive as the debate over fast food restaurant Chick-Fil-A.

The company’s CEO made statements about gay marriage that offended some people, and CFA’s charity foundation has made donations to some organizations with questionable intentions toward LGBT people.

And you know what? I’m sick of hearing about it all. I’m sick of gay people in the news. I’m having gay fatigue. And I AM gay.

Part of my frustration? We are living in a highly politicized world right now, and a very polarized one, too. I can’t see from the middle of this battle whether people are just taking to one extreme or the other – or whether all the more subtle, nuanced points of view just aren’t being talked about.

It just seems like a lot of bread and circuses to me – and a whole lot of people being asked to weigh in with the last word on the matter.

And somewhere in the midst of that, I want to say, quietly but forcefully: Hey, that’s my life you’re talking about. 

I wish the need to have this debate was past all of us. I wish that my partner and I could just quietly live our lives, loving each other. Caring for each other emotionally, spiritually, financially – and legally, through legal recognition.

It’s amusing to me to be thought of as a radical when the most ‘radical’ thing we ponder most days is what’s for dinner, or what bills we’ll pay this week. I’m as tired of people discussing this as others are of hearing about it.

Trying to strike a balance between American citizens with different, conflicting ideas and beliefs is an enormous challenge. And I actually think that the Chick-Fil-A (CFA) controversy is a great illustration of just how complicated and complex it can be.

CFA serves all customers and to my knowledge, has never declined to serve an LGBT person. Their board and CEO are certainly entitled to run their company as they see fit. And people who disagree – as I do – are clearly entitled to boycott the chain or not give them their dollars – and I have chosen not to spend my money there for some time now.

The more complicated questions arise in terms of employment law. There may be legal complications if local or state laws listed sexual orientation in their non-discrimination clauses for employment and the company was denying LGBT people employment. (Sadly, there are no national laws to protect LGBT employees.)

Was it right for lawmakers in Chicago and New York to state their intent to deny CFA permission to open a restaurant? I have mixed feelings about that. As much as I appreciate the message those lawmakers were sending on behalf of the LGBT community, I think it overstepped legal boundaries. (EDITED TO ADD: If we ask people not to let their religious rights encroach on the legal rights of LGBT people, then the reserve should also be true, too.)

And somehow, we need to strike a balance between respecting deeply held religious beliefs and ensuring fair legal protections for the LGBT community. I have to admit, it’s complicated. I have no solutions and no ideas, just an admission that it’s way more complex and involves a great deal more than the “us vs. them” media blare would have you believe.

And I also want to protect myself, my partner and my community, because these things aren’t just concepts or news stories to me.

  • I HAVE been fired from a job for being gay – twice.
  • I HAVE been evicted from an apartment for being gay.
  • I HAVE experienced abusive treatment from a police officer when I was reporting a crime (a minor theft) and was told that I deserved to have everything taken from me.
  • I HAVE experienced issues at school, too – I almost didn’t graduate high school because one of my instructors told everyone he could how much he wanted to “flunk that faggot.”

These aren’t just perceptions that I dreamt from whole cloth. There was no subtlety in these events – the reasons were made crystal clear to me. And it’s devastating to know that you can have even the basics in life taken from you. Most of those things happened   years ago, but there are still places in this country – and the world – where they still happen.

Faith in the LGBT community.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to figure out how to break down walls and broker peace, if not acceptance, among others. And yes, I am really, really tired of doing that.

As others are. That’s undoubtedly added fuel to the fire and the debate. We’re tired and we’re fighting. It is a war, no doubt about it, and it’s become Us vs. Them.

So, where do we go from here? I still don’t have any answers.

I think of someone who inspires me. His name is Patrick Farabaugh and several years ago, he created a magazine called Our Lives.

And that’s exactly what the stories in the magazine do – tell the stories of LGBT people, in a way that I think has opened the eyes of many. We ARE gay men and lesbians and trans people. And farmers, and bankers, and hockey players and writers and….

