Friday, November 13, 2009

The Seven-Year Ditch

For those who don't already know (my bosses had asked me not to mention it), I've spent the last seven years employed as a staff editor at The New York Times. For a guy who set up his own newspaper in his family's basement back in elementary school, you can imagine what a dream this is. Working in the venerable paper's News Service department -- where stories are edited on deadline for distribution over the newswire and international supplements of The Times are created for papers around the world -- I've witnessed firsthand some of the paper's most celebrated and infamous moments, from the Judy Miller and Jayson Blair scandals -- with the hordes of photographers camped outside the company headquarters and the subsequent fallout that led to the dismissal of Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd -- to the move into the new glamorous Renzo Piano-designed building on 8th Avenue and win of five Pulitzer Prizes in journalism in April, the second-most in the paper's history.

All the while, I've also watched the profession I love take a beating on all ends, as the economy wreaked havoc on advertising and readers steadily migrated to the Web. So while I've savored every minute at The Times, I've always felt like it could end at any given moment. Sadly, yesterday was that day. The second my slot called me on my day off to tell me there was going to be a 5 p.m. staff meeting with our masthead boss (whom we rarely see) that he strongly recommended I come in for, I knew the jig was up. Still, having lived through several rounds of cuts in recent years, we had all come to the realization that there was no viable way for them to cut even one more person without something drastic changing about our workload. Somehow, this provided a strange sense of (false) confidence, something that was shattered in the first sentence of our big boss' announcement as he told us that our ENTIRE DEPARTMENT and all of its editing functions were being outsourced -- to Gainesville. At first I thought I'd misunderstood -- isn't India the normal place to outsource everything? -- but then he explained how The Times planned to train (cheap, nonunion) editors at the company-owned Gainesville Sun to do our jobs at a "substantial savings" to the company. (Our union reps later informed us that apparently letting New York Times copy be edited by non-Times editors is about 50 percent cheaper.)

The Newspaper Guild has the right to make a counteroffer, but obviously there is no way to compete with that. All 30 of us will lose our jobs in two phases between February and May of next year, a "heads-up" that I'm sure many who have been laid off in recent times would have been grateful to have had.

Although it will take some time to process it all (we still don't even have a "last day" or our severance packages ironed out), I feel strangely unbitter about it all. (Of course, check with me again in a year when I'm still unemployed!) It was an experience I will never forget, but I've felt like I was playing a losing game of "Survivor" for so long now that there's a certain element of relief. I know I'll be all right, but it still hurts knowing that the profession I've dedicated my life to is slowly evaporating before my very eyes. Little by little we've come to accept lower standards in media, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. (How soon before there are no editors at all?) What I am most sad about, though, is parting ways with so many talented and caring coworkers, some of whom I consider dear friends. But given my track record I'm sure I will stay close to many of them, just as I have with people from The Arizona Republic, The Orange County Register, PRN and every other place I've worked (what's up, Sherrie, Lois and Mona?).

OK, then. Thanks for listening. Time to get ready for the next phase of my life.

My friend Mike happened upon me as I was on my way to meet some of my coworkers at a nearby bar last night and snapped a few photos.


Read the latest update HERE.

59 comments:

Anonymous said...

That just sucks. I would not be as upbeat about being laid off as you are.

Rick said...

Kenneth:

Man, I am so sorry to hear this. I have been a loyal reader and paying customer of your paper for many years. I happen to work in TV news, which often doesn't seem to occupy the same universe, let alone share the same profession.

The journalism world needs bright, caring and conscientious editors like you. Not hacks from Gainesville.

I do what you do, but on more frequent, and therefore ridiculous, deadlines. It's really a matter of survival because if I don't edit the copy before I go on air, I find I have to do it on live TV.

People often laugh at me for stubbornly buying the paper each and every day. I should read it online, they say. Well, one of the last true pleasures in life is to sit at my local Starbucks here in Eugene, Oregon, sip my mocha latte and read the Times.

I wish you all the best,

Rick

JackBoston said...

Kenneth, so sorry to hear the news. I also work for The Times and fear more cuts coming soon. Definitely a tough time for the newspaper industry!

Scotty said...

