Estragon: Shall we go?- Waiting for Godot
Vladimir: Yes, let’s go.
They do not move.
When people ask me why I got out of the office grind and started freelancing, I make the usual noises about not wanting to be restricted to a ball-and-chain routine, about working on my own time rather than taking the path well-trodden by the bleating herds, and so forth. But one reason I usually don’t disclose is my fervent dislike of office meetings, which have to be among the most pointless of man’s many pointless inventions.
The specifics of office meetings vary with the profession – for instance, I’m told marketing people use slideshows, wear shiny suits and ties with Mickey Mouse designs on them and say things like “we’re cutting costs without cutting corners” as if they learnt to say them while still in the cradle – but this is roughly how it works for a team of feature journalists.
First we enter a conference room that is either large and plush with a fancy coffee-maker machine placed in a corner (if the publication is rich and driven by Advertising) or dingy and underlit with a spider mournfully plunking the strings of its cobweb along the ceiling (if the publication is poor and driven by Courage and Integrity). In either case, the same scene unfolds. The first 15 minutes are spent gossiping about the higher increments given to other departments in the newspaper, especially the pampered news-desk people. Then the editor coughs meaningfully, shuffles a few papers and invites story ideas. There is a profound silence. Everyone studies their coffee mugs.
A newly recruited intern, still in the first flush of journalistic zeal, launches into a brief for a great new story. Someone interrupts him midway: “Didn’t we do that a few months ago?” The intern feels betrayed, he had no clue that this publication did stories before he joined them. He feels the first stirrings of an unfamiliar emotion: in a few weeks, he will know what it’s called (Bitter Hopelessness) and he will experience it every moment of his working day until the end of his life. But for now he is rescued by a world-weary middle-rung editor who announces that since all feature journalism consists of recycled stories, they might as well do this one again; after all, as everyone knows, there are no new ideas under the sun. (This creates an awkward moment since everyone present at the meeting had been asked to “bring at least three new ideas to the table”.) The editor saves face by telling the intern to go ahead "but find an interesting peg, see if something new has happened, and get quotes from at least three people".
Then someone makes an offhand remark about a carelessly written cover story in a rival publication and this keeps the group busy bitching for the next 20 minutes. What little “ideating” does happen takes place in the final three minutes of the meeting, by which time no one really cares what is being discussed. At the end of the session the editor has a perfunctory list of story ideas for the coming week, most of which he doesn't completely understand. But he feigns satisfaction because the marketing team is outside with briefcases full of slides, waiting to use the room.
It goes without saying that none of the stories discussed will ever actually see the light of newsprint, at least not in the form they were presented at the meeting; come production day, the paper will be filled by random snippets thrown together at the last possible moment. This proves that office meetings are exercises in creative time wasting and those conscientious few among us who care to get some work done wisely stay away from them.
[From my Metro Now column. See, that's the real reason why I don't attend meetings - my columns would never be published if I had to get them approved first]