….and people of faith. I wrote much of the content in the cover story (seen above) about LGBT people of faith in the community, and it was wonderful to reconcile those two parts of my life.

Reconcilation. Bringing things into balance. It’s challenging and it’s complicated. But it can be done. At the very least, it’s a process that we can begin – if we want to. It means sitting down together, dropping our masks and the predetermined scripts from political parties and cable news channels, and just talking, face to face, to one another about who we really are. Sharing who we are – sharing our lives. That’s all I have in terms of ideas as to where we can start, folks.

Me? I’m a writer. The youngest child (and, my siblings would say, a spoiled brat). Wary of people but warm and loyal once the ice is broken. I have a wicked sense of humor and a soft spot for dogs and cats. I love the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, which I’ll always think of as home. I’ve been researching my family tree and hoping to build and strengthen ties with newly-found relatives. Religion and faith is a personal and, in some ways, private matter for me, but let me be clear: I know God and have felt His presence in my life. I love my partner with a depth and pureness I didn’t think was possible, and would do anything to protect him, sustain him, and be a source of light and joy in his life. I can’t cook worth a damn and I kill plants just by looking at them, but hey, let’s not focus on the negatives……

Lights, camera, action: where we make media

A few weeks ago, the Urbanophile – one of my favorite blogs and one that covers urban studies, cities and economics – featured a guest post that discussed Manchester, England and some of the changes to the city’s economy after the steel industry and other manufacturing collapsed.

It’s worth a complete read (linked above) but let me give you the Cliff Notes version: Manchester developed some sustainable alternate industries in the arts and entertainment sector, including music, film and television production.

Manchester, in many ways, is very similar to Pittsburgh, my hometown.

Pittsburgh has been active to a certain degree in film. The Pittsburgh Film Office has been working with Hollywood productions for over twenty years, and they’ve managed to attract really amazing films to be partly or completely shot in the ‘Burgh.

The latest Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, may be the largest in scope, but it’s not the only one: films as varied as Silence Of The Lambs, Wonder Boys, and Abduction have been filmed in Pittsburgh. (The movie I Am Number Four was filmed at my old high school.)

Pittsburgh has a lot of amazing vistas and a diversity of scenery in its neighborhoods that makes it an ideal place to film.

But hosting a film for a few weeks is different than having a dedicated film or television studio where ongoing work can be done.

For a few years, I wrote a blog about daytime soap operas. Initially, it was an analysis of the content of those shows. But I found myself also writing a great deal about the economics of making those shows. They’d become expensive to produce. Set storage alone in an intensely dense space like Manhattan was a massive strain on production budgets.

One show in particular, the now-cancelled Guiding Light, had a very public battle with economics that showed on air. In order to reduce production costs, the show’s executive producer and production company tried some inventive ideas, including filming on permanent sets, renting a large house in rural New Jersey for filming, and switching to digital cameras.

One thought struck me then, and it’s just as true of any TV show (or film) as it is for a soap opera. If New York City and Los Angeles are the two more expensive places in the country – for real estate, for cost of living, for everything – then why are we almost exclusively producing entertainment there? 

I can understand the pluses of Southern California weather, and the cluster of Broadway talent in New York City. But it seems like a no-brainer to me to diversify – significantly – where we produce entertainment so it can be done in a more cost-effective way.

We aren’t using coaxial cable to relay TV programs any more, folks. Digital cameras can go anywhere, be anywhere and film anything at any time.

Where else should shows be made? Well, there’s probably a lot of places that a sustainable industry could take root.

Take Chicago, my current city. There’s a host of talented actors here, enough to fill several shows. (Heck, the members of Steppenwolf alone are hardly strangers – John Malkovich, Terry Kinney, and Laurie Metcalf – also known as Jackie from Roseanne – just to name a few.)

There’s a studio sitting empty here – perhaps you’ve heard of Oprah Winfrey and Harpo Studios? – with lots of ready-to-roll space for a film or TV production.

