There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Monday, June 16, 2008

Between a recession and a depression

Last Monday, the wife and I rode together to the University of California Medical Center. Ever since, I've been waiting for a phone call telling me the results of the wife's biopsy. When my cell phone rang this morning as I rode to work on the No. 82 bus, I had several seconds to worry as I fished the phone out of my pants pocket.

When I opened the phone I was relieved to see it wasn't the wife or UCDMC. Caller-ID showed the generic Sacramento Bee number. OK, I thought to myself, the office is calling.

I get calls in the morning from the letters editor when something goes wrong with the database I created for tracking letters. For 17 years, I was the editor responsible for selecting and packaging letters for the daily newspaper. During that time, I created a number of time-saving Web-based applications. This is a self-taught skill set well beyond the current letters editor.

But it wasn't the letters editor on the phone or my immediate supervisor, David Holwerk, the editor of the editorial and opinion pages. Instead, it was Joyce Terhaar, the managing editor of the newspaper. I had no idea why I would be getting a call from Terhaar. Had something happened to Holwerk? My confusion only grew when she asked if I had seen the announcement that The Bee's publisher had released that morning.

"No," I said, not appreciating how this could possibly have anything to do with me.

Terhaar explained that the publisher had announced that there would be a 10-percent reduction in the work force through layoffs.

I started at The Bee in 1980 as a night shift part-time copy editor while still working full time days as the news editor for the Lodi News-Sentinel. I worked my way into a full-time job at The Bee and then earned a job as an assistant city editor. Not long after that, I moved to the Capitol bureau, where I did similar work as the bureau news editor. As a bonus I got to work for McClatchy Newspapers at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco that saw the Mondale-Ferraro ticket crowned in July 1984. In 1987, I moved back to 21st and Q to take the job as production editor for the editorial page, which included responsibilities for letters. At the time, there were three production editors. A staff reorganization reduced that to two editors a few years ago and then another reorganization following buyouts left just me as the lone production editor responsible for all of the editorial and Op-Ed pages and the weekend Forum section.

The job is a bitch, but as the last surviving editor responsible for the production of that many pages, I figured I was buying myself some job security.

"Your position is on the list of layoffs," Terhaar told me over the phone.

That didn't register at first.

"There's a meeting today at 10:30 that you need to attend," Terhaar said. "People there will explain what is happening."

Still unclear on what was happening, I asked, "Are you saying I'm being laid off?"

"I can't tell you that," Terhaar said. "You have to go to that meeting."

In 1980, Ronald Reagan, while running for president, would quip: "A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours." Of course, his punch line was, "And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his."

I must admit I see the difference between a recession and a depression, but I doubt that even George W. Bush losing his job will help this time.


Mattie said...

Oh, man, I'm sorry to hear that.

Anonymous said...

So much to deal with at once. GOOD LUCK to you and yours in this most difficult time.

.... I'll miss Martin Mull's gentle smile.

maya said...

Argh. I am really sorry to hear this, John. Let me know if there's anything I can do to help...

I have a few tech connections, if you're interested in pursuing that line of work more vigorously.

John said...

Thanks, Maya. The Bee is offering the laid-off workers an all-day class in how to write a résumé. I figure I'll be set after that.

I'd love to hear any ideas you have about possible tech jobs. Let me know at

pam said...

I was sorry to hear you got laid off, John. You're the only journalist I know who likes to interact with bloggers, and don't just consider us free column fodder. My heart goes out to you and your wife.

John said...

Thanks, Pam. If there is a single aspect of the Internet that The Bee has failed to grasp, it is the equality of voices.

During the brief period when I was tasked with the job of expanding the opinion section's reach online, I kept running into entrenched attitudes inside The Bee that only content The Bee owned held any value. In creating the Web site, I demonstrated that the problem was not technical. But for editors the equality of voices was anathema. Now Prosper Media has created its own blog-watch site, , and The Bee has lost one more opportunity to be a part of the community.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Sounds like you need to start a bigger empire of news there than the Bee could comprehend. I would say that you could do pretty well creating the Huffington Post for Sacramento. The reason folks go there is for the opinion and huge collection of articles and blogs from all over the country. Surely Sacramento has much to offer in that regard as well. Just make sure there is a transit section ;)

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

And it looks like IpsoSacto is just that! John have you ever taken a look at Yahoo Pipes?

John said...

Mr. Trolleypole, I am familiar with Yahoo pipes, but I have never tried to create an application using them. I suppose now that I have all this time on my hands, I should try it out. The hand-coding I used to get ipsoSacto working could probably benefit.