OH, THE HUMANITY?

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“Let me see, let these debit units keep their careers or give myself a bonus?”

This one’s for friends and colleagues who, like me over two years ago, were “let go” by the corporate media giant we all worked for under the illusion that it was the high art of journalism. I don’t think—during my 36+ years there, at least—our corporate masters ever thought it was anything other than “working with advertising partners to monetize the 25-45 market” which only now they are finally coming out about.

The layoffs started in ‘08 or ’09, I don’t remember exactly. They were nasty. Rumors circulate for a week or so before the last Tuesday of the period. Then on that fateful day, work stops when the calls from HR start. Everyone is standing around nervous and chatty. Coworkers disappear then come back; some crying, some stone faced, but all of them clutching the brown envelope that in the 21st century has replaced the pink slip. They quietly pack up their stuff and, after hugs and handshakes, are gone forever.

The boss stays in his office avoiding the suffering he, in part, has caused by pretending to work. Eventually his number two comes around telling the survivors that it’s over. And that there is all-staff must-attend meeting starting now. The post-lay-off meetings are always the same; the boss slithers out of his office and reads his lines, “…difficult decisions…hard times…but we remain strong…positioned well… looking to the future…” and so on.

The mass layoffs gave way to stealthy department-by-department ones. There was less of the bad press that makes stockholders nervous, that way. The company cut staff by one-half to two-thirds in five years or so. They got especially creative for the latest round, just this last October. Their lawyers invented a “eliminate all jobs and make everyone re-apply for new ones” strategy that gets around the age discrimination associated with laying off all the better paid staffers. And their marketeers then spun this as the “newsroom of the future.” “All is good,” they proclaim, trying to convince the ever shrinking number of subscribers and advertisers that the product was still “worth every minute.”

“It’s all within reach” the letterhead proclaims; which to anyone who knows anything about the company, knows the “it” is a fat bonus and the implied subject of “reach” is the senior management team. A bonus is usually defined as a freely given reward for good work. Do the over and above mere salary the bosses award themselves qualify as that? Hardly, as they are written into contracts and no good work is involved.

But some good will come of this. Big media pseudo-journalism will die of the “next-quarter-bottom-line-itis” that the greedy/psychopathic management team has infected it with. And what’s left of the information business will fall equally to slimy stylings of PR firms and snarky howls of solo blogs. It’ll definitely be more fun to play and play along with these sincere crazies than the psychopaths running big media.

I know it’s hard to see the bright side of being let go even if you land softly and quickly, as that what you thought of as a big chuck of your identity, your career, is gone; which, at least in the case of journalism, was always a bit of a lie, first by the bosses and then, towards the end, to yourself. PR is somewhat more honest about its goals and working there you get to see your family more. Plus, PR as a job—no one has a career any more—is not in a death spiral like corporate journalism.

Or you could teach, if so inclined and having addition sources of income, that is. It feels good to teach, it’s useful and having half the people in a room paying attention to you; this is something you don’t get if the room is a newsroom. And the profession, unlike journalism, is respected; but the cynic in me says that’s maybe because paying respect is cheaper than paying a living wage.

Oh well, I’ve gone to a second page. I’ll now paraphrase the annual, cut and pasted x-mas letter emailed to all staff from the above-mentioned corporate media giant’s current CEO: On behalf of the entire senior leadership team at ehjohnson3, we wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season and a very healthy and prosperous New Year.

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