ONE OF THE tough things about getting laid off in a very public way is that you can’t get your work done — you can’t even walk down the street — for all the wonderful people who come up to you and say kind things. (Never mind the phone calls, e-mails and letters.)
Of course, it’s also the best thing about the experience, so don’t stop, folks. It doesn’t get old.
I’ve heard from everyone from Gov. Mark Sanford (yes, he was very kind and cordial, despite all those things I say about him) to old friends I worked with decades ago, far away from here. And I appreciated every one of them.
For those of you who missed it, I was in the news last week, along with a lot of my colleagues. To quote from thestate.com:
Never miss a local story.
The State Media Co. today announced the layoff of 38 people — 11 percent of its work force — and wage reductions ranging from 2.5 percent to 10 percent for the rest of the employees.
Among those laid off were three vice presidents including editorial page editor Brad Warthen.
My last day is March 20.
For those of you who ask “why,” the answer is simple: The money’s just not there, and somebody had to go. I was one of the 38. You might say, to borrow a phrase from the Corleone family, this isn’t personal; it’s strictly business.
I’ve tried to keep readers on my blog in the loop about the profound changes going on in the newspaper industry, which have been accelerating. I’ve written about everything from losing friends and colleagues who are not replaced, to the horrific news sweeping the industry more recently, with some newspapers going under.
This has not been a comfortable thing for me to do. For one thing, I always wonder how much my readers will care. Someone I respected in college — actually, he taught a course in editorial writing that I took — warned us that when one talks about one’s own industry, one runs the risk of boring one’s audience.
(What I try to explain when I do talk about it is that this is about you, too. Newspapers reflect their communities in more ways than simply publishing news and commentary. We also reflect our surroundings economically. Newspapers went into this recession in a weakened condition, and now we’re like the canary in the coal mine. If you’re hurting, we’re hurting. And vice versa, whether you realize it or not.)
For another reason, I recognize my own lack of detachment. Finally, there is such a delicate balance to strike between telling all that I know or imagine I know, which is my instinct as a journalist, and respecting the confidentiality of things I know only because I’m an officer of this company — which gives me both an unfair advantage and a responsibility to those I work with. It can be awkward.
Anyway, in spite of that, I’ve tried to be frank about the situation whenever I’m asked — and on the blog, even when I’m not.
I leave here with a deep love for this newspaper, which I hope has been evident over the past couple of decades. It seems to have been evident to my boss — President and Publisher Henry Haitz — judging by the kind and gracious things he had to say about my service in his note on this page on Wednesday. (Sample: “He is a remarkable journalist and writer, with keen understanding of the issues most vital to our community and our state.”)
And I appreciate that.
What will I do next? I don’t know. I’ll be spreading my resume around, online and otherwise. In the meantime, give me a holler if you hear of a suitable position. One advantage I have over so many people who are looking for work now — more than 200,000 in South Carolina, I heard last week — is that a huge portion of the state has watched me on the job and formed a pretty detailed impression of my capabilities. (Of course, whether that works for me or against me depends on the individual reader.)
I can tell you this much — I have zero intention of “relocating,” to use an ugly word. When I came to the state of my birth in 1987 after years in this business in Tennessee and Kansas, I did so with the intention of staying for good. My days as a newspaper vagabond were over. Either things worked out at The State, or I would find some other line of work. And the thing is, things worked out very well.
The day I was interviewed here (for the job of governmental affairs editor), I told then-Executive Editor Tom McLean that my ultimate goal was to become editorial page editor. I believed that position offered the greatest opportunity to serve my state, which I believed needed its largest newspaper to have a strong, frank, lively editorial page. Thanks to Tom, I got my chance to do just that 10 years later, and I could not be more proud of the team I have had the privilege of working with, or the excellent job they have done — and that those who remain will continue to do, if I know them. (And I do.)
Obviously, this is a stressful time, but beneath it all is something that I don’t quite know how to describe, a sort of anticipation driven by curiosity. I wonder, with great interest, what will happen next. (That sounds either terribly trite or unintelligible; I can’t tell which, but I explained it as well as I could.)
So much for this subject today. This will not be my last column. For one thing, I promised you last week to write something about U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett’s candidacy for governor. I was going to do that for today, but I got distracted again. I’m sure you’ll understand.
For now, please visit thestate.com/bradsblog/ for more about this subject and everything else. Watch there to learn about my future blogging plans.