Thursday, October 29, 2009

One Year After The Vampire Bit

October 29, 2009 --

October 29, 2008, is one of those days that will always stand out for me. There are three reasons.

  • After several days of rain, the Phillies finally closed out their World Series win.
  • Arsenal wee-weed away a two-goal lead in stoppage time in a 4-4 draw against bitter rivals Tottenham.
  • The guy who runs this place:, who shall hence be known as "The Vampire," called me into his office, closed the door behind him, and, without even looking me in the eye, said, "I'm going to let you go," after less than nine weeks on the job.

Getting canned is one of those things that affects your worldview. It sure has mine.

The funny part about it is that I took that job largely out of fear I was soon to be laid off from my job as night sports editor at The Union Leader. I figured I'd rather jump than be pushed from the sinking ship that is newspapers, because I thought I couldn't endure the mental trauma of being let go from a job.

Yeah, life's funny like that, isn't it?

But this is a good news/bad news story. I still don't have a full-time job, but being fired hasn't been nearly the soul-crushing event I'd feared (nowhere near as soul-crushing as spending nine weeks in an office with The Vampire, that's for sure). I'll spare you the "discovering-my-inner-resourcefulness" psychobabble and just say, hey, I'm still here. That has to count for something.

And in some ways it's been a great year. Since that day I've:

  • Had Thanksgiving and Christmas off for the first time in 10 years.
  • Traveled to Colombia and Ireland.
  • Started a master's degree program in counseling.
  • Not missed a meal, mortgage payment or bill.
  • Not taken on a penny of credit card debt.
  • Learned we're expecting our fourth child.
  • Not gone a week without working.
  • Turned down a full-time job offer (the money was short and the schedule not workable).

We have complicated relationships with our work. (BTW, that line isn't mine. I stole it from a friend after a great Facebook chat the other night.) We place huge importance on it -- more than the income it generates. It defines us in a lot of ways. Yet, given the option, many of us would bail out of work the first chance we get. And, as we've discovered in the past year or so, a lot of employers are more than happy to kick folks out the door at the first sign of trouble.

But it hasn't been work that has helped me get through the past year. It's been family and friends. It's been the realization that I have a ton of support from so very many people (more than I deserve, really) who care only that I'm happy, healthy and thriving. Whether or not I'm working full-time or making a robust income doesn't seem to factor into the way they feel about me.

And some of that support has translated into the work I've gotten. I am very lucky to have friends who have confidence in the work I can do, and they've thrown enough my way to keep a modest income going. That's been very gratifying. I confess to being a bit unsettled at depending on part-time work, especially when the bulk of it is on-call, but it's been a year and the hours always seem to be there when I need them. It's as if someone's looking out for me, y'know?

Speaking of looking out for me, time to recognize the one who's done the most to get me from one year ago to today. People chuckle when I call Olga the Fabulous Bride, but if you'd lived the past year I have, you'd understand why that's the best name I can come up with for her, and why it still manages to fall far short of the mark. I've depended on her completely -- emotionally, physically and financially -- and that burden hasn't once seemed to cause her to worry or be weary. I live with her and still I can't grasp how she manages to be so reliable and present to an employer, dozens of students, three children and a husband. Some people are unfairly and unfathomably gifted, and I was smart enough to marry one.

And what about the children? The great thing about kids is that they don't see you as your job or your income. They see you as Mom or Dad and they love you because of that. How else to explain my eldest son, who shortly after I was fired gave up recess, went into the church at his school and prayed for me to find work. He didn't do it because he worried that Christmas was going to be light. He didn't do it because he worried for our family. He did it because he knew I was hurting, and he didn't want me to hurt anymore. Do you have any idea how proud I am to be raising a kid like that? The fact that, when I come home, my little ones come to the door for hugs and kisses means more to me now than ever. What a great lesson to learn.

Lessons? What have I gained from the past year? I guess only this: A job is a business arrangement. When you or an employer have no more use for one another, one of you will end the arrangement. Business is nasty, brutish and short. Relationships last, and good relationships last through good times and bad.

If you're in a tenuous or unfulfilling job situation, here's my advice: Grab hold of the people who mean the most to you. Understand that they will be there long after the business arrangement has ended. Let them be there for you through trying times. And know that they, more than anyone else, are the folks who believe in you and will be your biggest supporters.

One of my journalism professors at BU (in whose honor the men's room in a Kenmore Square pub is named) was fond of the phrase, "May you live in interesting times," which he said was a Chinese curse. I don't know if that's true. But I do know that I believed losing my job would be a curse. Instead, I have found the most interesting of times. I hope I can say the same on October 29, 2010.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

More on the future of journalism

Matt's last post is a great read.

It has not been a good past few years in the print journalism. But it's really ramped up the past few weeks.

The lynchpin was the demise of the Rocky Mountain News at the end of February. This was the proverbial canary in the coal mine. I have a friend and former co-worker who was in that newsroom, which was told on Thursday that they were putting out the paper's final edition that night. That was it - a business that was two months shy of its 150th anniversary went "poof!"

