Friday, July 24, 2015

30 Days of Night in Charleston: three.

"So, how does this affect you?" the receptionist at the radio station where I also work asked me.

I sighed and explained the whole thing, as best I understood it and what was probably going to happen.

"That's awful," she said.

And I shrugged. I didn't want her to feel bad about it.

So, I said, "Well, I don't know how this is going to work out, but I've been through this before.

"Four years ago, I had a pretty lousy summer, too. I'd just bought a house and then my wife left me. Aside from the obvious thing, like getting kicked to the curb, I was horrified that I wouldn't be able to keep the house, that it would be too much for me to carry."

I remembered worrying about food, about keeping the lights on, about making sure everything was taken care of. Back then, I'd imagined living on the street by Christmas.

I told her, "But here I am, four years later. I kept the house and while I got my heart broke, I met someone amazing a few months later. My life changed completely and I couldn't imagine going back to what things were like before.

"I really hope that whichever way it goes with the job, that something better comes out of it."

She nodded and I went on, pointlessly. I was on a roll.

"Maybe it's cyclical with me, I don't know," I said. "Maybe there's a huge blow-up every four years for me, around this time. I just need to plan for it and be out of the way of whatever karmic meteor is coming my way next time.

"I could go to Antarctica."

She smiled, but had no idea what I was talking about; neither did I, really.

"I hope it turns out for you," she said.

I nodded and then went through the door to the take my place at the microphone to read cards and weather.

The morning host, who'd heard about half of that, said, "You seem like you're handling this pretty well."

I laughed and told her, "I'm a complete wreck."

Thursday, July 23, 2015

30 Days of Night in Charleston: two "The Grocery List"

Journalists hate math.

Most of us, if we were any good at numbers and figures would have gone into some other field. There's never been real money in newspapers --unless you were an owner.

Money at both papers had been stretched thin for as long as I've been there. The computer I use is pretty much the same one I've had since the I logged in the first time almost nine years ago. Only the monitor is different.

Christmas bonuses stopped before I arrived. Across the board raises ended not long after I arrived, but, for the most part, I've always looked at what was happening at the newspaper as part of the overall economy of the state. The housing bubble collapsed. The financial industry all but disintegrated. Oil went up then came back down. Natural gas wiped out coal. The whole country was in a deep recession, and West Virginia was getting her ass kicked.

The only people who seemed to be making any real money were the meth labs and the state kept trying to shut them down.

I heard a lot of blame pushed onto the owners --bad choices, bad investments. I have no idea and I know very little about the people who run the company now.

My experiences with them have been select, but memorable for me.

During my first year at the paper, the owner threw a Christmas party at her house --a horribly awkward affair. It was a muddy December. I wore boots and she had cream colored carpeting. The contents of her first floor were worth more than the purchase price of my Dodge Neon.

I remember standing awkwardly over a table, drinking Maker's Mark bourbon and struggling to make small talk with the owner's son-in-law. I just couldn't do it. I had no idea what to say. Neither did he. We just stood there, finished our drinks and then I ambled off to review a show at the Clay Center.

The owner's daughter, the current publisher, I mistook for a secretary once.

I don't know if they're any good at math either. What I do know is that we have 45 former Gazette employees and 35 former Daily Mail employees and they really only want about 65 Gazette-Mail employees.

Fifteen people have to go --ballpark.

Redundancies make up the bulk of the losses. Most of those will come from the copy desk, photography, sports and a maybe editorial staff --maybe.

At a rough guess, that's about 10 people.

The rest comes from general reporters, beat reporters, feature writers, wherever.

The company has a list of needs, of course. They need reporters covering the statehouse, city hall, education, health, business and crime. They need people who can do a little bit of everything. They need photographers and people who can lay out the pages.

Some people on staff now are probably protected. I have a hard time imagining the paper without about ten specific staff members. I figure they're safe. I also think people with unique positions, like the editor of the teen section, have little to worry about.

So, how do I fit in?

I don't know. I really don't.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

30 Days of Night in Charleston: one

I heard about the merger over the phone. It was Sunday evening.

The day before my girlfriend flew out of Charleston for Philadelphia --a trip I kind of envied her for because I don't travel much and even if she had to slog through four days of seminars and meetings, she still got to see one of America's most storied cities. She'd called because it had been a long day in a strange place amongst some people who didn't think so highly of where she was from.

West Virginia has a reputation for being backward, for being behind the rest of the country. This is not a new opinion.

Sometimes when I'm reaching for an angle in one of my entertainment interviews, particularly with comedians, I'll ask what they think of coming to West Virginia.

Most of them have never played here --at least, not the ones with names you'd easily recognize.

Now, they're always polite about the answer. They'll say they like coming to places like this, the boonies, because the best and brightest in the sticks buy all the tickets. The very nature of what they're doing requires, at the very least, an open mind, a certain amount of contemporary knowledge and maybe a willingness to hear something you don't necessarily agree with.

I remember Bill Marr told me, "People come and they look around the room and they can't believe there are that many people who are just like them!"

The place these comedians play in Charleston, The Clay Center, seats under 2000 people. They often struggle to sell the place out, unless it's Jeff Foxworthy.

My girlfriend called and we talked and she asked me, "So, what's this about your newspaper merging with The Daily Mail? Why didn't you tell me?"

I went, huh?

She repeated the question. I asked her where she heard that? I hadn't heard that. What?

Now, the possibility of a merger has hung over the workers at both papers for years --since the owners bought the Daily Mail, since the anti-trust lawsuit that everyone knew would eventually expire.

The terms of the lawsuit expired Monday at midnight, apparently, and the owner of both papers wanted to get on with what had been in the works for around a decade.

The skeleton staff working Sunday afternoon in both offices were gathered together, given the news and a plan was made to release the information in the next edition.

Things must have gone sideways. Ten years ago, you could maybe get away with that --maybe-- but these days, social media makes it oh so easy to leak information. From what I understand, the company started getting calls from outside the building, other news agencies were asking questions.

They'd already lost control of the story.

So, just before 5 p.m., an email was sent out explaining what was happening to the staff, but before 7 p.m. the story was posted on Facebook, where my girlfriend saw it and then called me.

After I hung up with her, I checked in with social media and my company email.

In the email, we were promised a meeting for information and to field questions.

Zack Harold did a great job of writing up exactly how that went down, but he probably had half a dozen sources in the room feeding him material. Reporters had their phones out. They were recording and they were texting non-stop.

The long and the short of what was said (and to no surprise to anyone) was the new, merged newspaper didn't need the reporters, photographers and editors of two newspapers. It just needed enough for one. This paper would be much larger than the previous two entities, but it still didn't require all the manpower.

Some of us were going to have to go and this was going to happen soon. Very soon.

Those of us who wanted a shot at staying needed to reapply for our jobs.

We were told this was fair, that it put us all on equal footing. The logic used to explain how it was fair and how it put us all on equal footing never really seemed to connect.

Each of us would be need to prepare a resume and a cover letter stating which job we were applying for and go into detail about why we should be chosen. We would also interview before a panel that included the managing editors of the former two papers and the publisher/owner. This was where we could make our case.

Nobody likes this. From the looks on the faces of the two editors seated at the front of the room, they didn't like it much either, but this was what they'd been committed to. This is what we've all been committed to.

Jobs will be posted in a little over a week from now. We will have about a week to turn in our resumes and cover letters, and then come the interviews.

We're all at least a little scared. I'm scared. There's nothing to be done, however, but work and prepare.