Thursday, April 19, 2018

Biz Buzz: Clearing off the desk: What have we here?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Much of this stack must go directly to the circular file. New 2010 calendars cover 2009's issues of The Trucker.
Much of this stack must go directly to the circular file. New 2010 calendars cover 2009's issues of The Trucker.

I clear off my desk once a year, whether it needs it or not. It’s not so much a New Year’s resolution as a standing “suggestion” from a person here who has a nice office.

On one corner, up and to the right, I keep a stack of past issues of the The Trucker, partly for reference, partly because it’s nice to have proof every couple of weeks that we get a lot done around here — but mainly because, well, I’ve got a big desk and clutter doesn’t bother me. So the past issues tend to sit there for the managing editor to rifle through when he needs to look up a story — his desk is neat as a pin. (This stack, and all the others on my desk, is filed according to the “archeological” system: the further down you dig, the older the stuff is.)

I put the year-old newspapers in a box by my feet.

On the lower right corner are reference materials that, when I first get them, I think I need to have them handy: a lot of big files with alligator clips holding government reports, industry studies, pending court cases. I hardly ever touch something once it goes in this pile.

These files will go into the cabinet by my desk, and I’ll move last year’s unreferenced reference materials to long term storage in the basement.

Up and to my left is a stack of industry periodicals and trade journals, state and regional trucking association publications and — what’s this — Vol. 52 No. 8 of Motorindia, “for release at Bus World (Shanghai).”

This stack needs to go directly into long term storage in the basement.

The biggest pile is directly across from me. Here are the source materials for what I’ve written for The Trucker: lots of colorful charts and graphs detailing the operational and financial details of trucking; graphically bold and provocative calls to action by consumer groups and trade associations and labor organizations; slick brochures from the global corporations that supply the trucking industry; trucking laws and regulations and laws and regs in waiting.

This is quite a pile, for a year where it seems that not much changed — at least not much in trucking. We haven’t had a real fuel spike or any new regulations. There’s still not a lot of freight. Business-wise, the big story has been how far new truck sales and used truck prices have fallen, and the many side effects.

At the bottom of this stack is an analyst report from exactly a year ago. “While it may not be a surprise to most anymore, freight is atrocious, awful, dreadful, horrible, nasty, ugly — or whatever synonym for ‘bad’ you want to pull out of the thesaurus right now — and we do not see it snapping back anytime soon,” writes David Ross of Stifel Nicolaus. Well, at least business isn’t quite that bad anymore.

Actually, the most interesting things in my last year’s pile are about what’s going to happen this year, and 2010 looks lively indeed: new engines to meet the even tighter, EPA2010 emissions rules; CSA 2010, the DOT’s new safety measure; an economic recovery and freight turnaround — we’re all going to be busy, and that’s good.

These no-longer working papers go into a file cabinet across the room.

Which brings us to the final desk stack, basically my in box. In fact, my desk would probably look much  better if I had an in box, because these are the papers that tend to move around as I work (and I do have some open space left.)

The danger here is that once something gets an inch or two down, it’s likely never to become a story — by my archeology system, it’s old news. So I try to keep this stack a short one, though sometimes potentially interesting material gets buried alive.

Let’s see: Here’s that quarterly survey of what shipper’s are expecting to happen with volume and rates, which would have already happened by the time you’re reading this — I’ll catch up next time. Here are the legal papers on another carrier bankruptcy, and if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all — and I’d rather not see another, although the guys that crunch those supply and demand numbers say more bankruptcies are necessary to make the trucking industry healthy again. Here’s a magazine still in its wrapper, and some unopened industry junk mail.

Here’s a note to self: get another picture for the Bizz Buzz column.

And there’s that expense report I’ve been meaning to turn in — doh!

Much of this stack must go directly to the circular file.

That leaves us with only the little L-extension to my desk, on which sit my computer and my telephone.

The computer is the main reason I don’t really need those stacks of paper: almost everything that’s on my desk is stored in electronic form. And nobody complains about the mess in my computer — at least not until I call in from the road and beg someone to enter my digital maze. But, as with the sturdy steel and laminate piece of office furniture, I really do know exactly where everything is on my virtual desk.

There’s nothing special about the office phone, a basic multi-line, multi-button variety (don’t ask me to transfer you to another extension). The handset does have one of those curved pads so reporters can shoulder it to an ear while typing notes.

But, for some reason, I only think to type notes if I’m making the call. When I receive a call I take notes by hand. These telephone notes are my undoing. I’ll scribble on any piece of paper at hand, in the margins, on the back — and I can’t read my own writing.

But out of fear that this genuine mess will come back to bite me, I never throw any of these scraps away, which only make it worse.

So if you’ve ever called, I’ve still got a hieroglyph representing your name and number and a note in that pile somewhere. (That includes you, Ms. X: I know I promised three months ago to write about how your used truck warranty saved your livelihood, because it says right here — PROMISED. So you still have a chance to send a picture of your truck taken with a better camera than your cell phone. I haven’t forgotten.)

If you’ve never called, feel free. (501) 666-0500, ext. 44.

Let me know what’s going on out there, because even though it’s my job to cover the big business side of the industry, our newspaper is still written for truckers — and you and I both would be better served if I parked my big, messy desk out at the Galloway exit on I-40 instead of in a mid-town office high-rise in Little Rock. We’ve even talked about doing that.           

Kevin Jones of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at kevin

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