Browsing through the big, big web today I came across an article about the sorry state of journalism by Maureen Tkacik in Columbia Journalism Review. Not ErosBloggable? Well, it does key into a theme Bacchus has explored here before, about how old media is screwed. Tkacik was working a “youth marketing” beat and managed to turn up the following story.

One of the companies in my “youth” sector, the mall chain Abercrombie & Fitch, made a weekly practice of purging its stores of hourly sales associates it deemed to be less than, in corporate parlance, “brand positive.”

The purgees were identified, a former regional manager explained, every week at corporate headquarters in New Albany, Ohio, during a conference call held specifically to critique photographs taken that week by the chain’s hundred or so district managers of all the “brand representatives” they had encountered in visits to their stores. The photos were uploaded onto some sort of company intranet, but my source told me his boss preferred printing them out on paper, so he could circle flaws, draw mustaches, scrawl racist epithets, etc. The source said braces, minor breakouts, the faintest possibility of weight gain, showing up to work in a prior season’s ensemble, wearing shoes that had not appeared on the list of authorized footwear for that season, and/or belonging to an ethnic minority could all be grounds for immediate dismissal from the ranks of Abercrombie & Fitch’s minimum-wage cadre of demand creators.

Not a bad story, no? But word got back to Abercrombie & Fitch’s lawyers and “crisis PR” people and before our intrepid reporter knew it, she was fired.

Must keep the corporate overlords happy, after all.

Looking for work, Tkacik took up a job (part of a bit of freelancing she was doing to try to get a new job) in a rather different kind of workplace.

The stranger thing about phone sex, though, was that the training program was more rigorous and extensive than any I’d encountered in journalism. There was a day and a half in a classroom learning such phone-sex fundamentals as the “hot statement” and the “ego stroke,” daily feedback sessions with supervisors who listened in on calls, a mandatory creative-writing contest for the best Halloween-themed fantasy scenario, refresher courses to hone fluency in more exotic proclivities, individual binders in which we recorded our progress in this stuff and collected, as per instruction, magazine clippings—Penthouse letters, perfume advertisements, etc.—whatever we found erotically inspiring. When my supervisor’s boss learned I was writing a story, he unfurled all the usual legal threats, but when it was published, the company ordered hundreds of reprints to dispense to new hires at orientation. They did not expect you to be some innate phone-sex genius, but they had full faith that you could get immeasurably better, especially if you wanted to, and they genuinely seemed to take it as a given that people wanted to become better at things they did.

I could comment at length, but perhaps I would do best just to refer you to the closing sentiment offered in another old Bacchus post: “Proof, if you need it, that there are still professions in the world where character and reputation matter.”

Hat tip for the article to Matthew Yglesias.