Union Station history

I’d skimmed but hadn’t really focused on this weekend Post line about Union Station until my mom e-mailed about it. “It once employed 5,000 people and included a Turkish bath, a mortuary, a hotel and a bowling alley.”

The line sent me to Google, which turned up two pieces that are must-reads for anyone who’s ever commuted daily through the station. First, from Time, there’s a Maureen Dowd story from 1982, just as the revitalization work was beginning. Dowd expands on what the Post briefs: “bowling alley, mortuary, bakery, butchery, YMCA hotel, ice house, resident doctor, liquor store, Turkish baths, first-class restaurant, basketball court, swimming pool, nursery, police station and silver-monogramming shop.”

And after you read the first piece, you’re wondering, what’s this “Pit”? The National Building Museum’s Blueprints magazine explains in a 1988 story. Even better are the details about the building of the station, seeing the parts come and go. I remember walking on the wooden planks in the station around the time, but it’s amazing to read about the depth of work needed to fix it.

The ONA-Magee research

A post this week in E-Media Tidbits mentioned C. Max Magee’s research about skills in online newsrooms. I bookmarked the blog’s link to the study when it came out, but I never got around to linking it here. (You may recall Magee from the Uzo Iweala posts here a year-plus ago, when I was taking his survey.)

For me, the study was worth reading because it confirmed the community. It confirmed the majority of online journalism is still working in the trenches, where the shiny big hit is important but not what gets the Web off the ground every day. This result sent me back to one of the answers I’d given Magee:

What was missing from your journalism education in terms of preparing you to work on a news Web site?

Hard to say. I think Medill prepared me well, especially at the graduate level. But the one major part of preparation I did mostly on my own was establishing awareness.

Technology awareness like I mentioned above, but also industry awareness and news awareness. News awareness just comes with time in journalism; it’s something I’m learning every day. The industry and tech parts are harder. Medill helped some for sure — my capstone project’s presentations and talks with Tribune Co. folks and others were great — but there was so much more. And I don’t fault Medill at all. I’ve thought about this a lot and still don’t know how you’d teach the necessary level of awareness in school. Do fly in speakers every week? Do you sign the students up for a bunch of e-newsletters? How do you take different kinds of learners and force them to multitask well? Do you require them to get involved with a real, everyday publication?

All of these things would help, but each in turn requires more effort. Just consider the speakers. New media, like any industry, has a lot of BS. How much time can you devote to calling them on it? Do you tell them which ones talked like they were from 1999? Do you tell them which ones are just throwing around jargon? Do you tell them which ones don’t have a legit business plan? I’m not sure. The field’s so broad, and there’s only so much time in school.

Interning, working at the daily paper in college, and lots of reading outside of work/school have helped me a lot. There’s an understanding in the lower levels of online journalism that most of the people are there because they don’t know what else they want to do with their lives yet. But when you can start to see the bigger picture and get a little comfortable, you can start to see the good that you do and where you can take things in the future.

After a year-plus of on-and-off thought, I can’t fully answer the questioned I raised. But I think the initial answer to them is deeper listening. The speed of new media innovation encourages seeing developments as a steady arrival of peaks, but that approach misses the different valleys and rises to the peaks. When you listen deeper — and question better, so as to dig into the substance of the listening — you’re better prepared to explain the developments to others … which is how you build the consensus to get to the next peak.

It’s simple, an understanding of the work that needs to be done. But in an industry situation where the necessary tasks haven’t reached a broad professional elevation, you need to have the conversations to understand.