Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Layoff stories: 'She was the only one close to tears'

First in an occasional series of personal accounts.

I sat across from Executive Editor and heard words: restructuring, position, sorry, future. I said nothing. I listened to HR woman painfully recite her lines and all I could think was: her day is as bad as ours. She was the only one close to tears. I walked back to my desk to get my things and gave my colleagues a sad smile. I said nothing. I started forwarding emails to my editor, tying up loose ends and then I thought: just say nothing.

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.


  1. While I recognize that none of this was their idea, I'm about tired of MEs and HR directors lamenting how hard this process is for them. Hey guys, imagine going through the same process and then being unemployed during a recession at the end.

  2. This post was supposed to be for personal many people here can read?

  3. 2:56 -- And imagine how difficult it would be to grow up in the developing world with starvation and warfare a daily part of your life.

    If we saved the sympathy only for those who have it really, really bad, this blog would cease to exist. Someone in Congo has it far worse than any of us could ever imagine.

    If I'm laid off tomorrow, I'll feel horrible for the HR person. (Though I may be too busy laughing at the ME to notice.)

  4. Brevard laid off someone who just returned after being out for months with cancer. She's in remission, but what a sorry move it was to cut someone loose when she just conquered something that was more difficult than the newspaper business would ever bring. I'm sure that if she can handle cancer, she can handle unemployment. Maybe Obama will give her health insurance. But jeez. It pissed me off. Talk about tears in the newsroom. She was good, too. It's a huge loss for Flor-i-duh Today.

  5. I was laid off while still on disability. I feel the cancer victim's pain.

  6. Not only did Brevard lay off the person mentioned above, but they kept a problematic employee, from the same department, whose output was about a third of the person's who got laid off. WTF?

  7. Sounds like you had a good HR person. They are hard to find these days. And I mean literally, I think they are purposely staying away from staff so they don't have to answer questions. The gray haired lady in NJ, took off the day before Thanksgiving. You would think she would want to be around to help the employees who were worried. But she is only worried about herself.

  8. Christopher Lloyd12/03/2008 3:57 PM

    Well, I was among the selected. I’d like to call it the select few, but that’s not accurate. A lot of great people, and a lot of great talent, is walking out the door.

    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 good-bye, 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.

    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.

  9. Nice piece, sir. Good luck as you move forward.

  10. Thank you, Christopher, for sharing some of the most difficult words you've had to write.

    And thank you, Jim, for encouraging this. It's not merely a cathartic (maybe) outlet for the damned, but an important testament for the rest of us, ALL of us -- the left-behind, the gone-alreadys, the formers, the would-bes, the retireds, the bought-outs, etc.

  11. I second the story about the other employee in the same department as the cancer patient who got cut in Brevard. He should have been cut, and everyone would have liked it.

  12. The problematic employee in Brevard did not get laid off because his supervisor is a wimp. It was easier for the supervisor to terminate the cancer survivor than to face up to the problematic employee.

    These layoffs are not based on experience, performance or salary. They are strictly political.

  13. It was heartbreaking to see the Brevard cancer survivor walk out the door. Still pale and bald from the chemo treatments, yet she walked tall and took time to comfort others who had lost their jobs. She had returned last week from medical leave sooner than her doctor recommended because she couldn't afford to live on the reduced disability payments. I choke when I think about it.

  14. Oh my. I hope she shares her story here. I'm crying reading this.

  15. This process is hard for all involved. Of course, it is far worse to be the one getting the pink slip, but who in their right mind would enjoy delivering that news? Especially knowing that someday, possibly soon, they will be on the receiving end themselves.

    I'm just so sad - for this industry, our colleagues who left and those who remain behind, and our country. There aren't enough jobs to go around.

  16. Reply to 10:38 PM:
    That is incredible, but totally expected, from Brevard management. I hope her ex-supervisor reads your post.


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