I'm so sorry to hear about this. Very sad. Having been born and raised in Gainesville, growing up reading the Gainesville Sun, the New York Times will eventually regret their decision as the Gainesville Sun is full of mistakes and errors!

rcLoy said...

I am sorry about that.
Good luck for everything though!

Sam said...

That's such a tough break. Good luck to you.

WickedGayBlog.com said...

I am really sorry to hear that but am a firm believer of when one door closes another one opens. Also, you are so incredibly talented there will be no keeping you out of the game!

Dave

Steve said...

Sorry to hear this news, Kenneth. It's a shame watching once-excellent publications diminish in quality in the never-ending quest for profit. I guess we are living through a technological revolution similar to what people went through in the industrial revolution in the late 18th and early 19th centuries where entire industries fundamentally change. I do hope that you'll land on your feet and be able to find a new job. Best wishes to you. Reading your blog is a highlight of my day.

Anonymous said...

Kenneth, So sorry to hear about you losing your job next year. I'm sure you will be okay you are a talented writer. I read your blog every day and love it, my morning coffee wouldn't be the same without your blog. Side note, I always thought that you worked for the The New York Times. I work just up 8th Avenue at 44th St. and when you would describe places near your work they were always near the Times building.
All the best, my thoughts of a great new job are with you.
Pete

Anonymous said...

Kenneth,

Sending you much love and support!
You are the first place I look in the AM to see what's going on.

I hope that it is some small consolation that you have fans of all types out there who care about you!

As they say, "When a door closes, a window opens." Truth.

Steve said...

Kenneth: So sorry to hear this. Welcome to the club! At least your job is lasting a few months longer than mine...

thegaycurmudgeon said...

Hey Ken
Sorry to hear about your layoff.
I can certainly relate to what you're going through. I was laid off from McGraw-Hill in 2006 after ten years and I didn't even receive any severance pay!
Since then, I've had five different jobs, mostly project-based. Unfortunately, that's the nature of the New Economy.
Good luck.

eartone said...

I'm sorry, Kenneth!

Norm! said...

That sucks. Gainesville?!? I would think contractors in India would have a better grasp of the English language.

Thanks for outting yourself as an NYT employee.

Jeffery said...

A Friday the 13th you won't soon forget.

Anonymous said...

I am truly sorry to hear that. You have quite a forum here to seek out your next adventure and I wish you the best.
--Kevin

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry to hear the news about your job and department.
I work in a television newsroom, so I'm familiar with the rounds of layoffs. The slow erosion of the quality in our newscasts we once were so proud of is heartbreaking.
I wish you good luck in your job search.

john. said...

I'm so sorry to hear this - I've been a reader of yours for the past couple of years and it is evident that you have a passion for what you do. What a pedigree you've created for yourself! I wish that you would investigate moving into the LGBT media - I know, I know - it's a giant mess and hardly what anyone would call "News". But I believe the more that people like yourself, with real talent, can get in there and make a difference, the better we will all be for it in the end (no pun intended).
I look forward to reading about your new adventures - your blog is on my list of "sitting down with coffee, first thing in the morning reads".
Best of luck to you!

Jerry said...

I'm sorry to hear it Kenneth. As an avid reader of both your blog and the Times, I'm sad all-around.

I hope this means (212) will get a little more of your time 8)

Jay said...

Best of Luck, Kenneth!
Ugh!! Job search is right up there with Apartment hunting in my list of "Things To Do In Hell"!!
But you have a Great talent...

Anonymous said...

As another victim of "the death of print," I'm very eager to see how you repackage yourself for the digital future, something I've been struggling with for five years now. Best of luck!

Jeff said...

Sorry to hear about your job loss. You know there are plenty of jobs available back here in Michigan ... lol. Keeping my fingers (and other parts) crossed for you.

Jeff said...

I just went and read the newspaper you published as a young child and had to laugh about your article warning about the dangers of "snowballing" :P

Dale said...

I'm sorry to hear about this.

richard said...

at least the times was making some changes -- i find this story surprising as it seems like it would further undermine what has already created problems.

much like the inability of some individuals to change over the years -- in turn, they take on more and more sociopathic attributes that become redundant and nothing novel -- merely a stale cliche of three billy goats gruff....the degree of dumbing down and skimming for cheapness....and then one wonders, uh, don't they get it?? oh that's right -- they're just trying to cash in. shame.

