The Road From 'How May I Help You?' to 'Press One to Leave a Message'
It's difficult to realize that 20 years have passed since my telephone rang and Mike Welch, who was about to launch a new publication called Credit Union Times, asked if I would serve as a correspondent. By the way, for the benefit of any young readers, that phone call came in on a land line, not a cell phone.
Obviously, a lot has changed since then. From a personal viewpoint I've moved four times, met a lot of people, watched my hair turn gray and- I hope-become increasingly knowledgeable about the credit union industry.
During the same time the industry has changed-and I think mostly for the better. You know the list. The range of services credit unions offer continues to grow. The accelerating pace of new technology has altered our world, including financial services. The World Wide Web was first introduced to the public in 1991. Mobile phones were still in their infancy. A state-of-the-art computer then might find use as a doorstop today. Members have not only adopted new technology, they expect their financial institution to keep pace.
Those developments have affected life for reporters. It starts when we begin work on an article. Let's say I'm exploring possibilities for a Billionaires Club article. A quick Google and I discover Acme Credit Union has reached a billion dollars in assets. I click onto its Web site, check out news releases and the latest annual report, and I have questions in mind before I even talk to them. I can identify the appropriate contact, and with luck, an e-mail address. That means if it's morning here in the eastern time zone and Acme is in California, a message can be waiting when my contact arrives for work several hours later while I'm busy on another project.
I can remember my first newspaper job (never mind the year) when back issues were kept on microfiche in what was called the morgue. Researching previous articles meant inserting a reel of microfilm into a machine and cranking it until you finally arrived at the issue and page you needed.
Do readers care? Well, maybe they should. Today's technology enables a reporter to quickly gather information, ask more well-targeted questions, put it all in perspective and share it with you, the reader.
Now, if you've got some more time, gather around while I tell you about the good old days when real live people answered business telephones.