And a production that isn’t made in NYC or LA might have the unintended side effect of – gasp – not having the everyone-lives-in-NYC-or-LA tunnel vision that so many shows seem to have.

Pittsburgh doesn’t have the ready-to-go space yet, and I wish that infrastructure would happen.  I’ve had an idea where it could happen for years.

There’s a small city adjacent to Pittsburgh called Braddock, an area that was hit hardest when the steel industry collapsed. The mayor of Braddock, John Fetterman, has been on TV and in the New York Times trying to find a new lease on life for Braddock. It’s already gained a reputation as an artists’ community.

Braddock has – and I intend no offense by saying this – a substantial level of decay, and has wide swaths of land where existing buildings could be razed or renovated into a large studio production space.

And then, if I wanted to be really super-crazy, I’d suggest that a program could be set up to help unemployed or challenged young men and women learn trades (like sound, lighting, or production) that could be parlayed into steady work.

Music, television, newspapers, books, and films – all of these media platforms have changed drastically in the last few decades. I think in order for these platforms to survive, the people who create and the people who deliver them will have to explore new methods of making them, and new methods of getting them in front of an audience.

EDITED AUGUST 7, 2012 TO ADD: I was incorrect in saying Pittsburgh does NOT have substantial studio space. According to a CNNMoney article, there’s a studio with 300,000 square foot of space. My apologies.

The geography of jobs

I’ve been a feature writer for almost a decade, and for a brief blink of an eye, I wrote for a Web site about jobs and careers.

I still find it an interesting field and one that connects in some way to everyone.

This fall, I’m taking classes in urban studies, and jobs are definitely a key element in understanding why people live in cities and suburbs.

When I was a staff writer for that Web site, I worked with a great manager/editor and really talented writers, and although the content was accessible (and easy to read), we put a lot of hard work into what we wrote.

But even with that research and all our great intentions, many of our articles carried an unintended but obvious bias: we were writing for white-collar readers who lived and worked in larger cities and larger job markets.

Yes, we wrote about blue collar jobs, jobs that didn’t require a degree and work for people who were beginners, part-time workers, older workers and interns. But our demographic was primarily young white-collar college grads, and we delivered.

I’ve lived in Chicago for four years now, and I admit to some collective amnesia about some of the other places I’ve lived and other jobs I’ve had. But a recent trip reminded me of how different the job market – and the art of establishing and sustaining a career – really is in other areas.

Perhaps the most vivid example for me was a recent visit my partner and I made to a lakeside community. The town had a bustling boardwalk area – fun and frentic, with a mixture of shops and little ramshackle restaurants where people could eat dinner or have some candy or ice cream.

We walked by one of the more famous places on the stroll, and I sat outside as we waited for food. From my vantage point, I could see the staff working. And their segregation – and interactions – were in some ways very chilling to me, even on a hundred-degree day.

The workers, all college age or younger, were grouped together. The female employees were all up front, essentially there to wordlessly deliver food to the customers with a smile. They were not allowed to take orders.

The young men gathered around the grill and clearly had an ‘alpha male’ attitude. In the short time that I sat and waited, their body language – and the rude, unflattering things they said to the young women working – told me all I needed to know about the hierarchy there.

And then, off to the side, ignored by both groups, was the sole “diverse” face in the group, a young African-American girl.

I realize I’m making a judgement about a place I saw for maybe five minutes. But something about this haunted me. The place had been open for 60 years and something told me that very little had changed in that time.

It reminded me that in small towns, there aren’t always multiple career options. Sometimes you are dealing with outdated ideas about gender and race at a workplace. These are issues that no resume tweak and no interview tactic will fix.

During that same trip, I visited a few friends in northwestern Pennsylvania. One is an amazing writer who just recently finished a business degree. He was valedictorian of his class and went searching for a new “career” job – and promptly found offers that were no better than the part time work he’d sought before he was in school.

