On Monday morning, I crawled out of bed and opened my email. Waiting for me was a message from The Salt Lake Tribune’s editor, Jennifer Napier-Pearce.
“Monday, May 14, 2018, 5:40 a.m.
RE: Your Employment”
Uh-oh. I had been to a staff meeting a few days before during which Tribune owner Paul Huntsman had warned us that a declining industry meant serious changes were afoot. We should all brace ourselves.
I did what I normally do when given such ominous news — I stuck my head in the sand and went about my idiot business. I can’t blame me. Given that I’m still alive, it’s always worked before.
On this particular morning, I sat for a minute wondering what Jen’s “Your Employment” message would tell me and if it was something for which I might need some drugs or possibly a getaway plan.
Knowing that Jen and Paul faced some tough decisions, I couldn’t help wondering if I was one of them. Who could blame them? I’m not a real journalist. I’m a street lout who can find his way around a keyboard.
I finally got up the nerve to open the email.
“Dear Robert: The Salt Lake Tribune is restructuring, but your employment is NOT affected. Please plan on attending a brief staff meeting at 4 p.m. today as we discuss our future. Thank you.”
Relief was immediately replaced by fear. I began calling co-workers to find out who else was NOT affected. And who was.
It was like sticking my head out of a foxhole after an artillery barrage. Some of my colleagues were dazed but OK. Meanwhile, others were replaced by smoking holes and silence.
Days later, I struggle with survivor guilt. It has to be expected in an industry convulsing as it attempts to remain sustainable and relevant.
I’ve been sacked before. A lot, actually. You may have already guessed that — or even had a hand in it. It’s OK. I’m over all of them. It takes time in most cases.
None of the times I’ve been laid off, canned, fired or terminated were convenient moments in my life. I am, of course, referring to those moments when having a job actually mattered to me.
Getting married changed everything. The first time I was let go after gaining a spouse was about 18 months after my wife agreed to settle for the likes of me. Also, we’d just had a baby.
One evening, the boss of the construction crew I worked for called and told me not to bother coming in the next day. Or ever again.
Hanging up the phone, I looked over at my wife rocking our baby and found myself anxious to the point of incontinence. I remember thinking, “So this is what adulthood feels like.”
I was lucky. I found another job within 48 hours. It even paid better.
Since then, I’ve been let go a few more times. Again, I was lucky. I was fired by people for whom I had long since lost all respect and in one case had actually come to loathe. My mistake was in not beating them to who fired whom.
But Monday was different. I didn’t lose a job. I lost colleagues who had done nothing wrong but get caught by a world that is changing faster than most of us can plan.
Equally difficult is to see what it has done to the survivors and even the paper’s managers, who lost good friends as well.