Author’s Note: For a synopsis of Burgers, Bloggers, & Cops visit here.
Sean shook his head no, said goodbye and entered the former office of Gen. The door was open and a large mustached man wearing a microphone headset and pounding on a keyboard was the occupant. Sean scanned the flesh-toned walls. Fitz’s diplomas from UMass Amherst and Harvard Business School were hung high like victory banners. Awards inlaid with faux diamonds and fool’s gold leaf hung below them.
“You didn’t knock.”
A perturbed Fitz said looking away from his screen with a tone that was hollowly inquisitive.
Sean was startled by that response. He had a quick reply prepared though.
“Sorry, sir—the past publisher had an open door policy, and our editor-in-chief did as well.”
Three silent seconds passed.
“Again, I apologize for the intrusion.” added Sean. He was hedging his bets with a second layer of apologies. Whatever Sean thought about Fitz was irrelevant, but Fitz’s opinion of him was highly relevant.
Fitz stood up and extended his hands.
“It’s good to finally meet you, Mr. Livingston—I’m Arliss Fitz, Publisher of the Mid-Illini Gazette.”
The two men clasped hands.
“Have a seat, Sean. I’ve heard a lot of good things about you.”
Sean Livingston was happy to hear that. He could not help wracking his brain to find out what those good things were. Of the two years Sean wrote for newspapers, he couldn’t really figure out what those good things were. All he had to show was two years of human interest stories and the occasional profile of a political candidate- he didn’t really feel like an exceptional reporter.
“I’m flattered, Mr. Fitz.”
Fitz returned to his seat and opened up a binder sitting on his desk.
“You penned close to a thousand articles, and only a single correction had to be published—that’s good work, Sean.”
He turned the page.
“Compared to your former colleagues, you’ve got an eye for detail. That’s why when I assumed the management of this business unit, I decided to keep you on.”
Sean was startled.
“Thank you, sir.”
Fitz’s tone and vocal volume ascended as he announced Sean’s future at Barbican Media.
“Sean, you’re a sensational writer—Barbican has big plans for this news agency, and you’re the boots on the ground to help accomplish this company’s mission. As our Staff Writer, you’ll have considerable responsibility for our content along with Gen. You need to get ready for some big changes. We’re going to do away with the Mid-Illini’s print edition; we’re going to be all-digital, all day, and every day. You’re going to have to be a blogger. Eventually, I want to have streaming video of each of your articles. Print is dead, Sean. Barbican Media knows that, and that’s why we’re going to keep the best talent, and train them for the twenty-first century. To do that though, we need to expand our reach as a news agency.”
“What do you mean by that, Mr. Fitz?”
“We need to look beyond Peoria, Sean. We’re going to go cover places that the Mid-Illini is not known in, and with the power of the net we’ll build publicity. The publicity of course will lead to trust, and the trust will lead to advertising dollars for Barbican, and profits for all of us. You’re on a winning team, Sean. I know you have what it takes to win for us. How do you feel about web content writing?”
Sean’s response was quick —he had done web content writing and content management before, but it was for his childhood church, not for work.
“I like it.”
“Good, Sean. You’ll do fine here. Now have you ever heard of Bannhart, Illinois?”
Livingston had heard of the town. He knew it to be somewhere south of Peoria, and maybe southwest of Bloomington-Normal, in rural Deacon County. He said yes.
“I’ve heard of it, but I can’t say I’ve been there,” said Livingston.
“You’ll be going there this weekend. You’ve done some food writing, correct?”
“You’ll be reviewing two new restaurants: Lubankya Burger and General Von Tso’s,” said Fitz.
Sean started taking notes on his old reporter’s notebook. “Tell me more.”
Fitz was pleased, his tone warmed up. “Lubankya Burger is a weird joint, some kind of Russian theme, very Soviet they say. Pretty popular with the young college folk from BloNo, and Eureka—I don’t think the old folks who actually lived through the Joe McCarthy days eat there. I sure wouldn’t.”
Livingston took notes and nodded to show his new boss that it was okay to continue on.
“Von Tso’s is another odd place: Chinese-German foods. They pride themselves on being the only German-Chinese restaurant in Illinois. I don’t know too much else about them. I want to send you down to Bannhart to review both restaurants. Two feature length pieces. I’ve already contacted both restaurants and informed them that you’ll be on your way tonight to review them on Saturday and Sunday respectively. I want you to take your time on these articles–stay down there, immerse yourself in the town’s culture, and win them over to Barbican. I know that’s close to the Pantagraph’s territory, but Barbican competes without stealing as you’ll find.”
Sean readied himself for work.
“Thanks for the assignment, sir. I’m looking forward to this.”
“That’s the spirit. With the fabulous articles you’ll do on both places, we’ll have them in our digital advertising portfolio very soon. Good hunting, Sean, or should I say, Blogger Sean?”
“Thank you, Mr. Fitz,” Sean replied.
Fitz added one more task for him.
“For the rest of your shift in the newsroom today, Sean, I’m assigning you to finish the Barbican University Training Modules 101, 108, 110, and 200. You’ll get to know us better, and we’ll get to know you better as well.”
Sean’s dread was concealed with a simple, “Okay.”
Livingston exited the publisher’s office and spotted Genevieve in her office. She made the come hither sign, and Sean honored her request.
“What’s up?” Sean asked as he grabbed a seat by the door.