He eventually found a job with fair wages, but soon learned he was working for a boss who was homophobic. No matter how efficient my friend was at his job, the boss  created an unfriendly work environment for him. Eventually my friend had no choice but to leave that job.

Another friend is a very talented interior designer, and has established a name for himself and for his eye for design. But the opportunities for him to practice his craft in his own backyard, so to speak, have significantly diminished in the last several years. The company he’d worked for closed up shop. There simply weren’t other options in the community he loved and where his parents and family were anchored.

When his job at home ended, he had to go where the action was, so to speak. As a result, he’s had to live “a tale of two cities” for years, living part of the week in his home in Pennsylvania and part of the week in the Ohio town he works in a couple of hours away.

I don’t think any of the career posts and article I wrote are any less true or real. I’m just beginning to believe that too often, white collar bias and urban career bias slipped into those articles and blog posts.

And this IS the part of the job creation puzzle that I think has been widely ignored by all political parties. We can talk about big scale projects in urban areas, or big energy and manufacturing plants that are booming in the Southeast and Southwest.

But what are the choices on Main Street? If you’re in a small or medium size city, is relocation the only resolution to a career crisis? I honestly don’t have the answers, but I know the disappearance of small local businesses (and the advent of big corporate ventures like Wal-mart settling in those areas) has changed the job landscape in small American towns forever.

Creative common sense: the value of creative work

There have been some really vivid debates happening recently centering around artists and how they are compensated for their work.

Much of the focus was a blog post by David Lowery, the leader of bands Cracker and Camper van Beethoven and an advocate for musicians. His blog The Tricordist published an excellent post yesterday as a response to an NPR intern admitting on air that of the 11,000 songs she’d downloaded, she paid for almost none of them.

I talked about this here back in January and it’s a debate that’s been raging for a decade or so now since the advent of Napster. It also seems to be primarily generational, as younger music fans simply don’t see paying for music as a necessity.

What musicians have to rely on when people don’t honor their work.

I see obvious parallels between musicians and journalists. Ironically, the NPR intern – ostensibly a journalism or broadcasting major – will soon be in a job market where paying jobs have shrunk and the few opportunities open are often internships.

The TV stations and newspapers in Chicago don’t think it’s economically wise to hire a newbie out of college, and much of their remaining budgets go to on-air talent or production needs. So those fact checkers, graphics editors and admins? All interns, all free.

In other words, Emily the NPR intern will soon be experiencing the same thing the musicians she’s downloaded have: working without compensation.

I have 13,000 tracks in my iTunes and have paid for 99% of them. Some may have been “ripped” from physical CDs but at some juncture, I paid for them. I have a small, tiny sliver of unpaid tracks that in most cases, were unavailable in any format or out of print.

Maybe this is the hey-you-kids-get-off-my-lawn old man coming out in me, but it IS increasingly a moral issue to me. If people don’t understand that they are stealing, then we have a serious issue.

How would most hourly employees feel if, at the end of two weeks of work, your company simply didn’t pay you for your work? We’d have riots in the street.

Why is that unacceptable for “most of us” but OK for artists, musicians and writers?

Another recent content related controversy surrounds the cartoonist Matthew Inman, better known as The Oatmeal, and a conflict he’s had with the team that runs the Web site FunnyJunk.

FunnyJunk appears to be a site where users upload content – any humor-based content they want. Inman found several hundred of his works uploaded to FJ without any attribution as to who created them.

I won’t fully recount the blow by blow here – it’s just too odd and bizarre to believe – but instead of honoring Inman’s intellectual property claims, FunnyJunk’s lawyers sued him for compensation, claiming they had been slandered.

Or in simpler terms: An artist was expected to comply with the free, uncompensated use of his work.

Sound familiar?

To me, these issues underscore how we see work in this country, what we see as valid work (often only white collar work is valued), and how we compensate people for their time and efforts.

 

In defense of Fred Rogers

Honestly, I can’t believe I have to write a post defending someone as genuinely influential and amazing as Fred Rogers.

