Category Archives: Unemployment

Wait! Isn’t that one of my campaign tweets?

One of the many occasions on which we spoke out about this very thing...

One of the many occasions on which we spoke out about this very thing…

Just saw this, which gave me flashbacks:

Man, how many times in the last few months did I say or type — in Tweets, on Facebook, in press releases, in statements to reporters — some variation of “Some of the best jobs in South Carolina are threatened by the tariffs that Henry McMaster refuses to take a stand against?”

More times than I care to remember…

Not gonna say we told you so… not gonna say we told you so…

More about those job-killing tariffs Henry won’t stand up against — but y’all don’t care about that, do you?

beamer

As Levon Helm said as Jack Ridley, All right, y’all — here we go again.

The P&C brings us twin stories today about the continuing ill effects of Trump’s tariffs — up to which McMaster will not stand (I’m nothing if not grammatical). Of course, they’re doing what anyone with any understanding of the way the world works would expect: threatening some of the best jobs in the state:

I’m not going to repeat myself. I’m just going to refer you to this release, and this one and this one and this one, and then stop there, because you’re probably not even following the links to those.

But yeah, we told you so.

And what did reporters keep asking me about? The next ad buy, or when some yahoo who plans to run for president in 2020 might be coming to South Carolina…

Here we go again, y'all...

All right, y’all — here we go again…

The last group picture

Last shot

Phillip and Kathryn have already remarked upon a version of this photo, on Facebook. Said Phillip:

Brad looking extra cool and laid-back there off to the side, showing the youngsters how it’s done.

This was on Saturday. It was the last time campaign staff were together in headquarters. We had cleaned the place out. Or rather, everybody else had cleaned the place out and I had helpfully watched them do it.

I was more helpful on Thursday, when we had dismantled and removed most of the furniture. I went through every sheet of paper in the random heap on my desk — actually, a bare-bones table from Ikea — and then dismantled the table, and left the pieces on the front porch where presumably someone was to pick them up. And did some other stuff, but mainly dealt with my own particularly chaotic space.

But when I got there Saturday, I was late, and everyone else seemed to have a task, and before I could get my bearings we were done, and posing for pictures. (The group you see above is more or less the core staff, with a volunteer or two. Some people who played a major role are missing, such as Phil Chambers.)

It wasn’t a total waste, though. Managing to look cool in the picture is in itself an accomplishment, right?

I’ll have more to say about the last few months, about what preceded the cleaning-out. But I’ll probably unpack it randomly, as a picture or a word or something in the news reminds me. My mind is still decompressing at the moment. All those months of intensity at an increasingly faster pace, culminating with those eight days and nights on the RV — it’s going to take time to process.

In the meantime, there’s the last picture. There will be more. I shot thousands… Below is one (that I did not shoot; this was done by a professional) showing some of the same people the day Joe Biden came to Charleston.

Between those two was the most intense part of the experience. The Biden thing seems in a way like yesterday, and in a way like 10 years ago…

Biden group shot

 

Stop trying to lower my non-expectations!

Of course, there are some jobs I wouldn't take no matter how well they paid.

Of course, there are some jobs I wouldn’t take no matter how well they paid.

As you know, back when I first got laid off, I signed up for all kinds of job-tip services — and I still get emails from most of them, all these years later. Sometimes, they are a great source of amusement, considering some of the jobs for which they think I’m just perfect.

One of the many is a service called “Ladders.” It’s one of the least realistic in terms of jobs to which I’d be suited. But I signed up for it anyway, because it supposedly specialized in jobs paying six figures and more. Why lower my standard of living, I thought, right after losing what may have been the last journalism job in South Carolina that paid well?

Of course, the universe of jobs that pay that well is limited, so the jobs the service lists tend to be from a wide variety of fields, including many very far from my experience and qualifications. Some are really interesting: For instance, I frequently see positions for “executive assistant,” which makes me think, Really? Being a secretary pays that well now? What do their bosses make?

But today, I saw something disturbing — an email from Ladders headlined, “Jobs that pay More Than $80K.”

What?!? No-no-no-no-no. If you’re going to show me jobs that I’ll never get anyway, then make them super high-paying ones. In fact, since the whole enterprise is so unrealistic, from now on I only want to see jobs paying at least a million a year.

