Mielke: People not machines

The office in which I spend my working day is fairly nondescript.

The office in which I spend my working day is fairly nondescript.

Despite my valiant efforts to keep it neat and orderly, it is not.

Papers are scattered in no particular order here, there and everywhere. Last week’s press instructions telling me how many newspaper pages I need to fill are still staring at me ominously.

“I need to file that away,” I think. “In fact, I need to straighten this office before I even get started on this week’s column.

But I am anxious to start writing, willing the words to come to me, demanding creativity to show itself, not later, not tomorrow, but now.

Perhaps the reason this sense of urgency, lurking somewhere in my subconscious, almost bubbled to the surface was because of a few words I happen to read yesterday.

The robots are coming.

“My goodness,” I thought when I read further only to discover that journalism and reporting could be among the first jobs to go. Apparently, these jobs are easily done by a robot. As far as writing a column, I can only hope these robots don’t end up taking a creative writing course.

All kidding aside, it is rather disturbing to think that one’s intrinsic job value could be on par, or even surpassed, by a machine.

I think back on my career and I sigh.

It’s all about people. It always was and it always will be.

Two pictures hang on my office walls. One of them is a Norman Rockwell picture entitled, ‘A visit to a country editor.’

I first spotted a copy of the picture hanging on the wall at the Alberta Weekly Newspaper Office in Edmonton. When I saw the picture, I was but a pup in the newspaper industry. I had lots to learn. I had to make a few mistakes. I had to go through the humiliation of misspelling and misquotes and look editors and, even worse, the people I had written about, in the eye and say, “I’m sorry.”

I had to beg forgiveness, hoping they would take to heart the saying, to err is human, to forgive divine.

I was a novice. I had not yet had my fingers stained by printer’s ink. I had yet to develop that little bump reporters often get on the third finger of their dominant hand from taking copious notes at yet another council meeting.

Still, when I looked at the picture way back then when I was young and naïve and had no clue what this crazy and wonderful career had in store for me, I felt a curious sense of pride, of belonging and of great responsibility.

I could almost smell the newsprint. I could sense the urgency of getting the story out on deadline, correct and factual.

I’m quite sure I would not feel the same way if Rockwell had replaced the editor, the copy boy, the typesetter and the farmer dressed in blue overalls standing at the front desk with robots.

The second picture is called The Writing Desk and that’s what it is. A simple desk. And a very old typewriter.

I also feel a sense of kinship with this picture.

After all, that’s where it begins. A sheet of paper. A typewriter.

And then the story. A story painstakingly etched out in black and white with all the research completed to present the reader with the truth; factual and balanced.

They call it news.

But it’s the story between the lines that gives humans the edge over robots.

The human angle. That’s the angle no machine could ever grasp.

I hope.

Treena Mielke is the editor of the Rimbey Review. She lives in Sylvan Lake with her family.

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