Our neighbor – then, now and forever.

But his legacy came under attack again last week during a now-widely discussed high school commencement speech.

David McCullough, an English teacher and son of historian David McCullough, gave a pointed and blunt speech to stunned students telling them they aren’t special.

It was meant as a wake-up call to the “everyone gets a trophy” and “helicopter parent” kids. And I agree with many of the points McCullough made.

But his quote early on made me very angry: “Contrary to what your soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers, and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special.”

Mr. Rogers is being blamed for “coddling” kids and making them into belly button gazing narcissists. And McCullough isn’t the first one to do so. The late Jeffrey Zaslow, a former Wall Street Journal, wrote an entire article blaming Fred Rogers for the “me me me” epidemic.

I always try to see multiple viewpoints and multiple “sides” of an issue. I get that education is a complex topic in this country and an increasingly political one.

But come for Fred Rogers, and I will bear down the force of a thousand suns to protect his legacy.

I can’t even put into words how much I disagree with the “blame Mr. Rogers” movement. Yes, he does say to children, “You’re special.” But there are a ton of apples-to-oranges comparisons being made – lots of claims without looking deeper at his work.

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood emphasized the unique qualities of each child and each individual. And at the developmental stage that the show was aimed at, that was – and still is – a valuable and necessary message.

There was nothing – absolutely nothing – in his messages that suggested that children didn’t need to strive for goals, or work hard, or any of the disconnections from reality he’s been blamed for. All he recognized is that children may take different pathways to success, and that different people had strengths in different areas.

Fred Rogers was an educator for longer than many of us have even been alive. He was involved in the medium of television as early as 1954 and his shows always had the same goals – to encourage education, inspire learning and cultivate curiosity in children.

This wasn’t a ego trip for him or a chance for him to be a ‘star,’ and as this astonishing video clip shows, he was willing to fight very hard for what he believed in. What you saw on air of Fred Rogers was – surprise – exactly who he was off camera.

His background as a Presbyterian minister was a foundation for what he felt was a mission to guide and inspire children to learn, to grow and to feel safe – a crucial focus at a time where the nightly news showed the horrors of Vietnam night after night (and quite frankly, a need that is timeless).

Conservative news sites have taken McCullough’s speech and made it a call to arms. The narrative being put forth in conservative media is that the “everyone is special” message must clearly equal coddling from liberal leaders and educators.

A few observations on this phenomenon, if I may.

Firstly, we need to step away from politicizing education and work together to improve learning and improve outcomes. Some no-nonsense common sense goals and boundaries would be welcome, but making education one of the us vs. them, liberal vs. conservative, Democrat vs. Republican battles will favor no one.

Secondly, the conservative and evangelical view is that every life has value and every life is special. And that can’t apply just in utero, can it? I see such a direct and clear connection between Fred Rogers’ faith, and his contention that every child is special. I would think many Christians would see the same connection.

And one final irony: being told that you’re not special, that you’re just one of a group and that you get what the guy next to you gets…..that sounds a bit to me like….oh, what’s the word that’s been tossed around frequently in politics in the last few years? Oh wait, that’s right: COMMUNISM.

Every person adhering to a sameness – that’s pretty much the definition of that word. (It’s been misused and misapplied so often in recent times; I had to look in the dictionary just to be sure!)

Celebrating the uniqueness of the individual, the independent spirit – that, to me, is America and the most patriotic thing we can do. And to me, that’s what the legacy of Fred Rogers represents.

I don’t disagree with McCullough’s basic premise. There is vast room for improvement in our education system. Children (and the adults in their lives) definitely need to understand that achievement is earned, not a given, and that hard work and intense studying is crucial.

I’ve seen what happens when a child is overly protected from criticism and failure. I’ve worked with many people like that in my career, and few things are as aggravating as trying to give feedback to someone who never learned to take constructive criticism. We urge children to succeed, but we don’t always teach them how to fail, and how to recover from that.