Anonymous said...

Bummer, bummer, bummer.

I guess that sometime not too far off kids will ask, what is a newspaper, what's a magazine; just as kids ask now, what's a typewriter?

I am puzzled, and somewhat taken aback; why did/would NYT want you to keep quiet about working for them? A "free press", true "fair and balanced", "all the news thats fit to print" ... WTF is that about; keep the queer boy in the closet? Its not like many others rely on their association with the NYT to promote their other career opportunities. Seems like there is some kind of story there...who will write it?....

Hope that good opportunities find your way.

Mike in Brooklyn (oops, now Mike in Asheville hoping my and hubby's new/forced opportunity works out)

Chicago60657@gmail.com said...

Kenneth, sorry to hear your news. Let's hope the adage "as one door closes, another door opens" holds true for you. An advantage you have re: finding new employment is an incredibly large, diverse network thanks to your blog.

So come on guys, let's see what we can do for KIT212!

Anonymous said...

Wow. That really sucks.

jose kwan said...

In a world where Lauren Conrad, Carrie Prejean, and Sarah Palin can score book deals, I have tremendous respect for editors.
It is sad the NYT has come to that decision. In the battle between better journalism and capitalism, capitalism won.

James L. Greenlee said...

Wow, Kenneth, tough break. It IS something that you've got some advance warning, I suppose. The Other Half and I both have long-term jobs (13 and 27-years) that could end tomorrow. His has been hanging by a thread since 9/11 (United), mine drying up because of Nevada's economy.

Very cool that you started your own paper in elementary school! So did I. It non-coincidentally has the same name as my current (no where near popular) blog, www.GreenleeGazette.com. I also started a newspaper with my mother when I was 14 called The Indian Relic Trader/Prehistoric Antiquities, which lasted 11 years, and then my own spin-off, The Comic Book Trader, which lasted. . .er, 7 issues.

I didn't end up in publishing, but I still use some of my talkents as a sign maker and blogger. Anyway, I hope you transition to something you're just as good at. A good blog topic might be "careers to transition to." I'm looking for ideas!

Tom said...

Hey Kenneth,

It was great to learn what your job is, I'm only sorry about the circumstances. Of course it's not difficult to imagine that you work in writing/editing because the blog is so well done.

Good luck with the job search, and I am impressed with your attitude. I can't say I'd feel as benignly myself if I were in your position.

Danny in WeHo said...

KENNETH! I am horrified at this news. First, you are another of my friends among the recession casualties. Second, they will train new editors? I suspect they'll be drawing from the pool of people who can expertly spell OMG and LOL? I weep for the loss of talent and intellegence that used to be the hallmark of the printed word. Now, I guess I'm going to have to start using there method's and give into the gnu skool. COL (That's "Cry Out Loud")

kjfuller said...

K,
Nothing I can say will make it better. I hope everything works out for you and Michael.
Kevin J

Neal said...

Oh wow Kenneth- this is really sad. I absolutely hate to hear this. I really hope you're able to find another fulfilling job in your career field sooner rather than later. If the "Newspaper of Record" is struggling this mightily, what about all the other papers in America? Will we someday be getting all our "news" from Perez? Good luck to you. BTW, I check your blog several times a day, and you're like a friend. Neal

Anonymous said...

Kenneth, sorry to hear about your job loss.

I hope that the NY Times is never sold to News Corp.

I Am CAM Jr! said...

KENNETH, soooo many of us are with you on this. Sooooo many. My talent management venture here in Los Angeles has taken a whallop beyond my wildest imagination. I, too, must recreate myself (ala Madonna). I look forward to the next phase of YOUR life and MINE. By the way, your blog has inspired me so that I've started my own this week. But, Kenneth, would you PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE help me figure out to get this Google AdSense into the body of my blog. I truly can't figure it out! Lol My blog: http://www.iamcamjr.blogspot.com

Allen Cone said...

Sorry to hear about your job loss. I was laid off as a copy editor, also at a Florida newspaper, but much farther south.

