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Orange County | Dana Parsons

Feeling Bottled Up by Message Madness

May 09, 2003|Dana Parsons

I work for a large communications company. I'd rather not identify it, but, trust me, it's big. Really big. It owns television stations and newspapers. Its specialty is conveying information in a clear, concise manner.

I work on the newspaper side. When I'm not conveying information in a clear, concise manner to the public, I'm conveying information to my friends in the office. At your job, you probably call that "goofing off," but you're not in the communication business.

In newsrooms of old, you conveyed information to a colleague by standing up, pointing to him or her and yelling out, "Hey, listen to this!" In the computer age, that became outdated. Suddenly, we had a "message system" that enabled us to send silent computer notes to colleagues, even if they were sitting 6 feet away. That prompted these kind of exchanges:

"Hey, what are you up to?"

"Not much."

A veteran reporter could fill up half a day with stuff like that, then set about the business of conveying information to the public. The beauty of the system was that nobody could tell that, instead of working, you were messaging friends. To the staff, that was the definition of a crack system. Management, however, had other ideas.

Probably much like your bosses, ours are always trying to improve things. Even when things seem to be going swimmingly and employees have no complaints, management is always on the lookout to make things even better. At our place, they'll go anywhere if it'll make the paper better.

So, a few years ago, our leaders dispatched a team to Denmark. Along with some awesome expense reports, the team members came back touting a new system that, from the outset, was roundly disliked by almost every reporter who used it.

As Shakespeare said, there is something rotten in Denmark. Incredibly, our people found it and brought it home.

Perhaps the system's most glaring deficiency was how difficult it became to handle our stock-in-trade: conveying information among ourselves. For the first time in newsroom history, sending a message that complained about editors or gossiped about colleagues almost became more trouble than it was worth. Unlike the old system, the new one featured a message screen -- dubbed the "pea bar" because it originally had little green icons that looked like peas -- that couldn't be concealed. Anybody walking past could glance at your latest message. That had a chilling effect on in-house gossip.

Now, we're switching again.

In an internal memo -- probably your bosses write those too -- we got the news this week:

"Signal Message System Replacing Pea Bar." Many old-school reporters were surprised to learn a pea bar wasn't a restaurant option for vegetarians.

According to management, the system is now available for testing. It will be fully operational later this month. A follow-up memo from headquarters warned us that the days of the pea bar are dwindling.

The new system, management says, is much more like the original -- the one scrapped for the one created in Denmark.

It just goes to show you. When it comes to improving things for the workers, management will do whatever it takes.

It's what I hear from readers all the time when talking about their jobs -- their bosses always have their fingers on the pulse of the workplace.

At our shop, I expect my colleagues' attention will be drawn to one line in the instruction sheet explaining the new system. "Messages are meant to be short, short-lived and production-related."

Production-related?

Of course.

We might have thought of that on our own, but isn't it great to have management, always thinking, save us the trouble?

*

Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821, at dana.parsons@latimes.com or at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626.

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