Self-reliance is an obvious goal. Living a life where you can care for you and your family takes away a lot of fear and uncertainty and it empowers people. I completely co-sign that idea, too. I have no arguments with those points.

But instead of dismissing Fred Rogers and his magnificent legacy of work, perhaps it’s time to reexamine that legacy and see what else he can teach us about reaching the hearts and minds of children.

His work and his ideas are timeless. In the same week that McCullough dismissed Rogers in his speech, a YouTube video featuring debuted on the PBS YouTube channel. It has garnered over three million page views.

As a kid who grew up in Pittsburgh, Fred Rogers was always there and always “ours.” I didn’t fully appreciate his work until his death in 2003. He has been gone for almost ten years now. He’s very much missed, and the world could certainly use more leaders and teachers like Fred Rogers.

EDITED TO ADD: A former colleague who read my post on Twitter sent me a link to another great post about Fred Rogers; the post, in turn, reminded me of the acceptance speech that Rogers made at the 1997 Daytime Emmy Awards.

The Emmys, of course, are an awards show. For once, Rogers had an opportunity to make the moment about him, or his team, or deliver some variation on the usual thank you’s that winners make. What he does here (starting around 1:45) is beyond astonishing in its grace and its simplicity. Please watch.

A rich inner world

Are there splinters in the windmills of my mind?

In April, I took an online Myers-Briggs text. Myers-Briggs is a personality test and indicates how you approach decision making – and how you interact with the world.

My result was ISFJ, labeled “The Nurturer.”

OK, whatever. I wasn’t investing a lot of thought in the results. It was, after all, an Internet test.

But something in the written results caught my eye.

As an ISFJ, your primary mode of living is focused internally, where you take things in via your five senses in a literal, concrete fashion…

IFSJ’s constantly take in information about people and situations that is personally important to them, and store it away. This tremendous store of information is usually startlingly accurate, because the ISFJ has an exceptional memory about things that are important to their value systems. 

It would not be uncommon for the ISFJ to remember a particular facial expression or conversation in precise detail years after the event occured, if the situation made an impression on the ISFJ.

ISFJs have a rich inner world that is not usually obvious to observers. 

Wow, that’s me. Very much so.

I’ve always described it as “living inside my head” and it’s probably a great basis for the imagination suited to writers and artists. But it doesn’t always make friendships, relationships and social situations easy.

I developed a healthy imagination as a sick kid, forced by nasty allergies to play indoors. I also sharpened my powers of observation during those years. I am, as the ISFJ analysis suggests, that person with a memory like a steel trap.

I remember events, people, places and dates – and more importantly, the emotional texture that was surrounding that particular event. I remember one neighborhood gossip pumping me for information because, as she said, “nothing gets by you, kid!”

That rich inner garden kicked into high gear in grade school and high school as a coping mechanism. I’d run into challenging situations – being shunned by other kids or being teased, or having someone beat the crap out of me  –  on almost a daily basis.

When the conflict escalated, I started seeing it all through my mind’s eye and imagining it Life Is Beautiful style, as if it was all just a TV show that I was watching – or starring in. It was a creative way to cope, though a therapist would probably have a field day with that and call it ‘disassociative.”

In high school I became deeply involved in fictional worlds, both as a voracious reader and a writer. I created my own stories. But except for a few friends, it all essentially remained in my head.

Going to college at 18 broke through that shell in some necessary ways. I made some close friends and learned to live in a more interactive world.

I don’t think I’m a terribly shy or reserved person. I’m not antisocial or misanthropic. But I still live, in many ways, in my head. Why? Self-protection is the obvious answer.

This approach is sometimes manifested in my language and writing. A friend of mine commented a few years ago after not seeing me for a while that he had to remind himself about “Patrick speak” – a mixture of metaphors and foreshadowing where the real meaning was buried three or four paragraphs in.

I’ve also had to weed this approach out of my writing. Good journalism counts on a solid lede to tell you what the story is about. Burying the lede means people might stop reading before the real news reaches them.

