May 11, 2009

Sharing the blues, sharing the doubts

Our household finally managed to nab a copy of the movie Doubt when I'm having lots of doubts.

I want to grab the opening lines as they echo what is behind the silence in this blog when there is so much happening with Advance Publications - more cuts at the Post-Standard in Syracuse and at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the magazine Portfolio closing, and Tina Brown speaking out the "Quake at Conde Nast." (And between the time I wrote this and actually publish, more cuts at the Star-Ledger in New Jersey.)

The Bacon Blog post The Ann Arbor News : Homicide or Suicide gets plenty of chatter. Then, posts job descriptions and talks about advertising models and a group of guys so interested in sports go on the radio to give their strong ideas of how must work to survive and the future of journalism in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

So much to talk about, yet I'm reluctant to post for fear strong feelings will cloud my judgment, let me forget fairness, toss out the belief that good will prevail. Published words are so hard to pull back even when we believe what we write to be true at the time.

It was a year ago that I said goodbye to a Flint Journal paycheck. It was six months ago that I learned my 25-year-old had breast cancer. This is the week that tests will reveal if the chemo treatments worked enough to let her avoid a mastectomy.

The end of the month brings its own pressures for freelancers. And, as I have posted before, there are the challenges of medical billings, misplaced prescriptions and required paperwork to keep folks at a nursing home and Social Security happy.

There's enough on my plate that I probably should have closed myself off from the Internet, my hometown newspaper and other bluesmakers.

The Flint Journal's Andrew Heller, columnist and blogger, shares his decision to leave the safeness of a newspaper paycheck, drop his radio show and see what's there in a world you negotiate alone. He leaves with a promise of a print home for his column and online site for his blog. I pray that his promise is not broken like others have been, knowing it doesn't matter as his abilities assure he will survive, find a way to still support the family he brags about so loudly.

A sports reporter signs his exit papers and we trade hopeful blurbs via Facebook. I'm sorry, but I worry about what's next for him and the others who had survived earlier buyouts and layoffs but now face the unemployment line. I know they liked me best when I brought donuts or pizza, not when I begged for online updates - first please. And now I read what they share and worry as people once did about me.

An editor who once worked for me as a reporter, who never forgot a birthday or missed a chance to cheer, who deserved so much more respect and love then she got, slipped out quietly, ending years of service without the fanfare she engineered for so many before her. Her choice, I'm sure.

I watch people building new lives. The classroom is popular. One journalist interviews for a teaching spot many states away, which explains why the move back home with the 'rents months ago. Others also are back in school, aiming for a teaching certificate or jobs in the medical field.

Another writer spends her first time as a substitute teacher in the same week some cheered her in a building that housed shows, exhibits and more that she once wrote about. It seems like it was a hard first time, but her stories will carry on, carry her through.

It is not just the newsroom that is emptying., so there are more changes I feel as those in accounting, circulation or the warehouse or wherever are leaving the company they planned to work for until retirement.

And why do I understand that the men in the glass offices have hearts, have feelings, and yes, have families who love them. There is no pleasure in doing the difficult task of trying to make the Titanic avoid an iceberg. The optimist in me believes they struggle, fear the unknown and wish for a way to continue on without disrupting lives.

And even as I recognize the humaness of those who orchestrated the changes - fewer people, fewer benefits, less salary, fewer newspapers - I wonder if the fact that the changes are announced ignited unnecessary angst. Would those in the trenches devise different solutions?

The salaries once paid were set and gradually increased when the newspaper's circulation was higher, when the majority of employees' neighbors worked on the line and not behind counters or driveup windows, when a business was more likely to be family owned and unique.

I understand that. I see the conflicts. But then I stumble across a help-wanted ad in my newspaper. Wham.

Why is Valley Publishing seeking reporters and other help?

The ad, with its awkward phrasing and horrible online translation, illustrates what is scary about the attempt to forge a future from a business still weighted by a past. If the positions were for a start-up company, people would be excited about opportunities. But this collection of words advertises for people to fill posts once held by people now looking for new jobs.

A public silence masks fierce discussions lobbied through emails, heated calls, snarky tweets and anonymous comments. Scrambling to find answers becomes an exercise in frustration. New jobs or old? Voluntary layoffs? Who to believe when each believes they tell only the truth?

And really, what right do I have to raise any of these questions?

I am clearing out my feeds, able again to read about the layoffs, the dreams of others, and I stumble across the Ink-Drained Kvetch' post on the fighting through the blues.

Oh my. Is this funk a universal one birthed by curmudgeons, layoffs and buyouts? Can I stop fearing I am like May Boatwright of The Secret Life of Bees, in need of my own wailing wall to throw off the pain I collect from others.

The Ink-Drained kvetch reminds me how well Molly Ivins summed up what I feel:

“I don’t so much mind that newspapers are dying — it’s watching them commit suicide that pisses me off."

That quote also reminds me why I can raise the questions in hope of answers. I care about journalism, the future of news. Sometimes asking questions is all that I can do - right after I count to 10 (or higher) to ensure I'm cool enough to think things through.

Possible related posts
Do layoffs make journalists blue or is everything just ducky after leaving newspapers?