Twenty-five years, minus one month and two days. It’s what I’ve calculated as the interval between layoffs. It’s the sing-song that plays in my head.
The first layoff, at a wire service, came in 1984, on the 10th anniversary of the Aug. 9 resignation of Richard Nixon as president.
The second occurred this summer, on July 7, my brother’s birthday. As he turned 49, I joined the ranks of 14.46 million Americans who were unemployed, 7.64 million of us classified by the government as "not on temporary layoff."
In the first layoff, I was a pregnant desk editor and the wire service (story in; edit; story out) was struggling financially. I had been there nearly six months, following several years as city editor at a small-town daily. I was laid off the day before my six-month probation ended and benefits were to kick in.
In the second, I was business editor on a Top 100 daily that was scrambling to cut costs. Two others with “executive” in their titles, like me, and one senior editor also were let go. I had been there 9½ years; the senior editor, denoting newsroom hierarchy, not age or purview, was a veteran of more than two decades. We were among 18 sliced from the payroll in one day, 11 in news.
Nearly two years passed between the first layoff and my return to work -- but not for lack of trying.
In those days, you had to appear in person to collect unemployment (now it’s done online), so I’d waddle into the state office weekly to attest to my job search. As I began my ninth month, I was talking to one prospective employer about a city desk job and had just started a tryout with another. But complications sent me to the hospital and my daughter was born. A couple of weeks later, though, I headed to a tryout with the first prospect, pumping breast milk in the lavatory on a cross-country plane ride.
A colicky baby derailed the job hunt, and it wasn’t until my daughter was a toddler that an unsolicited offer for temporary work -- which soon turned permanent -- came my way.
Now I’m back at square one, unfettered by pregnancy but grappling this time with a medium changing so rapidly that no one is certain of its future.
As if that weren’t enough, I’m in the company of 13,000-plus souls who, through buyouts and layoffs, have lost their jobs at U.S. newspapers this year. (The number, already close to surpassing 2008’s total, is from the blog Paper Cuts, run by St. Louis Post-Dispatch designer Erica Smith.)
The year-to-date tally is akin to losing a city the size of Beacon in Dutchess County, about two hours north of New York City, or St. Ann in Missouri, located in the shadow of Lambert St. Louis International Airport, or Mill Valley in the San Francisco Bay area, home to the TV character Capt. B.J. Hunnicut in the beloved series MASH. (We journalists make comparisons like this so readers don’t recoil from numbers.)
I can tell you that being laid off once in your professional life is bad enough but that twice is unnerving.
The first time, for Pete’s sake, I was pregnant -- but scored one tryout by suggesting it wasn’t being offered because I was waddling. This time, I can’t play that card.
So what’s my angle now -- or, in the vernacular of the day, my “brand”? Remember, there are 13,000-plus equally talented people asking the same question.
We’re all stunned by the disappearance of papers like the Rocky Mountain News and bemoan the anorexic look of formerly fat dailies as they cut pages and days of publication. Will the shift from print to online-only be the new business model? Should we give up on newspapers altogether and join the great cacophony in the blogosphere?
Twenty-five years, one month and two days. Twenty-five years, one month and two days. Twenty-five years, one month and two days. It’s like a mantra.
Rather than leading to spiritual enlightenment, though, I’m hoping it brings me a financial variety instead.