Knight Ridder and Me - Writing on the Wall?
"A job on a newspaper is a special thing. Every day you take something that you found out about, and you put it down and in a matter of hours it becomes a product." Jimmy Breslin
"Handled creatively, getting fired allows a person to actually experience a sense of relief that he never wanted the job he has lost." Frank P. LouchheimThey say most people will change jobs as many as 15 times in a working lifetime. That's pretty close to my count throughout a long, peripatetic career in politics, advertising, traditional media and New Media, i.e., the Internet. I left most positions voluntarily to go on to better ones, but I was laid off twice -- and fired once as a political fall guy, uh gal (more on that in a minute).
My last full-time job was with AOL, where I survived nearly a dozen major layoffs during 8 years, finally electing to leave when the weekly commute from Philly to Northern VA, combined with a changing corporate culture and virtually constant upheavals became too much for me and my family to take.
Inquirer and Daily News Layoffs
I've been following the Knight Ridder upheavals and concurrent layoffs at the Inquirer and Daily News through Dan Rubin at Blinq, and Yowsah! I can relate. Corporate layoffs are brutal. The rumors. The waiting. The anxiety. Then, the ax. But the people whose asses should have been booted long ago inevitably survive ... the Peter Principle in action. And dedicated, hardworking grunts who keep the place running are regularly drop-kicked out the door.
It's so frustrating to see talented colleagues pack their boxes and jump without a net. At AOL, the anger among the remaining troops grew as we watched corporate honchos get richer while a revolving door of loyal underlings got pink slips. Until the Time Warner debacle. It may not be 'nice,' but there's an all too human reaction of glee when arrogant higher-ups finally get their just deserts ... but not fun for long when you remember the size of their golden parachutes. And of your own plunging stock options.
As I read about similar goings on at the Inquirer and Daily News, I feel for those laid off, and for the guilty survivors. And it reminds me of the time I was publicly fired--which I learned first from the Inquirer and Daily News--facilitated by a former Knight Ridder honcho. Six degrees of separation, karma, circles within circles ... eerie but true.
How I Got Kissed and Fired
Early 70s. I'd recently started a new job as Press Secretary to the Philly DA. Our town's City Hall is its own universe and I had many friends in the City Hall press room. Among them was then 'Andi' Mitchell of KYW Radio, now Andrea Mitchell of NBC News. Another was an intense young reporter (with a full head of dark curly hair), covering local politics for the Daily News at the time, then Zack, now Zachary Stahlberg -- who rose to become top editor at the Daily News and vice president of Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
One day I got a call from Zack asking where I went to Law School. My sister is the lawyer, I told him, a bit confused, I went to Annenberg, remember? Oh, never mind, he said. And I thought that was that. Two days later, front page of both papers, Top DA Aide Fired, Falsified Background. Yeah, me. But I didn't do the crime. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. There's a back story and a back room story.
The back story: the DA's office wanted to hire me but had no city payroll slot allocated for a press secretary, so they put me into an open position as an ADA. One small detail: nobody told me about this illegal deception. I was royally pissed at my cigar-chomping bosses -- and at Zack for thinking I'd participate in such a scam. He was apologetic and eager to help me get back at them, along with Andi Mitchell, when she gave him the back room story.
The back room story: Philly's mayor at the time was a bully with a huge (but publicly unknown) appetite for the ladies. He cornered me in his office one day and, how can I put this delicately ... stuck his tongue down my throat and groped me black and blue. I talked my way out of further indignities--I shudder to think what else--and managed to escape. I was huddled in the ladies room pale and shaking when Andi walked in. She caught me off guard and I told her what happened. It's not that I was a prude or an inexperienced milkmaid -- this was one scary dude. (Ask nicely and I'll give you all the disgusting details. He's dead. I'm alive, and it's pretty funny now, from a distance of 30 years.)
Apparently my less than enthusiastic response to Hizzoner, my hasty exit from his office in clear distress, my close ties to the press and my possible future actions were cause for collective concern among Those In Charge, who thought it best to get me out of the building. Discredited, to boot. And used Zack and the Daily News, plus their own dirty deed, to do it.
Andi and Zack urged me to go public ... to clear my name but also, let's face it, to give them a hell of a story. Sexual harassment was still a hazy concept back then and I'd been around politics long enough to know that no matter how innocent you are, if you throw mud on somebody, you're gonna get spattered too. So I folded my tent and lived to fight another day.
That's the message I'd like to send to those recently unemployed by Knight Ridder. Don't let the bastards get you down. You will live through it. And you'll have stories to tell long after those guys are gone ... or in jail. And hey, maybe the new Evening Bulletin is hiring. If not, start your own blog and tell those stories. It's liberating as hell.