I wonder if you could go to work in Gainesville for less money. It obviously is cheaper there than in New York City. But the pay I know probably is really bad.

That "elementary school" thing hit close to home, literally.

In third grade I had my own neighborhood newspaper. But I had to make copies with carbon paper. That was before the days of faxes and home computers.

I remember wanting a press or "ditto" machine, or even use the one at school.

The ink has been in my blood for a longtime.

Anonymous said...

Wow. This really sucks. I've survived several bouts of unemployment in my own life...it's never easy.

I worked in the newspaper business years back before I realized that I would surely starve on the average salaries they paid.

On a related note, one question: The have unions for newspaper editors? I thought only the press guys had unions. Live and learn!

N.Bumpercar said...

Howdy Kenneth . . .

As a casualty of the first wave of News Service cull, I can honestly say that I had an odd wash of feelings about the news. In my head - I've been wondering about the department for a long time - we always seemed to be the marginalized cousins of the paper -and especially since coming to the new building - it always felt like the eggshells that we were walking on were that much thinner. Then this happened - and that happened - and a lot of other stuff went down - and - ugh.

Anyway - best of - best of - best of luck to you. I imagine that it is going to be a very interesting next few months around the office. Keep that chin up!

- N.Bumpercar

Anonymous said...

I am very familiar with the Gainesville Sun. They will indeed screw things up. Few people know but they also edit the Ocala Star Banner not very well either. It is another lose for professional journalism to keep the Times & Globe afloat. I guess that 2 billion spent on the Globe a few years back has really haunted them as well as the new building. Punch would never have let this happen

pinknest said...

I can't believe we were voted off the island.

Anonymous said...

Kenneth, you certainly have my sympathy. I wish you well in all that you do. I feel confident that better things await as you move into the future.

It's a shame that some supporters of this classy and intelligent man fail to show those same qualities.

Gainesville, Fl., is home to one of the largest and most well-respected public universities in the nation. The University of Florida consistently is ranked among the top 100 universities in the world. The notion that Gainesville is some low-rent Hicksville, U.S.A., is ignorant at best. Indeed, Gainesville is one of the most lovely and culturally diverse small cities in America.

The notion that “capitalism won" over good journalism in this move is equally ignorant. The truth is that The Times is doing all it can to stay afloat in a radically changing media world. The company held out against staff cuts far longer than any other U.S. newspaper and deserves more credit than it is receiving. Indeed, some might argue that NYT held out against staff cuts far too long. Punch Sulzberger, as great a publisher as he was, would have no more control over current economic circumstances than does his son.

However, The Times did not hold off on cuts at its smaller newspapers, and staff reductions have been going on for years. Currently, a small band of hard-working editors are asked to produce two daily newspapers each night in Gainesville. It is far more challenging than any here seem willing to concede.

There is no way that same group of people could find time to edit the offerings of The New York Times News Service. Clearly, editors will be hired to handle those duties. I trust there will be a rigorous hiring process and that the new editors will be up to the task. How any supporter of Kenneth could suggest that it would have been better to send these jobs to another country rather than to another state is difficult to fathom.

Kenneth, again, I wish you nothing but the best.

jarmstrong said...

Your blog brought me to tears. As an ex-wife and mother of newspaper men and women (two shown in Mike’s bar photo), living for the past 50 years thru the days of deadlines, slot men, real pasteups and metal type to iMacs, Photoshop and inDesign, I never thought I’d see the day when the New York Times gives up. As all the small town papers fold, the giant in New York should find a way to continue as the country’s major news source. Surely, we can look forward to the same quality coming out of the Gainesville office, from a non-union editorial staff? Or better yet, we can all learn to bring our laptops to the weekend bed or the breakfast table in the morning, reading our Times over coffee; passing it back and forth for the sports section, books, arts, technology, etc. How sad is this?

Erica Smith said...

There have been too many layoffs at newspapers and news services -- already more than 14,000 this year, and nearly 16,000 last year.

Good luck, Kenneth!

John said...

Very sad news indeed. Who knows where you might end up? I can imagine you back in DC or being a newspaper editor somewhere. Freedom Newspapers, Inc. owns lots of papers nationwide, including one in guess where--Mesa. My town has a Freedom paper and we just got a new editor. He came from a larger city. You never know! Keep you chin up!