Stop trying to lower my non-expectations. You might discourage me…

Tim Kelly on how he got fired by DHEC

Do y’all remember Tim Kelly, pioneer South Carolina blogger? He was one of a number of folks who gave me pointers back when I started this nasty habit in 2005. His blogs, in his case from a liberal Democrat’s point of view, included “Crack the Bell” and “Indigo Journal.”

He sort of quit blogging there for awhile and tried going legit. He worked at ADCO competitor Chernoff Newman for quite awhile, then became chief spokesman for DHEC. Which lasted until he posted this on Twitter a few weeks back.

As he says now, in a blog post:

Its not the worst thing ever said about Donald Trump. It’s not even the most profane thing I’ve ever said about Donald Trump.

Tim Kelly

Tim Kelly

But he said it on the official DHEC Twitter feed, thinking he was on his own account: “But, oops, wrong browser window, and I was toast.”

Yeah, I’ve done that myself. Just not with such, ah, explosive content. In fact, that’s why I recently purged my iPad Twitter app of a couple of client feeds I had been managing. I’d discovered that occasionally the app would just spontaneously flip over to one of those other accounts without my knowing it. Which is kind of scary.

But Tim’s experience far exceeds any cautionary tales I can share from my own experience.

Ironically, Tim was surprised again by Twitter — he had forgotten that his long-dormant blog was set to post the headline and a link to each post automatically.

I say “ironically” because Tim was the guy who originally taught me that was possible. In fact, he’s the guy who talked me into going on Twitter. When I asked him why on Earth I’d want to do that, he said, “To promote your blog.” And then he told me how, and I started doing it right away.

Anyway, Tim thinks he may be onto a new line of work that he will find more personally rewarding than what he’s done in the past, even if he doesn’t get rich doing it. I hope that’s the case…

John Oliver on the plight of newspapers

I had trouble finding time to watch this, and if we wait until I have time to comment on it, I’ll never get around to posting it. I have actual work to do.

So… I urge y’all to watch it, and comment, and I’ll jump in and join you later.

I’ll just say that the piece is well-done, and accurate. The truest thing Oliver says is when he indicates that no one has figured out a good way to pay for the journalism our society needs going forward (now that print advertising, which used to be like a license to print money, has essentially gone away). In other words, he says a lot of things I’ve said before, in a less entertaining matter. (My Brookings piece, for instance, wasn’t crafted for laughs.)

That’s the truth, and the tragedy. One can make fun of all the media executives who are trying various stupid strategies to keep going, but the indisputable fact is that no one has come up with the right approach yet…

My piece for the Brookings Institution

When I returned from Thailand, I had an email from Elaine Kamarck at the Brookings Institution:

1477344_10152268988702708_889340808_nI’m reaching out to invite you to contribute a short essay for our FixGov blog at the Brookings Institution. FixGov focuses on new ideas to make government work and identifies and aims to solve the nation’s most pressing political and governance challenges with sensible and realistic solutions.

A major thematic focus area of the blog and our work here at Brookings is improving media capacity.  Given your expertise, I welcome you to author a blog post for an upcoming series that will explain the current state of media in America and propose solutions for reinvigorating the industry, improving local and national news coverage and bolstering media oversight. The series will begin in mid- to late-Spring…

I sort of wondered how they got my name. I learned that, as I had suspected, E.J. Dionne had mentioned me. Which I appreciate.

Anyway, I proposed a topic to them and sat down and wrote it a couple of weekends back, and today it was published.

My topic was the decline of mid-sized newspapers, and why it matters — in terms of not being able to perform (as well) their watchdog role on the state and local level. After mentioning the ironic juxtaposition of the Charleston paper getting a Pulitzer on the same day more staff reductions were announced at The State (which happened after I chose my topic, but gave me a timely peg), I elaborated:

That matters because midsized papers have been the watchdog on the levels of government that most affect our lives. We drown in political news, commentary, gossip and minutiae out of Washington, but there’s no such informational vitality at the state and local level. When there are less than a third as many of you as there used to be, and you’ve added the 24/7 churn of web publishing, it gets hard to do anything more than feed the beast. Enterprise suffers….

