The email dropped into my inbox the morning of April 27. The boss wanted me to join a conference call at 11 a.m. I clenched. I knew. I texted the boss.
“Can you tell me if this is the end?”
I texted my immediate supervisor. She’d heard nothing. She tried to reach the boss, but the boss was on another call. My boss said she hadn’t been consulted.
I can’t remember if I called into a number or somebody called me. On the call were myself, the paper’s top editorial boss and our “human resources business partner.”
No, I don’t know what a “human resources business partner” is. The person is in Springfield. I’ve only ever spoken to her through video messaging or phone calls.
There was a time when you wanted to talk to human resources, which one tried to avoid, you just went to their offices on the second floor. Those times ended.
And so, too, did my 27-year career as a newspaper reporter, editor and columnist. The company cut my job effective May 1.
The boss was nice enough about it. What could she do? Somebody at corporate gave her a dollar figure. She had to get that out of the payroll. Two of us were cut that day.
This was my second layoff at this company and third journalism job loss since 2004. I feel like the nerdy kid who asks the captain of the cheerleaders to prom. This ends poorly.
It wasn’t a shock. My former company shed jobs about once every 18 months since 2005. I lost my job as editor of a weekly the company owned in 2008 and got rehired later that year.
Maybe that miracle can happen again. I’m just bent enough to keep trying to do journalism despite this wretched climate.
I’m like Crash Davis at the beginning of “Bull Durham,” whose ticked off he’s back in Class A ball. He threatens to quit, but before he leaves the locker room, he asks what time batting practice is. If I can get back in the game, I probably will.
During the layoff, I tried to be as gentlemanly as I could when I took my layoff. There’s no point throwing a tantrum. You can’t talk your way out of it. Someone decided your job was done.
Given a choice between dignified silence and temporarily satisfying rage and anguish, I choose dignity.
I’ve expected a layoff every single day I worked since I was rehired back in May 2008. It haunted me. I talked about it to excess, a lame ploy to get someone to assure me I was OK, that I stood on solid ground and my work mattered.
It wasn’t and it didn’t. It was never about the work. People much better than me have lost their jobs in newspaper culls, just as people much less skilled than me have taken the hits. It’s all about money.
I survived scores of layoffs for 12 years, mostly by luck, until the day I didn’t.
That a layoff was expected does not mean it wasn’t painful. It hurt like hell. I learned to read with this paper. My dad used to make funny voices for the characters in the Sunday comics page while I sat on his lap at breakfast.
This was my dream job. And it was over. I’m sad. I’m still trying to sort out who Daniel Finney is if he can’t be a newspaperman. I know I have value as a human being, a child of God worthy of love, dignity and respect.
But there are days I don’t feel it. I feel like I’ve been exiled, kicked out of the cool kids’ club. I feel like maybe I never belonged. I’m told this kind of feeling is “imposter syndrome.” Right now I’m just trying to find a job and stay in the moment, not let my thoughts run wild toward potential ruination.
The best compliment anyone ever paid me came from my friend Yvonne Beasley. One day I frightened some chattering interns when I ordered them to get away from me while I was working on deadline on a spot news story.
I confided to Bees that I felt bad for yelling at the kids. Yvonne said, “Finney, of course you scare them. You’re a real goddamn newsman.”
I think she was, and is, right. Was I the best ever? No, I wasn’t. But I was pretty damn good. I believed every story was a people story regardless of the subject. I sought out that humanity and tried to make the people and events I wrote about live in the minds of the readers.
I’m disinclined to bash the paper in absentia. I growled at retirees and old timers who bashed the paper as not being as good as it was when they worked there.
I spent a fair bit of time in the archives for history stories I wrote. There was a lot — a lot — of bad writing, grammatical errors and poor news judgement in the paper’s past.
My gripe with the geezers is that to compare a newspaper today to one from 1977 is like comparing a gas-guzzling pickup truck fresh off the line in 1950 to an all-electric car from 2020. What the paper does and how it does it has changed so much that the process by which it is put together bares scant resemblance to its history.
There are hundreds of reasons why newspapers are failing. People believe everything on the internet is free. Even people who liked my columns would complain on my Facebook page that my work was behind a paywall.
To me, this is like going to the restaurant, eating a meal and then being aghast when the server brings the bill. Why do you think this is free? How do you think news comes to be?
We are a society drunk on confirmation bias. We only want to hear, see or read things that affirm our existing conclusions about the way the world works. Anything that conflicts with those views is considered an assault.
The newspaper industry fouled up nearly every challenge it faced since the modern internet came to be in 1995.
I believe newspapers’ sorry state is a symptom of a greater problem in America. Long ago we decided we would rather be entertained than informed. This results in more emotive communication rather than rational talk.
Steven Tyler, the lead singer of Aerosmith, once said that if we had a button on our chests that gave us an orgasm, we’d press it all day until we passed out. He’s right. We’re hedonists at heart.
Look at how TV stations try to scare you to death for days in advance of even the tiniest snowstorms. Fear and anger are primal emotions and they keep you watching and they keep you reading.
The problem with a society based almost exclusively on emotive communication is that there are no adults saying, “There is actual work that needs to get done here.” We are all children satisfying our wants without a clue how to accomplish our needs.
I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent. That’s OK. I don’t work for a newspaper anymore. I pay for this space. I can run on as long as I damn well please.
I don’t have a new job yet. I’m looking. It turns out it’s hard to find a job in the middle of a pandemic. I’ll be OK. I’ve been through a lot of shit in this life and still got back to my feet.
I’m not kid anymore. I turn 45 in June. This is the end of the middle part of my career and my life. New beginnings happen all the time. I’d just as soon not start over, but we don’t always get what we want.
I’m applying for jobs, trying to find a gig that matches skill and soul to appreciation and compensation. It’s only been a few weeks. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out.
Being unemployed is like everything else in this twisted CONVID-19 universe: It’s scary as hell and boring you to death all at once.
In the meantime, there’s this blog. I’m going to write about my city, my country and my planet about three times a week. I’ll tell stories when I can and I’ll keep folks updated on my ongoing struggles with mental health and morbid obesity.
So, here’s the thing: The Paragraph Stacker is free, but my rent is not. If you find you like what I do here, send in some cash. I’ve put a button at the bottom of the page to send an at-will donation to PayPal. I’ve suggested $5 a month. If you don’t do PayPal, my postal address is under the contact tab on the home page. Pay what you can afford. Anything will be appreciated.
So whatever happened to the Paragraph Stacker? Well, he got knocked down hard. But he’s getting back up again, one sentence at a time.
Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life in the places we live.