I am chair of the Department of Newspaper and Online Journalism at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. I have worked at Newhouse since 1999. Before that, I worked in a variety of roles at local newspapers in Mississippi, New York and Pennsylvania, plus a stint at USA TODAY.
For the Syracuse Jobs Matter project, I served as a consultant, having led a reporting class the previous year for a community-based project about housing, called My Housing Matters. However, my role was minimal this time. Once students reach upperclassman status and have acquired reporting, editing and multimedia skills, all they need is a plan and direction, which they received in their Advanced Editing course.
My First Job Was Important To Me Because . . .
I got a job working at a small-town Dairy Queen in rural Missouri when I was 14, and I learned a lot about life and work there. At that time (1967) DQs pretty much sold ice cream products only, and none of the fancy stuff. Customers lined up outside two windows, in the intense Midwest swelter, and then ate in their cars with windows rolled down.
Our first priority was to bust it; we actually ran to fill orders — most often for ice cream cones that sold for 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 cents each. Customers were hot; ice cream melted quickly. The 10- and 15-cent cones were most popular. But it was not unusual for a family of five (like my own) to order five nickel cones that would easily last 10 minutes if you employed a careful attack to avoid a melted mess. By the way: As a family, we took 5 napkins. No more, no less.
I worked this job for five years — year-round, not just summer. The first thing my new boss told me was that “every job pays the same.” Translation: All tasks were equally important, whether I was waiting on customers, picking up trash in the parking lot, mopping the floors or making Dilly Bars. Do the job, and do it well. I started at 50 cents an hour and eventually would make $1.65, though shortly after I hit that summit, my boss cut me back to $1.50 as punishment. The reason? I had taken a phone order at the end of a shift and then forgot to hand it off to the next crew. When the customer showed up, his order wasn’t ready — and he was steamed. This taught me an important lesson: There is no such thing as an act without consequences.
If you’ve been following this series by Inspiration for the Nation, it’s now a good time to take stock of your level of financial preparedness, particularly in today’s uncertain business/political climate.