In 1974, Studs Terkel published the definitive collection of employee profiles, Working. In a perfect world there would be no war and the profiles in your employee publication would read like chapters in this book. For Working, which was first a series of radio segments, Terkel dedicated years to interviewing scores of everyday people about their jobs.
If you haven’t, please read it; and if you have, please revisit it. Consider it a career investment.
Terkel gave a voice to the voiceless, which is in many ways the job of the employee communicator. You writes stories about the people working at your organization—and who else will tell those stories? It's an more important job.
As you know, Terkel died last Friday. His death, though not unexpected, is a blow. Like the passing of Hunter S. Thompson and George Carlin, it’s another brave voice gone silent at a time when we desperately need brave voices to challenge the status quo and help us—and our leaders—navigate these tough times.
There aren’t enough “raconteurs”—as many an obit described him—left in the world.
To read better remembrances of Terkel from Chicago writers who not only knew him much better than me, but in fact knew Studs, head over to my former Ragan colleague David Murray’s blog Writing Boots. And take a few minutes to check out the blog of Andrew Patner, my former employer, who worked with Terkel at WFMT radio in Chicago.
If you want to hear Terkel at work, listen to this short NPR piece featuring old tapes from the Working interviews. And, below, is a wonderful 45-second video of Terkel describing the beauty of an afternoon baseball game for a Ken Burns documentary.