Wednesday, May 6, 2009

It could have been worse ... much worse

I consider myself pretty fortunate my layoff didn't come as a surprise. For months I prepared for the inevitable, even though I had a pretty good feeling I would survive all but the most drastic cuts (i.e. the paper folding -- hard to keep your job when there's no paper to put out).

Still, I looked everywhere for signs the end was coming. The first was the announcement the Sun would be sharing a newsroom with the Aurora Beacon-News, its sister paper in the Fox Valley Publications branch of the Sun-Times Media Group.

A FVP restructuring put members of the Beacon in every role of authority in the merged newsroom, which also included editors and designers from the Elgin Courier-News. We no longer had an advocate in upper management. The restructuring quickly hit the Sun sports department.

Within weeks of moving into our new digs, we went from a seven-person staff with a part-time clerk to a three-person staff with no part-timers. Thankfully at that point nobody lost a job. The clerk resigned, three editors were reassigned, one writer became the new sports editor and another shifted over to the Web staff.

The next scare came earlier this year when talk surfaced the Sun was to undergo a redesign similar to the one the Courier had just had. Layoffs followed the Courier's process, including cutting its sports staff to one editor and one writer.

It seemed apparent to me the same thing could happen at the Sun. We didn't cover as many high schools as the Courier, so why would we have a larger staff? In the convoluted way of thinking that infests today's newspaper industry, it actually made sense to me.

So I prepared to be "that guy," the one who would be cut. My colleague, Patrick Mooney, showed far more aptitude to the changes undergoing in the industry. I became the dinosaur, ideologically clinging to the antiquated notion quality mattered. If I was the one in charge, I would keep Patrick and lose that LaTour guy, who by the way, always seems to be arguing and fighting any proposed change.

Then came word the company declared bankruptcy -- which would have been much better if Michael Scott had been the one delivering the message -- and the plan to cut 15 percent from employment throughout the chain. Funny how this managed to be accomplished without the Beacon losing a single full-timer. But I digress.

The rest is already known. I made it clear I wouldn’t be opposed if I was included on the list of cuts. They took me up on it. And now I’m unemployed.

Which brings me to why I’m writing today. Last week the Baltimore Sun, which is owned by the Sam Zell-run Tribune Company, announced more layoffs. At least three members of the staff found out via cell phone calls while they were covering a baseball game at Camden Yards, walking distance from the Sun’s office in downtown Baltimore.

Columnist David Steele recounts his last day here. It’s worth reading, if only to discover how cold-hearted and spineless some editors are in this industry.

I say “this industry” as if I’m still a part of it. But I’m an outsider now. It’s another reason I feel fortunate.

1 comment:

  1. Quality does matter. I saw that firsthand in my first days at The Sun. We put out great newspapers, great stories, and we had 20,000-plus readers. Then we were bought by a company that cared only for its bottom line and stock price, and you see the results ... Newspapers aren't the only one who forgot this lesson. People aren't that stupid. They know something good when they see it ... or read it. I think someone will remember that lesson some day. I hope so, anyway.