Monday, October 11, 2010

A decade of freedom

news26What a real newspaper newsroom looked like, The Indianapolis News, circa 1968. And, yes, that’s me.

Ten years ago today, I was driving from my condo to The Indianapolis Star’s Metro North Bureau in Carmel.

It was my first day back at work after the Oct. 5 death of my mother.

I called Maria on my cell phone and said, “I think I’m going to quit today.”

“You don’t have the nerve,” she said. “I dare you.”

Well, I did have the nerve. I walked into the office, sat down at my desk and called the human resources department.

“I’m quitting, as of today. What do I need to do?” I asked the HR woman.

She looked up my information and offered, “I see you turned 55 three months ago, so you’re eligible for early retirement with a reduced pension.”

“OK. I’m retiring,” I said. “Do I suffer any penalty for not giving two weeks’ notice?”

“Do you ever expect to need a recommendation from The Star?”

“Hahahahahahahahahaha! No, I think a career of 33 years kinda speaks for itself,” I replied.

I think this is the point where I noticed everyone in the office was looking at me in stunned surprise. I’d talked about bailing several times in the preceding months. Gannett bought the paper months earlier and their style of management by fear, coupled with contemptibly inept middle management had sucked the last bit of fun out of the job I once loved. My reading of my mother’s will and my conversation with our attorney the day before made it clear that I’d been handed a parachute.

So that was it. I got a couple of cardboard boxes and filled them with my stuff and was home within an hour.

The first thing I did when I got home was to call the circulation department and cancel my subscription to The Star. (Employees were required to subscribe.)

I like to think my seemingly bold move encouraged my fellow sufferers. Over the next 18 months, practically everyone else in the Metro North Bureau retired or took a job elsewhere. I think the only people who stayed were relatively new to newspapering and had never worked on a paper where it was done right. Those of us who had worked for years at The Indianapolis News before the merger with The Star, had a love for the newspaper business that made us feel incredibly lucky to be journalists. We thought it was the best job in the world – you get to go to interesting places, find out about fascinating stuff and tell other people and actually get paid for it.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have gotten into journalism at a time when copy editors still kept a bottle in their desk drawer, the news room was filled with the clatter of typewriters and wire service teletypes and the haze of cigarette smoke, and you could saw off a coworker’s necktie with copy shears and not get fired for it. (It really happened. Ask Bob Basler or Skip Hess.)

But real newspapering in Indianapolis died around 1995 and by 2000 The Star had turned into a newspaper factory where editors dictated what the story would be and reporters were tasked with writing it, whether the facts supported the original premise or not.

Time is the only irreplaceable thing we have and it’s criminally stupid to waste it doing stuff you don’t enjoy. Once you start making your decisions on that basis, your life gets a whole lot happier.

No comments: