Could it happen to me (and you), too?
Typically in journalism, when Reporter #1 gets laid off, he/she calls Reporter #2 to break the news. Reporter #2 makes shocked and sympathetic noises, assuring Reporter #1 that he/she will be fine, he/she will land on his/her feet and while it feels awful now, everything is going to be OK. The entire time, Reporter #2 is asking him/herself one question, over and over: Am I next?
I say this with some authority because for four years, I was Reporter #2. Now I’m Reporter #1.
I was 26 the first time a company I was working for experienced massive layoffs. The Oregonian changed forever on June 20, 2013, when we laid off almost 100 employees. We gutted our paper that day. In Omaha with four other reporters to cover Oregon State’s run to the College World Series, we heard news via text about different reporters, editors and photographers let go that day. Each new message made us sick. Two of the five people in our travel party got calls that evening that they were part of the restructuring, and wouldn’t have jobs by the time they got back to Portland. From 1,300 miles away, we called in to put money on the tab at the bar across the newsroom, where hundreds of dollars were pledged to the now unemployed reporters. We hoped that if we couldn’t be there to comfort our friends and colleagues, drinks from us could at least provide some distraction.
Now, I’m on the receiving end of all those drink purchases. (Hey, in this situation, it’s important to find some silver linings.)
I got the call from my boss at Sports Illustrated on May 11, informing me that my position at SI was being eliminated, and I would now join the long line of journalists looking for work. At the risk of sounding not terribly eloquent, it really sucks. But my childhood dream was to write for Sports Illustrated, and I did that. No one can take that away from me. Also let’s be honest: At this point in my industry, it’s sort of a badge of honor to be laid off. I'm joining some very talented company.
I think a lot of people who work in sports full-time tend to lose perspective, and I’m working hard not to do that. Yes, it really stinks that I lost my job. But if you think there’s a lot of carnage in journalism, you should read up on the retail industry. I’m well aware that across the country, there are men and women who show up for work and are told it will be their last day at this or that department store, before they’re handed a final paycheck with no severance package. Then they have to go home and figure out how to provide for their family.
In the immediate aftermath of losing your job, it’s easy to feel a lot of bitterness toward your industry. Believe me, I had moments of that.
Two days after being told the news, I found myself in the dining room of an old friend, another reporter I met more than a decade ago when we were both young, naive, ambitious student journalists at The Daily Barometer at Oregon State. My humble opinion is that Andrew Burton has become one of the best reporters in our generation, and his long list of accolades confirms this. Most people, for example, are not Pulitzer finalists at 29.
Andrew poured me a drink, toasted my brief SI tenure and success there, then played for me a trailer of his upcoming project, a documentary addressing one of the biggest issues facing humanity. My heart broke watching this video clip. And it made me wonder, how do sports fit into this narrative?
Watching that short video, I knew the truth: That while this industry is busy chewing up and spitting out journalist after journalist, we keep going back because there are more stories that need to be told. I have an incredible privilege as a reporter to tell stories that help shape larger discussions in our society. So add me to the list of people who can't quit this addiction. I’m not sure what’s next, but I know I’m not done with journalism yet.
While I figure it out though, feel free to buy me a drink.
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