And then I got to this point:

So, with newspapers shrinking and blogs unlikely to replace them, who is going to watch our state legislatures and city halls across the country? Increasingly, no one. Or worse, the wrong people…

That’s when I got into the fact that it was great that the S.C. Policy Council stayed on the Bobby Harrell story until action was taken. But I found it disturbing that an ideological group that doesn’t want to tell us where its money comes from was playing a role once played by broad-interest newspapers supported transparently by the ads you saw every day.

But you know what? Just go read the whole thing. Then, if you like, come back and we can discuss it further.

Corey Hutchins writes about buyouts at The State

Yesterday afternoon, Corey Hutchins called me to find out what I knew about the latest round of staff reductions at The State. I pointed him to my report two weeks ago, and chatted a bit about what I had learned since then. Beyond a few names, I had little else to say to enlighten him.

Corey’s report was just published by Columbia Journalism Review. And for me, the most pertinent part is the names of the longtime colleagues:

A number of entries disappeared from the paper’s online listing of newsroom staff between Thursday and Friday, though it was not immediately clear whether all the changes were related to the buyouts. Some of the names not on the current list include features reporter Joey Holleman, education and religion reporter Carolyn Click, associate editor and editorial board member Warren Bolton, photojournalist Kim Kim Foster-Tobin, sports columnist Ron Morris, and sports writer Neil White, who had been with the paper nearly 30 years.

Investigative reporter John Monk, who has deep sources in the legal and law enforcement worlds, is still listed, as are veteran environmental reporter Sammy Fretwell, business and military reporter Jeff Wilkinson, and longtime newsman Clif LeBlanc….

I had already told y’all about Warren and Neil, the only two I had confirmed of the dozen I had tentatively identified. Nothing in Corey’s report contradicted anything I had heard. I will say that some of the people I’ve heard are leaving are still listed on the newsroom’s online roster. Maybe I heard wrong; I don’t know.

Today is Warren’s last day. Here’s the only notice I’ve seen of that in print, at the end of his column today:

Editor’s Note: After 29 years with The State, the past 18 as a member of the editorial board, Mr. Bolton is leaving the newspaper. His insight and his journalism have enriched our community.

Kind of makes my farewell tour from the paper — three columns on the subject, a whole day’s letters to the editor, and multiple blog posts — look like an extended display of narcissism, doesn’t it?

My thoughts and prayers are with those leaving, and with those staying behind, from the top of management to the lowest folks on the totem pole. They’ve all been fighting a tough battle for years, and it just got harder for most of those left behind.

I’d love to be able to help, if I could.

Yes, indeed. Everyone needs an editor…

This is old — posted in 2014. But I just saw it, and I can’t help chortling:

Copy editors are a necessity in any newsroom, but sadly, the positions are slowly disappearing.

Recently, Gannett sacked a hefty amount of editors from its various titles across the nation, and the decision appears to have affected the top dogs. Gannett U.S. Community Publishing President Bob Dickey’s second quarter newsletter, released Wednesday, contained a major typo: Gannett was misspelled….

Did you see it? That’s right. Gannett did not sack a hefty amount of editors. That’s impossible. They sacked a healthy number of editors.

Of course, my enjoyment of this is tempered by the fact that I am a one-time copy editor, since laid off…

How much weight should we give to bad jobs news in SC?

tumblr_inline_ne0b8ni5Iw1r3abgt

The state Democratic Party has been sending out a steady stream of bad SC jobs news as a way of undercutting Nikki Haley’s big strength — the narrative that, whatever else you think of her, she’s done a good job of recruiting jobs for the state.

I’ve been inclined to ignore these, because, let’s face it — companies are always going as well as coming, or shrinking as well as growing, and you can’t disprove a trend with anecdotal evidence.

Also, you have to wonder how seriously the party takes these bad-news announcements, since on the “Haley’s Smoke and Mirrors” website, they accompany each one with a cutesy GIF, like the one above. As a guy who’s spent a good bit of time unemployed after being laid off, I find myself wondering what’s so funny about these situations. Even if the overall trend in SC is good, each of these items is very bad news for some individual South Carolinians.

But in the last few days, the sheer volume of these news items has worn away my doubts to the point that I’m wondering whether this is an unusually bad streak of developments.

