Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Layoff stories: 'I am a newspaperman. Well, I was'

Part of an occasional series of personal accounts by readers. This was posted by Indianapolis Star reporter Christopher Lloyd, earlier today.

I walked in the door home a few minutes ago, kissed my wife, and since I don't know what else to do but be a journalist, I'll report:

The bosses at the Indy Star are handling it fairly well, compared to some other shops. No bum's rush out the door or anything. Handshakes, pleasantries, all that. Take your time gathering your things.

The first few minutes after you get back from HR on the 6th floor are interesting. Everyone can see the gray folder in your hand, and some people start avoiding eye contact. Most, though, soon approach and offer their condolences. Not a few hugs are exchanged. Our theater and classical music writer, an absolute workhorse who gave me a very classy goodbye, soon got the call himself. He had to take a minute and down some caffeine before going up.

My last act as an employee was to call an author I’d scheduled an interview with next week to cancel. I’d been pursuing that source for the better part of a year, dropping off materials for her to read and calling every few weeks to convince her to sit down. My persistence paid off and I was finally going to nail the interview, but now it’ll never happen. She reminded me not to forget to return the two books she’d loaned me to read.

Like most people in the Star newsroom, I’d preemptively packed up a bunch of stuff. All I really had left was a bunch of clip files and archives of the entertainment section, of which I was the editor for nearly two years.

'I am not ready'
Newspapers are surprisingly heavy, especially when you’re carrying them to your car on your last walk out of the building. It’s funny; we think of newspapers as being so insubstantial, so temporary in their usefulness, soon to be discarded for the next batch. It’s only when you gather them up together that their corporeal heft is plain. I look at what I wrote over the past year, and it’s at least two novels worth of words.

A writer? I never considered myself as such. I am a newspaperman. Well, I was. I don’t know what I am now. In this market, I know what my chances are of landing another newspaper gig. I have to face that this is probably the end of my journalism career -- it goes without saying that I am not ready.

But there are hundreds of us today, thousands. My story is not special. But I still wanted to tell it, because that’s what I do. Did.

A look in someone's eyes. A cardboard box on an empty desk. A final conversation. Please share your layoff story in two or three paragraphs. Post replies in the comments section, below. Or e-mail via gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

[Image: today's front page, Newseum]


  1. Oh my. I actually cried when I read that. Thanks.

  2. You, sir, are a class act. Good luck.

  3. Oh, man ...
    You are a writer.
    And if you'll write like that, I'll buy and promote your first book.

  4. Stay strong. And trust me, you are a writer...and a very good one at that. Don't ever stop.

  5. All I got was a phone call from HR because I am on disability with Lyme disease. I feel so slighted! Ha ha.

  6. As I pre-emtively cleared out my desk the other day, just in case I got laid off, I also realized just how hefty newspapers are. I had a drawerful of ones I forgot I had - death of the pope and Reagan, 9/11 attacks, local news events.

    It really made me think.

  7. That was heartbreaking. I fear that will be me before too long, and I will not know what to do. Best of luck to you, sir.

  8. Heartbreaking. I'm writing at home, waiting to see if I get the call...

  9. I used to work at the Star (left a few months ago of my own accord) and I know who wrote this post. You are an excellent journalist and the Star is going to be worse off for letting you go. I wish you nothing but the best. (Now use that contact with the author for an excellent freelance story!)

  10. You know, without Jim and his hard work on this blog, we probably wouldn't have gotten to read this. I hope everyone sends him $5.00. (No I'm not him and I've never met him.)

  11. To the writer of this post:

    I am someone who went over the wall voluntarily on my own terms. Two years into my own transition, trust me when I tell you this: You are and always will be a newspaperman. They can take you out of the newsroom; they can't take the newsroom out of you. Thoughts are with everyone going through this painful time.

  12. I left The Star (also of my own accord) over two years ago. I had nearly a twenty year run behind me and knew that I didn't have twenty ahead of me. It's sad to see what is happening to newspapers. Of course everyone loved the Pulliams and having Gene walk by and call you by name. As soon as The Star was purchased by Gannett everything changed. I've never liked Gannett, they run a very lean, very cold machine... it wasn't for me. As much as we would all like to blame Gannett for the demise of our beloved Star we simply can't. Newspapers are quite simply, an analog product in a digital world. I wept the day The Indianapolis News ceased publishing. I will do the same for The Star.