Bill said...

I just read in the Gainesville Sun this morning about the 25 jobs we are gaining and then saw someone I "know" is losing his job because of the move. I hope everything works out for you.

I guess "kenneth in the (352)" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

Anonymous said...

Hang in there. I lost my job on Thursday as well....now what?

James said...

I've been out of the loop for a bit. Sorry to hear about this. Hang in. Be well.

James

billyg4600@aol.com said...

I have been following you for the last two years ever since my layoff from Time Inc at 30 and I can tell you, you never know what comes from forced change when your watching your industry diminish. Like you, I had seen advertising crumbling and decided to pursue a passion and go back to school. Now I'm a licensed massage therapist right up the block from you on 23rd and 8th. Feel free to drop in for a little stress reduction on me, u have certainly helped occupy my study breaks and kept me connected when I refused to follow main stream media anymore. Thanks and please take me up on the offer...I have the time - everyone in this neighborhood is unemployed! Best, Billy Gregg, LMT (billyg4600@aol.com)

Jim Edwards said...

I'm so sorry to read this... You are a smart and resourceful guy. You'll land somewhere great and they will be lucky to have you.

Good luck and I'll enjoy following your new adventures!

Francine said...

Oh, honey! I had no idea until just now as I was scrolling through Poynter and saw your (gorge) mug! You have the right attitude - and that's going to help you land on your feet. The last two years have been sad and sickening. I've often wondered why the hell did I get into this business. But I have no regrets. You're talented - and skills you've always had will surface. XO

Steve said...

Having lost my job in this economy as well, I admire you're optimism. This is just sad on so many parts. One, on the personal level that you are losing your job that you've spent so long perfecting. But second, that newspapers are more worried about profits then the news. Corporate America mentality has washed over this country and now drown out the newspaper business as well. Nothing will replace a latte and the Sunday Times. Especially a brat on his laptop feeding me blog bits. Good luck with your future Kenneth.

Anonymous said...

So sorry K..I just checked in ur blog...have not had the energy, as I'm trying to keep all my friend's heads"above water".. ln so many ways ..all of them jobless and waiting for news from Washington about extensions on their unemployment!

it is TRUE!!....a door closes and a window opens...there you'll find life a bit different but just as good..you will not see that now but in time will..


keep us notified of any job hunting success
WE are ALL hanging in there with YOU!!

Tony(nyc)

Anonymous said...

I like your blog. I don't remember how I came across it, but I find it interesting and humorous. I too am unemployed. It's a rough job market out there. Start now, negotiate for the best severance terms, and network like crazy. The market is driven by who you know, and I think you will do okay in that dept.

Good Luck!

Timmy said...

I feel for you. I've been in a similar situation and at least you do have some time to plan. Hang in there! Best wishes.

Chad said...

Kenneth... I was out of town all weekend and just saw this blog entry! UGH! So sorry to hear this news. It's scary what's happening to our industry. I keep feeling like I'm "next on the chopping block" at my office. BTW, who knew that the Times owned the Gainesville Sun... My hometown paper!

Bob H said...

I'm sorry for you but I'll be angry for you too if need be. Of all newspapers to be Union busting I'm shocked that the Times would revert to such a "cost saving" measures. Good Luck.

Daveinthe805 said...

Long time reader of your site. I echo other's in wishing you the very best for the future. I am in the same boat as you. There is however a surprising upside to having more free time. You get to focus on those parts of your life that may have been neglected. I am saddened not only because you and your colleagues have lost their jobs but so goes the quality. The New York Times has always stood for excellence in reporting and when you read the paper or website, you know it is the gold standard. I have noticed the chipping away of quality journalism. That it affects a venerable paper like the New York Times saddens me even more. I cannot fathom that a second or third class paper like the Gainesville Sun could in any way do justice to the quality and attention to detail as displayed by you and your colleagues. Please extend my thanks to your colleagues for their hard work as I have always enjoyed reading the paper. I wish the very best for all of you.

BJ said...

I used to be a copy editor. I liked it at the beginning, but over the course of time I felt what I was doing was redundant and rather silly in the scheme of things..so I got myself fired.

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