Another big newsroom farewell

Sorry for the gloomy tone in my last post; I just didn’t have it in me to blow sunshine up anyone’s bell bottoms last week.

On Friday I cheered up quite a bit visiting with former colleagues who departed the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the latest round of buyouts. Like my group’s farewell party in August, we huddled at Manuel’s Tavern, a famously warm and eclectic Atlanta watering hole, with journalists passing around cold pitchers in one room while in the next a birthday party featured a calypso band.

The circumstances were not pleasant, of course — 70+ more people out the door (including some layoffs) following my buyout group of 73 eight months ago, which followed the departures of around 50 journalists a year before that. A newly reorganized newsroom is less than half what it was two years ago, and I truly feel for those staying behind and soldiering on.

But for those who just departed, it was time to celebrate their work and recall the camaraderie we shared, especially during some very rough recent times.

That’s what I miss the most about not being in a newsroom. And it’s what absolutely tore me up a few months ago while I wrote this “Life After Newspapers” essay at the request of the University of South Carolina School of Communications. Perhaps my thoughts sound terribly naïve and idealistic and are totally divorced from the scenarios that many journalists face after they leave newsrooms. If so, I stand guilty as charged. I’m trying to take the long view, but the attitudes of many of us understandably are being shaped by the rather grim realities of the moment.

So I cannot possibly imagine what the Boston Globe newsroom has been like this week, or what it will be like for the next few weeks as negotiations between the New York Times Company and the Newspaper Guild continue.

The Guild is the only one of seven Globe unions that hasn’t agreed to major concessions that likely will include massive job cuts. Could the future of that newspaper company really hinge on Guild objections at removing the “lifetime guarantee” job status for 170 journalists?

In my 25 years in newspapers, I never worked for one that had a newsroom union. So I have no idea what it’s like to be in a place in which labor issues are an integral part of the newsroom culture. For that matter, having a job with permanent security is something I never even fantasized about.

I’m sure there are quite a few Globe veterans who never thought a day like this would arrive. Their union negotiated for, and won them, this distinction that obviously is antiquated. Blame whomever you please, if you think you must; I’m not trying to assign it here. What’s happening in Boston is at best a no-win situation for everyone.

But Alan Mutter’s point is well-put: There’s no such thing as a guarantee. Certainly not in this industry, and in most others as well. It’s a frightening prospect that so many of us have had to contemplate in recent months.

I hate it that there will be no happy farewells for those working at the Globe, whether it stays in business or not.

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