I don’t know. But you can peruse them at the website. And here are the headlines of the last 11 such releases I’ve received, over just the second half of this month:

  1. PTR Announces Layoffs One Week After Haley Visit
  2. SC’s economy slows, jobless rate jumps
  3. S.C. foreclosure filings above national average despite 11% decrease
  4. Jobless rate now highest in state
  5. S.C.jobless rate up to 6.6 percent in September
  6. Bi-Lo to cut jobs at former Mauldin headquarters
  7. Heinz to close Florence facility employing 200 workers
  8. Truth Check: Is SC’s economy ‘one of fastest growing on East Coast’?
  9. 200 to lose jobs as Orangeburg plant closes
  10. Major Upstate employer announces relocation to NC
  11. GE Prepares Global Layoffs, Some Greenville Jobs Affected

OK, one of those is out of place — Jobless rate now highest in state — since some part of the state will always be the highest in the state, regardless of how good things are. But the other 10 provide a fairly steady drumbeat of actual bad news.

Now, here’s a HUGE grain of salt: These were not real-time announcements. They were from over a much-longer period of time than the dates of the releases would indicate. Some weren’t even from this year. So consider that.

By the way, did you make the connection on that first one? That’s the gun manufacturer that caused our governor’s eyes to light up so…

Nikki gun

Explain to me how these are ‘public relations director’ jobs

 

PR 2

As I’ve mentioned before, back when I was job hunting after being laid off, I signed up for a bunch of services that were supposed to send me tips on jobs that were relevant to my skills and experience.

I’ve continued to get those emails, and they are often entertaining.

This one service, The Ladders, which specializes in placing executive-level job seekers, regularly sends me messages with the subject line, “Public relations director jobs for you.” I especially like that personal touch, the “for you” part, don’t you? Just for you; I didn’t compile public relations director jobs for anyone else but you…”

I’m not sure how The Ladders decided that that was the only type job I wanted, but it’s really fixated on it. I get an email like this from them every week or two, sometimes more often.

Here’s the thing, though — not once have they sent a tip on an actual “public relations director” job. At least, not since February, which is as far back as I’ve been saving them.

In addition to that “Commercial Escrow Officer” gem above — which in no way bears any relationship to anything on my resume — The Ladders has in recent months tipped me to the following “public relations director” opportunities:

  • Sr. Electronic Engineer / Support
  • Air Compressor Technician
  • Executive Assistant
  • Supervisor Meeting and Special Events
  • Executive Director
  • Military Analyst Lead
  • Veteran Arabic Levantine Linguist Analyst
  • Veteran Arabic Iraqi Linguist Analyst
  • Video Production Specialist
  • Army Mission Command Program Analyst Senior

What makes this worse is that The Ladders is really selective in what it sends me. Other services send me lists of 25 or 30 job openings at a time, many (but not all) of them just as irrelevant. But The Ladders picks one or two at a time especially for me!

And yeah, I see the thing that advises me, “To improve your matches, consider editing your job goals.” But I have no idea what username and password I set up for that service five years ago, and would it really be worth it? It obviously ignores the input from me it has now.

This would all just be a hoot if not for the fact that there are algorithms just as bad as this one screening resumes and rejecting them before they are ever viewed by a human. I’ve had plenty of experience with that. When your last job, the one you held for many years, is “vice president/editorial page editor,” if the prospective employer is anything other than a newspaper, their algorithm isn’t going to have a clue what to do with you. It takes a human to think, “Hmmm, here’s a guy who knows his community, knows the movers and shaker in both politics and business in the state, and has writing and other communications skills that could translate well to what I need…”

So forgive me if I don’t laugh uncontrollably at the fact that these programs are even worse at matching me to a job than Netflix is at figuring out what kinds of movies I like…

Ben Hoover’s account of what happened at WIS

For those of you following this ongoing story, Ben Hoover posted this on Facebook last night:

Here’s what I want you to know.

Right now, I don’t have a new job and I need to make sure future employers and my community know why I was led to believe that my place at WIS was secure.

I’ve worked in TV 15 years. I understand and accept that stations have the right to not renew contracts. Especially in situations when ratings might be down or the employee did something wrong, or both sides couldn’t reach a salary agreement. None of those issues applied to me. In fact when I asked why my contract wasn’t being renewed station management assured me I had “done nothing wrong.”brgnP616_400x400

Please allow me to explain what I meant when I said that I was caught off guard. News management had recently slated me to do a follow up to “Hope in Hard Times” this coming November, after my current contract would have expired. They also planned to have a co-anchor with me in the field at Oliver Gospel Mission. The week before I learned my contract would not be renewed I taped station promotions that historically have run for several months. We were far along in the search for a new house. My children were enrolled in school for the fall. That’s why I walked in with a folder with long-term contract options for management to consider. But, I never had the opportunity to open that folder. There were no negotiations. It was made clear that management did not wish to renew early on in that discussion and that I had “done nothing wrong.”