  13. That's some good writing...don't worry, YOU WILL find a good place. Enjoy your next chapter.

  14. Hi, Jim --

    Thanks for your post. I've been a news freelancer for about 15 years, so welcome to my world! I'm a little astonished that you don't consider yourself a "writer." Still, I wish you nothing but the best as you move forward.

    Our local Gannett paper tried to make a grab earlier this year for the local university's revenue-generating paper, but (thankfully) that fizzled. But after waves of mini-layoffs, they still regularly solicit "community writers," which breaks my heart for the working writers.

    I teach college journalism, too, so it's becoming increasingly difficult to be enthusiastic about sending my students out into the cold world.

    All my best to you and your family.

  15. I've been reading off and on since 7:00 AM this morning. This one had me crying. As much as it may not help, know my heart, thoughts and prayers go out to you, a newspaperman (& writer). And to all those who were layed off, in August and now, I pray that doors open for each of you to continue to do what you love.

  16. What Jim is doing today is amazing and I'm thrilled to see the news of this blog popping up all over the Web, in Romenesko and the WSJ. I say "Take that, Gannett!" for being so cold and corporate and unfeeling.

    Thank you, Jim, for giving all of us a place to turn.

    I teach college journalism and tonight, your blog is going to be what we talk about. As 5:29 p.m. said, it's hard to send these students -- all but one of mine are seniors -- out into this right now, but they deserve the hear the stories that are being chronicled here.

  17. Thanks, man. May not make you feel any better, but reading amazing writing like this gives me hope that good journalism will find a way to live on...

  18. Through tears, I am writing this. Moving...honest and I am so many...who have said it...YES...a writer you are!
    God bless you and your family.

    And also...without Jim....all this emotion would NEVER be felt or allowed to be heard.
    God bless him too.

  19. I think you will be writing for a bigger audience before long, but until then, have you ever read "The Sun'' (magazine). Your writing style is perfect for them. Check it out.

  20. I do not wish to live in a world without newspapers, or without writers such as yourself, kind sir.

  21. Shortly after settling in to my full-time feature writing job at a much-beloved, family-owned, local mid-size daily, we were sold to Singleton. The writing was on the wall, so I left and had to figure out what to do.

    I am here to tell you, two years hence, there is journalistic life after newspapers!

    It is the message, not the medium. HuffingtonPost, Politico, TalkingPointsMemo, The Long Beach Report -- these sites show us it can be done. There is still work for you out there. Once you recover from the terrible blow, put your remarkable skills to work: dig up the opportunity, find it, create it. You're going to be fine.

  22. Good luck and God Bless as you explore you future. In 2005 my brother and I sold a small town newspaper which had been in the family almost 125 years. It was the right business decision at the right time, but it is difficult to watch the changes in the newspaper I was rasied in. Keep writing. You will find an outlet. The good ones always do.

  23. I walked away from a 34-year career at The News, then The Star, in October, 2000.
    I'm still waiting for the panic attack that never came.
    Living well is the best revenge.
    You have integrity and talent. You'll do fine.

  24. Yes, absolutely you are a writer. Great, great posting there, and an outstanding piece of writing. Remember that journalism isn't all newsprint and corporate anonymity, and know someone of your talent and passion will hook back up to the machine soon.

    You've been a constant source of encouragement for me. If I can do the same for you, I'm proud to do so.

    See you at the movies, sir. At least I hope!

  25. How well I remember that last walk down the Star hallways, that final drive through the parking garage. And on Dec. 25, I will experience for the last time seeing an orange-bagged Star in my yard. The Gannett years steadily frayed my connection to the Star. The final tug came after the letter saying home-delivery prices would increase. I emailed the Circulation veep to complain about a price increase just when we were getting less and less due to cutbacks. No answer. Should I have been surprised? Best of luck to "newspaperman," who was and will continue to be a wonderful writer!

  26. I had worked on the calendar desk for the Star since January 2008. I got the call on Dec. 3. It was my first job out of college.


Jim says: "Proceed with caution; this is a free-for-all comment zone. I try to correct or clarify incorrect information. But I can't catch everything. Please keep your posts focused on Gannett and media-related subjects. Note that I occasionally review comments in advance, to reject inappropriate ones. And I ignore hostile posters, and recommend you do, too."

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.