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Friday, 6 June 2014

Sacked Again

Gutted: Worcester Telegram newsroom
Take This Job
and Love It
By Richard Carreño
[WritersClearinghouse News Service]
I've been fired. So, probably, have you. Call it 'laid off,' 'redundant,' 'sacked, or the 'boot,' the result is the same. You're out the door. If you're lucky, you don't face of the humiliation of an escort.
Better to quit? Resign? Or even 'Take this job and shove it'? Yes, I thought so.
A number of years ago, in the late 90s when I was in my late 40s, I decided on the later option. I was then a reporter for the Worcester Telegram in Massachusetts. No, my job wasn't being fazed out. I wasn't threatened with the axe. I just wanted to move on, and I sensed the timing -- the beginning of the Internet-related downturn of the newspaper industry -- was right. I had returned to the Telegram after stints at the The Hartford Courant and The Boston Globe
By then, I was plotting my escape.
A few months before, I had gone for an 'exploratory' interview as an adjunct lecturer in American literature at an American-affiliated university in London. Just a chat, to be sure. Only speculative, you understand. As I leaving the luncheon interview, I was assured that I had the job. Probably had to do with my reference to Soames Forsyte. You know, that Soames, the protagonist in Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga. Arch? Arcane? You bet. But old Soames helped me win the day. 
Back in Worcester, at the paper, I was calendar counting. It was just a matter weeks, then days. Finally, as Day Zero approached, it was, Ciao, baby. I'm outta here!
But not so fast. Though I had submitted my paperwork (ie. an appropriately grateful resignation letter), acquired the the standard anodyne references, and said my requisite heart-felt good-byes, I learned had to endure another formality -- the exit interview.
There was nothing particularly special about the encounter. Except for the question posed to me by interlocutor, a mid-level editor who was about twenty years my junior.
'How can you just quit? Just pick up and go to London?' the editor -- I'll call her Jane -- said.
'Yeah, you mean...?'
'I mean you're going to a part-time job with no assurance.... And no health insurance! It's such a risk!'
Actually, Jane was only partly right. Yes, the appointment had to be renewed, year to year. But I was immediately awarded National Health Insurance upon landing in Britain. I had also renewed acquaintances and friendships from long ago, including that of an old flame from my student days in New York. Moreover, I wasn't actually retiring from journalism. I had already arranged some free-lance gigs -- but now writing in the fields of my interests. As for risk, I'd be damned if I wasn't going to try something new in my life. A second act, maybe?
Of course, I couldn't really say any of this to Jane, who was, of course, encumbered with husband, young children, a mortgage, a car payment, and other lead weights of American middle-class-dom. She had to perceive me as reckless so as to conversely justify her notions of prudence.
In the end, I said nothing to explain myself, as I skipped out the building.
In the intervening years, my prescience regarding employment opportunities in a shrinking newspaper industry became starker. Despite this reality, many industry leaders in the early 2000s were stilling clinging to antediluvian notions that nothing had changed -- that simply the old financial canard, namely personnel lay-offs, would be again the standard short-term solution to a short-term problem.
Of course, nothing was further from the truth.
After five years in Britain, I returned to America -- again combining stints in teaching and writing, frequently reporting on what was becoming ever more evident, the declining state of journalism. In fact, I became something of a Cassandra, once declaring at a national journalism conference, where I was visiting fellow, that eventually the industry would shake out to pattern itself after the British model. That would be, I forecasted, an industry dominated by several national newspapers -- The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the like. Other papers, the Baltimore Suns, the Chicago Tribunes of the business -- once papers with stature and outsized egos stoked by local reader and advertising monopolies -- would be relegated to a second-tier regional status.
Given my audience, mostly editors from papers that fell into the second-tier, my comments were hardly met with approval. Actually, they were met with some hostility. How choleric, actually? Well, let's just say that an senior editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, actually 'de-friended' me at Facebook. Whew! It got that bad.
Two events last week got me ruminating about these long-ago past occasions.
One was all good: the purchase of The Inquirer at auction by a new team that one hopes will re-set the paper's course to excellence. To be sure, an excellent regional paper. (The Inquirer's heady, glory days as a top-ten national paper are long gone).
The other event was less sanguine: further staff cuts at the Worcester Telegram by that paper's new owners, the Halifax Media Group of Florida. Actually, the paper -- once, like The Inquirer, a regional flagship -- was gutted. Among those cast off was Jane, my former editor from long ago.
I doubt that Jane was extended an exit interview. Her second act, I'm sure, wasn't even expected. But, for the risk averse, it's always easier when the mortgage is paid off.