I’ve tried to be more aware of this with friends and co-workers. It’s a necessity, especially at work, for people to understand where you’re coming from and what you’re thinking.

But if I had to be brutally honest, I’d say that even with the very closest people in my life, they’ve only seen a portion of that inner garden. Even after all these years, I still hold those cards close to my vest.

One of my biggest hopes with my remaining time in college is that it continues to be a transformative experience, and leads me to learn new ways to share that rich garden of ideas in my head in a way that makes me feel comfortable, confident and empowered. Like me, it’s a project that is still a work in progress.

Music Monday: The value of music

Instead of blogging about a musician or band this morning for Music Monday, I wanted to ponder the value of music in today’s mostly digital marketplace.

More to the point, I want to ask: Do you believe it’s OK to download music for free, without giving anything to the artist?

This is not a new discussion or a new issue – it’s one that’s been happening for more than a decade.

As music sales have moved from brick-and-mortar stores and physical music platforms like CDs to digital files, so has the ability to access MP3s and music files online. Napster was the first platform to encourage music trading, but even without it around, a thousand others have popped up in its wake.

And the concept of “owning” a piece of music vs. having access to it on a smartphone or computer is an increasingly gray area, thanks to new platforms like Spotify, which uses a mixture of music files and its own radio station.

I guess my debate is more of a moral one: why do so many people think it’s perfectly OK to take something without paying for it?

One argument that’s always put forth is that all record companies are evil behemoths and won’t miss the money. Yes, many record companies past and present have only a tenuous connection to the artistic side of the process, if they have one at all. Many labels have mishandled artists or mismanaged their money or made decisions that were good for business but bad for art. No doubt about that.

But if a record company is not paid for the product that it distributed, I can guarantee it won’t be their general ledger that takes a hit. The artist will. And that’s likely why artists are now consistently saying they make no money whatsoever on an album. Touring is their sole way to make money from the music they create and play.

The second argument is more troublesome to me, and the argument is essentially this: I’m [fill in the blank: unemployed, underemployed, poor] and can’t afford to buy this music, so I’ll just download it.

But that’s never made sense to me. The inability to pay for an item does not entitle you to have it for free. The fact that people think that it does just reeks of entitlement. (To be blunt, for many of the people I’ve heard this argument from, it’s also a serious case of white privilege and veiled racism.)

When people loot during a crisis, there’s almost universal condemnation of that action. And it is morally wrong. It’s often an act perpetrated by people who are poor and who may be looting for the basics of life to survive.

Downloading music and not paying for it? Is digital looting.

Is my own conscience clear? I feel that it is. I pay for files on iTunes. I think there’s been maybe two or three times that I’ve downloaded a file; in all those cases, it was a “leaked track” by one of my favorite artists. I knew the moment it became available I was buying the entire album.

For a few older albums, I “ripped” the album from a physical CD into my iTunes library. I bought those albums several times over (on vinyl and cassette) so I know that I’ve paid for the music.

And I still make mixtapes, so to speak (on CD now). So I do share songs with friends. But (a) I’ve paid for the song/album and (b) if I share it, it’s not going to be shared into infinity with thousands of users. And (c) I’ve introduced people to music which in many cases spurred them to buy the entire album and/or other music by the same artist.

Maybe it’s just me entering the hey-you-kids-get-off-of-my-lawn phase, but it really troubles me that so many people see no issue with stealing music.

Because no matter how many ways we slice it, my final thought always comes back to this: How would you feel if you worked for a week, or two weeks, or whatever your pay cycle is….

….and on payday, the end users of your company’s product came to your office/store/widget factory and said, “Hey, we’re taking your paycheck. We appreciate your work, but don’t think you should be paid for it. Thanks!”

I’m guessing mass rioting would occur. So if it’s not ethical if someone does it to you, why would it be ethical to take the value (perceived or monetary) of someone else’s work and assume it as your property?