by Kent Sterling
Life is tough in media, especially in print. Newspapers are dying. Fewer and fewer people read them, and as a result fewer people are able to earn money creating content for them.
Misery in print reaches everyone. Without a vibrant and critical press, crooks avoid a key area of checks and balances. I’m not talking about petty criminals, but those who hide in plain sight doing the wrong thing without anyone knowing. We are worse as a society for the excruciatingly slow failure of print because investigations by the fifth estate are less and less cost effective.
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Of more immediate concern is the mental and financial health of those working at the Indianapolis Star as another round of cuts rolls around. No one is spared angst as people are herded into a series of rooms one by one to have their severance and COBRA coverage spelled out to them.
Those who are temporarily spared the ax feel as though they earned a reprieve, but the sadness they feel for the colleagues who weren’t so lucky is profound. Their fear of being fired continues, which consigns them to a purgatory not unlike life itself. We each know that the grim reaper is coming, but not knowing when makes continuing to live happily more challenging.
The managers forced to walk around for the past six weeks knowing exactly who they were going to fire have lived in their own special hell as they walked among the soon-to-be former employees. Sleep is hard to come by for those managers during the period between the decisions being made and the day of the firings, and there is no way for them to avoid the awareness of how scummy they are while smiling and chatting with those to whom bad news will be delivered. They are liars, know it, and hate it.
The least despondent, oddly, may those who are fired. Finally, they will be able to move ahead with the lives unencumbered by the fear of impending doom. People in media are all aware that the end is nigh – that it’s just a matter of when, not if. They can finally roll forward to whatever is next, rather than trying in vein to cling to their current job.
Severance makes it easier on the managers. It’s nice to be able to deliver some good news while causing permanent upheaval in a man or woman’s life. It also makes telling family about this temporary misfortune easier for the people getting canned.
People tend to see the messengers of bad news as bad people themselves. Being fired is unpleasant, and blame must be assigned somewhere. The person who babbles on and on about turning in proximity cards, signing separation agreements, and choosing COBRA plans are convenient targets, but they are pawns in this game without peers. That means long nights trying to find new way to retain a measure of humanity while focusing on efficiency rather than excellence.
No one wins these days in media but the owners and senior management who are guaranteed a level of severance that allows a lifestyle of relaxation as a worst case scenario.
My advice to those who are fired is to continue working. A job is no longer a prerequisite for continuing to create media content, and how better to shove it up a former employer’s ass than to lure consumers to your work? Posting audio on Sound Cloud, video on You Tube, and written word on Word Press is virtually cost-free, and the equipment can be had for under $3,000. If you have an iPhone, you’re already halfway home. If you have a MacBook Pro, there is no excuse to not begin churning fresh material today.
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Change is inevitable, and in print media the writing has been on the wall for 15 years. The evolution toward lean, mean, and unencumbered by bureaucracy has been ongoing for nearly a generation, and those displaced today by the Star are uniquely positioned to joint the ranks of its competitors.
The managers at the Star are those most worthy of our empathy today. Their ship continues to take on water, and escape is almost impossible.
For those who were fired (or are about to be), go home, hug someone, and get to work.
[ed. note: The Star made known to staff the methodology of the cuts, not the people who will ultimately be cut.]
Oh such a sad reality.
Kent’s advice is superb.
I am astonished by Kent’s resilience after the change in management at 1070 several years ago…such a great and uplifting success story.
Indeed Mr. Spellman! What a tremendous message of encouragement and support for those facing a terribly difficult circumstance. Keep it up Kent, and for any current or former Star employees reading this, keep your head up and keep moving forward. As Kent alludes to, success is indeed the best revenge!
They never gave me severance. Interviewed with 8 different people to get the job and one year later they eliminated the position and walked me to the door without me even allowed to retrieve my belongings; had to pick up at security days later, minus my masters info on laptop.
Pretty standard to be walked to the door. Sad though, and designed to avoid worst case scenarios. It erodes trust, and makes employees feel like unappreciated interchangeable parts. Pathetic strategy devoid of humanity couched in safety-first prudence.