Response to a reporter who finds herself shocked by the expected

Shocked

A former Palm Beach Post colleague of mine treated the world of local journalism gossips to the sight of her biting the hand that has fed her for the last decade, when she was offered a buyout, and passed along this reproachful manifesto to Michael Koretzky’s SPJ Region 3 blog, Mouth of the South. My former colleague’s piece, which, to its credit, could be titled Revenge of the Geezer related how it felt to come back from a reporting assignment only to learn that she had missed being told in person that she, and everyone else her age and older, was no longer considered vital to the continued functioning of the newspaper. But she left out some information, while including assertions on behalf of others in her position that strained credulity.

I am sympathetic to all of us who have loved and lost newspapers, and as a member of the “protected” age group, I don’t even have to imagine the hurt and anger of learning your years of work and experience are being devalued precisely because of what made them possible – your age.  But there is a tone of disingenuousness and victimhood to this that I think belies the real issues of poor planning and bad management behind the collapse of print journalism, and the way its rank and file workers have been treated. One troubling aspect to this is the omission of what was offered to older workers that made them the target. I am told it was a deal with health insurance and pension – hard to offer a 25-year-old. Is that true? It would be good to know what was offered to better evaluate the management decision – was it inhumane? Or just stupid?

You can read it at the link above to see exactly what I am responding to, but if you don’t want to bother I have excerpted and bolded the parts that were the most troubling.

(on being offered a buyout . . .) “All of us earned the designation by passing what otherwise didn’t seem like an important milestone: our 55th birthdays. “

That, actually has long been an important milestone at the Post, as it is when, with 20 years there, you became eligible for retirement with continued health insurance and pension. If it is true that deal now is being offered to 55s-on-up with as little as 10 years, that, too, would be an important milestone – at least in the eyes of the 44 million Americans who have been living uninsured.

(on sticking around after the newspaper halved its staff five years ago) “. . . we believed if we worked hard enough to cover for the colleagues we lost in the last wave of buyouts, we might have a fighting chance  . . .”

Did the remaining staffers really believe they could work hard enough to replace 300 people? Some of the departed might have been dead weight, but then, some dead weight remained firmly ensconced, and according to well-placed sources, by invitation, behind their desks.

” . . . hoping the economy improves and someone in the brain trust comes up with a way to save the business we love  . . .”

The newspaper business was going downhill before the economy did, and in the years leading up to the Post’s 2008 collapse, there was no evidence on Dixie Highway, or for that matter, emanating from Atlanta, of a “brain trust” that was going to come up with, or was even looking for a way to save the business we loved.

 “. . .we wondered whether it could be done by posting videos of fender benders, dogs playing with babies and soft porn on our web site  . . .”

 Many of us love the relatively gentle sarcasm of this line. But, to be honest, many of us didn’t wonder. We knew it couldn’t be done that way. And we left.

” . . . .We learned from the last round of buy-out victims that quick cash doesn’t cover long-term losses. Many who reluctantly, but hopefully, took the buyout five years ago are now freelancing for pennies on the dollar with no health insurance or paid vacations.”

It is hard to consider any of us who left victims. We had a choice and we made one we felt suited our interests. I chose to leave a newspaper that seemed to be losing its sense of mission as well as its capacity to carry it out, in part so I wouldn’t be where Jane and others who remained are today – older, with little value added, and with fewer choices. The five years since have been the most rewarding of my career. Those who remained may have felt they didn’t have that choice, but they have had five years to assess the situation and search for other options. It is hard to believe the latest blow came as an out of the blue surprise for anyone with news gathering skills, so I prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt and not consider them victims, either.

 

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4 Responses

  1. Helen:

    I’m the guy who posted Jane’s “reproachful manifesto.” I agree with some of your points, disagree with others. But I’m glad to see a nuanced reply.

    While I stick to my opinion that it’s shortsighted to simply buy out your most experienced staffers, I also feel for editor Tim Burke. I’ve been laid off and I’ve done the laying off. Hard to say which sucks more.

    I can tell you this: Jane’s post garnered more than 3,200 views in 48 hours, eclipsing the views of every other SPJ blog – and there are friggin’ 14 of ’em — in total for an entire week. I think that’s because she hit a nerve, and at bottom, her post is simply her reaction to a crappy situation.

    I need to check out the rest of your blog, because you seem to have your shit together.

    — Koretzky

    • Thank you very much! That is nice praise to get from you. I have long enjoyed your work.

  2. Tim’s job is to paint the deck on a sinking ship … And now he is running around telling everyone they’ve run out of paint …

    That’s Not a fun way to cruise into 55 either.

    • How beautifully put! Give me a life boat over that any day.

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