Neither pink nor slip

The mail brought me an envelope from The Star-Ledger late last week. It wasn’t unexpected, but still….

Notice Pursuant to The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1988, was the headline. Lacks zing, as our best headline writers will surely attest, but has plenty of impact.

“We are providing this notice to satisfy the requirements of … WARN, a law which requires advance written notice of certain layoffs and closings.

“The Newark Morning Ledger Co. … may be selling its assets and permanently terminating all employees, of if the Star-Ledger is not sold by Jan. 5, 2009, it will terminate its operations.

“EMPLOYEES WHO WILL BE TERMINATED

“All employees in all classifications.”

There was more, but that seems to hit the pertinent parts. It leaves a glimmer of hope with the word “may,” but the rest is fairly bleak even if only a threat.

I have been in this business since graduating college. It wasn’t exactly what I expected to do, but it only took a few days at a newspaper to know it was the love of my life.

Perhaps it was a poor relationship in most obvious ways. Many papers and their management took a lot and returned relatively little. Few would describe our entanglement as love. Only the moonstruck call crass utility love. There was an abusive quality, at times, to the affair and an essential dishonesty. There were things I could never say and quite a bit the readers simply didn’t want to know. But that didn’t change some crazy sense in me that I was doing something important for myself, the community, maybe the whole world. Sure some of the papers I worked for were whores, but they made me feel like I could make a difference even if I seldom did.

The Ledger was different from all of the other papers. The pay was better, the work WAS important. Management sometimes seemed to listen. Perhaps it was simply a relative thing, but it felt great for a time.

These last few years have stolen the sense of improvement, but not of necessity. Newspapers are needed in a world of lying politicians who can send an entire world to war. They are needed so the populace of a supposed democracy can make an informed vote. They are needed to make people talk who would otherwise remain silent. They are needed as a voice for those who would otherwise remain unheard. They are needed for many, many reasons. They may even be wanted by a few. But neither need nor want will pay the freight.

And where does that leave me? WARNed that I WILL soon lose more than a job. There will be no other papers for me (perhaps not a bad thing some head-shrinks would say). And journalism will likely be pursued by a few who have more idealism, less encumbrances, and/or greater skill than me. This isn’t just the loss of a job, it is the end of a career and, in essence, the death of a vocation for many in addition to myself.

We are all on tinter-hooks, hoping for a buyout that may not happen against two different types of death. One that is a simple cessation and the other a lingering diminishment. We pray for the shrinking continuation of The Star-Ledger because we will otherwise get nothing besides a hearty good-bye and kick in the ass. Which is, of course, how bad affairs (of business and the heart) tend to end.

It lacks zing, our better writers would observe. But it has impact.

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