This week marks the fifth anniversary of the end of my newspaper career. Early in the afternoon, the publisher walked into my office and told me he was laying me off. He gave me two choices: I could leave immediately and receive two months' severance pay or I could work through the end of the year and not get severance pay. Pretty easy choice. I worked through the end of that day, came in and worked all of the next day and carried my pictures, personal papers and mementos to the car and left.
The newspaper business was falling apart in 2008. I was not the first layoff that fall, and I would not be the last. One colleague got her walking papers the same day I did. Others would follow, particularly older, more experienced, higher-paid, loyal workers.
My second decision was almost as easy as the first. I would not leave Wilson, where we had lived for nearly 30 years, raised our children and settled into a home we loved. My first reaction to the publisher's news was, "I'll lose my house." I spent a month or more catching up on household maintenance that had been ignored as I worked long hours, and I turned to thoughts of what I'd do next. I wanted a new career, not just a job. I made a couple of stabs at self-employment, starting an editing, writing and public relations agency, or starting a free newspaper or news website. Neither came about, and at the end of my severance, I went on unemployment, which proved sufficient to pay the mortgage while I diligently applied for jobs within commuting distance of Wilson. I turned down an offer to edit a daily newspaper, because it would have demanded moving to the city where the paper was located. A newspaper editor has to live in the place he's covering. As my wife, whose job was supporting both of us, pointed out, "There's no point in both of us starting over."
There were hard times, times when I doubted my worth, regretted my 33 years in the newspaper business (29 years at one newspaper), and wondered whether my family and friends would be better off without me. When I finally got a job, a year after the layoff, I put all of that behind me and tried to learn new ways to be useful and make a difference in the community.
Five years later, I am especially grateful to the many former colleagues and old friends who contacted me to express their shock at my fate and to reassure me that I deserved better. Those kind words got me through the worst moments of that year when I fell into despair.
People have asked me whether I miss the newspaper business, and I tell them honestly, yes. It was an exciting, stressful, time-consuming, and often fun time, getting to follow closely the events in the community, getting to know some interesting people, and trying to make sense of the world for readers.
But that world no longer exists, and I am content with where I am, grateful for the past but eager for the future.