The Pitchfork Culture

Sometime Sunday I received an anonymous reply from a reader about my post Us and Them. The comment had to do primarily with the cold truth that often reporters who do complain get told to join an association and spread their views, only to be castigated, ostracized, shot down, or ignored. The reader described it as a pitchfork culture, one that is less than helpful, one that is destructive.

To those that feel this way, in many ways I was and still am you. In my career I’ve had maybe three to five ideas I thought were profound. Whoever was in the position of power to make those ideas happen, for one reason or another, didn’t. Didn’t matter if it was an association, a union, or a colleague. We cannot really change how people react or behave towards the idea that we can make things better. We can point out that the might makes right ideology is harmful. We can point out that telling people to join and get with the program or nobody cares about you is a great way to disengage outsiders and shrink membership. But again, we cannot really change how people react.

Why do you think I started blogging? I saw things that should be happening that weren’t. Why was there no guide on where job postings were in my home state? Why wasn’t anybody talking about the copy problem? Why don’t we talk about rates? As early as 2011, I was out there discussing some of these things, and the message at that time was very clear: If you are not happy, change jobs or move. Nobody cared.

Now we have a choice. We can sink very deeply into this idea that nobody cares, or we can, all of us, find ways to progress in the face of adversity or opposition. I could never besmirch somebody that chose the former, but the latter is more likely to change outcomes and make things better. I am decidedly not special. Upon starting this blog, I was told by a friend that people would not listen to me and that I would be just some guy on the internet. Today we’re looking at hundreds of visitors and over a thousand views a month. The actual engagement is lower than I would like it to be, but the message spreads. You can do that. You can do better.

If you are that anonymous commentator, or if you just agree with what he or she had to say, I hope you’ll see how far on your side I really am. The older I get, the more I realize that there is unlikely to be one person, entity, or moment that makes or breaks the day for stenography. What will save us is the collective action of many. I know you’ve complained, and I know you’ve been burned for it, but I’m here to say the complaint was probably valid, and the best thing you can do is rework the message until it’s accepted, or build your idea so that nobody can deny it works.

As for the pitchfork culture, what is there to say? We spend most of our professional lives listening, and it can feel so good to have a voice, power, even momentary power, over someone or a situation. There’s power in telling people that they are wrong, or that we are right, or that everyone is on our side. All I can say to anyone is that in your life you will have these moments of power, and how you use them is a measure of who you truly are.

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