Monday, January 16, 2006

The initiative problem

It's 7:20 pm. Do you know where your magazine is? I wish I knew the answer to that question. Two weeks ago (about), I took over as editor of a financial glossy based here in Prague. The previous management - who myself and comrade Andrew replaced - was, shall we say, perhaps a bit lax in dealing with administrative and editorial matters. One thing they were lax about was hiring a DTP (desktop publishing) person, i.e. a skilled worker who designs, lays out and prettifies the magazine's pages using software tools like Quark Xpress, Pagemaker, etc. For any professional magazine, DTP is an essential, indisposable element of the workforce, but somehow our predecessors just sort of...never got hiring such a person.

Instead, in their wisdom they decided to outsource any and all DTP to a downtown Prague company. Now outsourcing is a good and useful idea if it a) saves you money and b) reduces hassle, but in our case, we get None of the Above. I don't know how much we pay for this service, but it can't be cost-effective enough against hiring a person who sits here in this office. And worse than that, we have to rely on some people we can't manage ourselves. Another degree worse than that, the editor of our publication (me, in other words) has to spend hours, days sitting at the outsourcing company's studio making sure the magazine to be published looks good and won't end up as garbage hanging on the newsstands.

And the stinky icing on this very shitty cake is that the person responsible for our account at the DTP company isn't, well, all that responsible. Not that he's bad at his work, oh no. He can lay out pages just fine, thank you. The problem is, that's about all he does, unless someone specifically orders him to do something else. Get the plates formed to send to the printers? That's another phone call. Get a page map from said printers so he knows what form to send the pages in? Whoops, better get in touch again.

I was told I'd see final pages Friday afternoon. It's now Monday night, and nothing. Supposedly, they're coming by courier, but so far my phone hasn't stirred and the email inbox is empty. So I guess I'll be calling the DTP guy again.

Initiative just isn't very strong in this part of the world. It's amazing. People, even very bright people, will often not move a finger unless they're ordered to, asked to, called late at night or yelled at. I can't even remember how many stories I've heard - or personally experienced - from "service" people in Prague that have to be babysat through every little stage of what you're paying them to do. Once upon a time, in an apartment I used to rent, the landlord sent some workers to replace the old, dysfuntional plastic toilet I had to cope with. Nice of the landlord to do so, but the poor guy had to do extra work on top of hiring the knuckleheads who did the job. Why? Well, they took the toilet and...after one day, two, they still hadn't gotten around to replacing it. As the lack of a toilet is a tremendous inconvenience, to say the least, I called Jiri to complain in no uncertain terms. Resignedly, as if he had had this problem many, many times, he said he'd take care of it. And he did...after three or four phone calls, I later learned. The next day, when I came home from work, there was a sparkling new toilet there. Now why did someone have to make half a dozen phone calls for that?

Surprise, surprise. Our great DTP guy has left the office. No answer on the mobile phone either. Whoops, guess it's time to call his boss. Maybe a little authority will light a fire under him. Nothing else seems to.

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