I think one of the problems we've run into in newspapers the past few years was a simple attitude of how there would always be a place for print, even in a crowded media landscape. (I plead guilty to this as well.) After all, people have been writing the, ahem, obituary of newspapers since radio was invented.

Thing was, those changes with broadcast media happened gradually and there was a clear delineation between the styles of broadcast journalism and print journalism. So even when TV came out, people knew they had to go to newspapers for the stories that couldn't be covered in a half-hour or even an hour of nightly news.

Now, print has been challenged by something that has blossomed nearly overnight in the scheme of things and has nearly unlimited content. And newspapers' space is ever-shrinking.

It doesn't matter how all this happened. Quite frankly, I'm sick and tired of the hand-wringing and analysis of why this has happened, which is why I've kept my venting as brief as possible. I want to know what we can do. And when it will happen.


Monday, March 16, 2009

The future of journalism is up for grabs

Fantastic item by a gent named Clay Shirky on the demise of the newspaper. If I can boil it down, the point it this: Publishers have known for a long time that what's happening now was a freight train bearing down on them. They tried any number of things to maintain their industrial-era newspaper structures in the digital age. Nothing worked, and those structures are now collapsing before us.

What replaces them? Nobody knows. The Internet is still in its relative infancy. It's critical that journalism -- not necessarily newspapers, as Mr. Shirky makes the distinction -- survive, and he believes it will, but contends no one can know what that survival will look like.

This has been part of my own thought process. I no longer have any confidence that journalism, at least in the near term, is a viable business where one can make a confident living. And, ultimately, in the midst of all the platitudes about a free society's need for good journalism, for me the most compelling thing of all is that I am not blessed with family wealth, so I have to have an income-generating skill to survive. Right now journalism isn't it. And no one knows when journalism will again become a way to make a confident living. And if it takes 10 years, well, I don't have 10 years. The only option is to find a new career. Not exactly what I had hoped for as a 40th birthday present, but it is what it is.

-- MJM

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Bitter Post-Super Bowl Rant

Congrats to the freakin' Steelers, even though I don't like them very much.

But here's my bitter observation: After being taken to the final minute by a tough and gritty team that gave its all, not a single Steeler said a word about the gallant effort the Cardinals put in.

And it occurred to me that if the Patriots or Bill Belichick did that, an entire nation would never let them hear the end of it.

It's true. I'm still bitter about last year. So shoot me.

-- MJM

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

And hey, France makes a nice corporate jet

The latest example of corporate clulessness has apparently been averted: Citigroup has decided against spending $50 million on a new corporate jet after some folks pointed out that didn't look too cool for a firm that just received $45 BILLION in government bailout funds.

Hey Citi jackasses - fly coach and get over it. Sacrifices have to be made.

And what is also not mentioned is that the jet is made by a French company (though at least the interior is customized in Little Rock, Ark.)


Vive Le France!

From our main man Alan Mutter: France's plan to bail out newspapers, and why it won't happen here.

And while I love the idea of saving our jobs, the bottom line is that the "good angel" just went "poof!" on my shoulder to point out to my principled side that government aid to newspapers is a bad idea, for obvious reasons. ("How come you spiked that story on the conditions for veterans at that Walter Reed site?" "Ohhh, nothing . . . no reason. . . ")

Sigh. . . .


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Reach out and touch someone

I know, again, I haven't posted in a while. Laziness is only part of it.

This blog was started partly as a fun exercise, and partly to dust off writing muscles that had grown stale since becoming an editor. And while I try to write this without sounding self-pitying, it's not as much fun now, sad to say.

Truth is, these are tough days in the newspaper industry (duh). And while I try not to bitch too much, it's hard to watch an industry I dearly love go down the tubes.

By nature, I'm more skeptic than optimist, so it's tough for me to see a bright side. Especially when every day seems to bring news of more layoffs across the board in all industries, not just here in the fourth estate.

Even President Obama's magnificent inaugural address, with its solid message of determination in the face of adversity, can't temper the sobering reality it also outlined: We're in deep doo-doo.

But there is one ray of sunshine when I hop on the Web now: Facebook.

Look, I work on the Web, but I don't get to play on the Web that much. It's hard to explain.

However, my wife joined Facebook and LinkedIn earlier this year, and she is now an addict. To be fair, she uses her account for mostly professional purposes. Many of her Facebook contacts are co-workers and professional colleagues.

At first, I was skeptical. First of all, I'm not the most social of people. But all it took was one incredibly nice friend invite on Facebook from someone I wouldn't have expected to open my friends list up. And make me re-think this whole thing.

Let's face it: High school, timed to coincide with all the awkwardness of adolesence, can be a special circle of hell. At least it was for me. I haven't kept in touch with many people from there.

But I have to look in the mirror for a lot of why high school sucked, too. I was a bit of a self-absorbed jerk. OK, I'm probably still a bit of a self-absorbed jerk.

Then again, our class, the smallest in our high school's history (an honor I believe we still hold) was also known for (and at the time, prided itself on) its apathy.

But with one click from the batch of friend invites I got, I got to see a childhood friend's beautiful triplets for the first time. He's not the only one with kids now. We're all at or near 40, with children of various ages. Amazing.

And it hit me: Maybe we can all grow up a bit in 22 years.

Even me.