As I look back, one set of experiences stands out: all the visits I’ve made to shops and plants around the country “to get a story.” That’s been the best part of my job.
The story is always basically the same: how new metalworking technology, when intelligently applied, has made a positive difference. Of course, technology is always changing. That’s why this story needs constant retelling. As new developments emerge, they need to be explained, not only in technical terms but also in the context of real shop operations. That’s the best way to discover and convey their true significance.
For this story is also a human one. It’s ultimately about people, people striving to meet challenges or to capitalize on opportunities. It involves struggles, conflicts and resolutions, not so unlike the stuff with which fiction writers and playwrights twine their plots.
But I have the privilege to deal, not with made-up characters, but with real ones—shop owners, plant managers, or engineers, men and women driven by conviction and full of passion for what they do. And without exception, these real people have been interesting, friendly and decent.
Although I usually have only a half a day or so to get the facts, tour facilities, and take some pictures, those hours are intense and stimulating. My hosts have often spoken to me most eloquently by letting those who work with them have a say—the programmer, the operator, the technician. I’ve had some of my best interviews at a wooden picnic table in some shop’s breakroom, where carryout pizza boxes and coffee cups had to be cleared away for my notepad.
Once I have this raw material, the real work begins. The challenge is to express, to “draw out,” the suspense and drama that lies therein, while still conveying a technically accurate and clear explanation of a new machine, cutting tool, software feature, or control unit capability. The story to tell must be useful and informative, but compelling.
It’s hard work, and sometimes it’s frustrating. The limits of my meager talents sometimes confront me with each click on the SAVE icon. Yet I’m having too much fun to stop.