“Getting rid of the print edition will save us money, but we’ll lose our distribution department. I want to warn you that by the time you return, I could be out of here. Fitz is known as a turn-around specialist—in a place like this, I fear the outcomes of that. I’ve been looking at positions outside of the newspaper business. Print’s dead Sean; journalism is a skill; it’s not a way of life for many people now. Get out while you can.”
Sean liked and respected Genevieve. But, as far as his career was concerned he didn’t let anybody play with it. Hell, Livingston didn’t have much patience for career advisors. He took advice from maybe three people—Gen wasn’t one of them.
“I may have to think about it, Gen.”
Sean said this realizing he was only fooling himself. Still he had a job to do, and he wouldn’t let a nay-sayer get in the way, even if she was his friend, boss, and the editor.
“I’m glad you’ll at least think about it, Sean. On your vacation your desk was moved from the newsroom by Clemson and Spany to a cubicle off of the newsroom.”
“Thanks for the detail, Gen. I wondered why it wasn’t there.”
Sean got to work on the training modules in his office that was in a small alcove off of the newsroom that Gen mentioned. It had taken him four tries to set up his user name and password. There either was a Sean Livingston elsewhere, or someone else had the password of LivingWell1989!.
Sean got to see a psych test, a business test, and a mathematics test that seemed congealed on his computer’s monitor. As he finished, he sent a silent prayer of thanks up and slugged down his coffee, wishing it was Maker’s Mark and Coca-Cola. He finished the Barbican University courses. He was now an initiate in the financial services company that Barbican really was. He discovered that in his required reading of senior leadership biographies that each of the company’s officers had a background in insurance sales, and investment banking. He had been working for over two hours, and he was only a third finished with his assigned coursework. Clemson entered the cubicle.
“Hey, whippersnapper! How ya doing?”
Sean turned around.
“Fine, Jed. I’m glad to see that your still here! You and Spany are the only guys who can really cover sports in this joint. I only care about distance running, paintball, and fencing. You know basketball’s lore, rules, and strategies like the back of your hand.”
Jed Clemson smiled. He was an elder statesman at the Mid-Illini Gazette, and his skin showed it. Sunspots and blemishes ran down his body from his cheeks to his hands. He wore a plaid button up shirt to the office, sometimes a Madras one. A plain and battered wristwatch was on his left hand above a wide, yellow-gold wedding band. He grabbed the other chair in the alcove, and scooted it not shy of a foot from Sean. Clemson then crossed his legs, and leaned over to Sean looking at his monitor.
“How are you liking this online training, Sean? Think it’ll make you a better writer from it?”
“I don’t know about that, Jed. Seems like all they’re doing is testing my knowledge of business models, advertising sales, and it seems like they want to know what my impressions of Barbican were before they bought this paper. It’s odd they want to audit employee opinion during training. I feel like the timing is off. Again, I’m happy to still have a job, but I’d rather take continuing education hours from Poynter’s than this.”
“Yes, I hear ya, Sean. I’m happy to have a job too.” Clemson shivered with a fear or a disgust, then continued. “But, I need to start looking for something else. My insurance with the company isn’t going to be kept, Barbican expects employees to buy their own insurance. You’re twenty-three, right, Sean?”
“So, you don’t have to worry about this…..shit, yet. Life’s miserable, Sean. It really is, you don’t have to be old or young to figure that out. But, anyone reaches a point where they know it’s miserable. Right now, I sure as hell know it’s miserable. We aren’t going to be able to keep our doctors. I’ve been healthy all my life, Sean. My wife on the other hand, has not.”
Clemson twisted his trunk in his chair shifting himself closer to Sean.
“Ever hear of Prolactinoma, Sean?”
Livingston tried to remember the two anatomy classes he had in college. But, both were passed with a B, and his understanding of biology was just above or at an intermediary level. Prolactin sounded familiar, but he couldn’t place it without more context.
Clemson pinched two of his fingers together, and parted them slightly. “My wife has a Prolactinoma, Sean. Prolactinoma is a benign tumor on the Pituitary, formed when too much Prolactin, the hormone that produces breast milk is produced. It has to go somewhere, Sean. And, those little sons of bitches have to return to the factory, they think. So, that prolactin hardens, and makes a nasty deposit, called a Prolactinoma, Sean. When they found the tumor, it was 8.9mm in diameter, another 1.1mm, Sean, They’d operate.”
Sean nodded. “If it’s benign though, Jed, what can it do?”
Jed’s face showed a pain inside, a sorrow he tried to contain, but he kept his composure.
“It could make her go blind, Sean. The Prolactinoma could continue to grow past 10mm, that’s a centimeter, Sean. It could press on the optic nerve and disconnect it, causing blindness. She’s a painter, Sean. She can’t be blind. It wouldn’t be fair, Sean.” He raised his voice. “It would not be fair, Sean.”
Fitz entered the room.
“How’s the training going, Sean?”
“Very well, Sir.”
“Good to hear, Sean. Mr. Clemson, what is your purpose in this room with Sean? our group training is an individual project, not a group exercise.”
“I was just leaving, Sir.”
Fitz and Clemson left the room, leaving Sean back to the training he had to complete. He thought of Clemson’s plight, and prayed that Jed would find some solution to the daunting problem. He hoped that he wouldn’t be the one who would be laid off. And he thought of the stress, pain, and fear that the Prolactinoma that profaned Clemson’s wife caused. He grabbed a coffee to regain his focus and clear his mind of distractions. He had to keep his job as well.
Buy the book in paperback or in Kindle form here.