My first contract with WIS was 5 years. My latest contract was one year in length. In both cases, both sides had to agree to terms. Some anchors choose longer contracts. Some choose for even shorter than one year. It’s a personal decision. Never was I told that a one year contract would pave the way for my exit. In fact, we agreed to come back together and discuss longer term options. If I entertained potential advancement within the company, never did management indicate or communicate that it would mean I would not be renewed. I have documented on multiple occasions my happiness with my co-anchors at WIS and my openness to calling Columbia my forever home. And, never in discussions did they indicate that my future at WIS was not an option. In fact, I got a very different response.

I truly appreciate the support from the community. It helps tremendously to keep me going in this short amount of time I have to find a new job. So, from where I sit today, I cannot afford to let vague comments, including those by others outside of the situation and not privy to the details, leave an impression that what happened was something that I did or it was just a parting of ways. That’s simply not true.

My announcement last Thursday was in line with how I was trained, my high standards of journalism, and with what’s been a big part of my career – doing the right thing. Viewers don’t deserve to be caught off guard or wonder for weeks where someone they’ve seen for 6 years has gone. And, nobody deserves to get half of the truth. I’ve always put the viewer first. That’s what I will continue to do. And, it is possible to do that while still being a loyal employee.

I don’t know where my next job will take my family and me. I’ve been put in a position to consider anything and everything. Right now, Columbia is home. And, in order to move on both professionally and personally I needed to fill in some blanks so that there would not be any questions that could negatively impact my family or my pursuit to find another job.

The Ben Hoover reaction

Suddenly, Donita Todd, general manager of WIS-TV, seems to be the least popular woman in town.

As you’ve probably heard or read, she’s bearing the brunt of viewer rage over the sudden departure of anchorman Ben Hoover.

Hoover announced the move thusly:

After 6 years of anchoring and reporting at WIS, this Friday, July the 4th will be my last day on the air. Recently, I was informed by station managers that they did not wish to renew my contract. Like so many other anchors and reporters in the past, I wish I was in a position to announce the next opportunity for my family and me. But, to be honest, I didn’t see this one coming. So, as we like to say on the news, you’ll have to stay tuned. And, maybe say a little prayer for my family and me.brgnP616_400x400

One of my closest friends shared this with me in the last few days: “If it’s not fatal, it’s not final…and, if it’s not final, it can be fruitful.” That friend is Judi Gatson. Working side by side with “JG” has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career and life. Judi, Dawndy, Papa Joe, John, Ben, Rick and my core group of “news hounds” here will forever be like family to me. I will miss them like crazy.

Some of the stories I’ve covered over the years have been very heavy and hard to tell. A dad living on the streets after every corner of his life crumbled. The young parents in a fight and race to save their precious little girl. A military mom smiling through raw pain to ensure her son’s legacy (and dimples) aren’t forgotten. All of them, and others, facing down some of life’s greatest challenges. But, what’s always stood out to me is the one common thread that ties them all together – hope.

So, in the name of the dig deep, do good, work hard, “never give up” spirit so many of our viewers have shown me over the years, I say — HOPE is a pretty doggone good thing.

After Friday, you won’t see me on WIS anymore but please stay connected on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and email hoov11@hotmail.com. I promise to do the same. Judi Gatson Dawndy Mercer Plank WIS TV John Farley Ben Tanner

After two or three days of protest, the station put out this statement yesterday:

During the last several days much has been posted on social media about Ben Hoover’s departure from WIS news, much of it erroneous.

However, we simply cannot engage in a public conversation regarding details of Ben’s departure from WIS TV. It is a private personnel matter.

We sincerely thank Ben for his service to the station and the community and wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors.

We also want to thank our viewers for their concerns and comments regarding this matter.

We can assure you that WIS remains fully committed to the excellence you have come to expect from this television station over the last 60 years.

Based on the response to the statement on Facebook, that oil has done little to calm the troubled waters. Some examples:

  • “You got rid of the wrong person. Donita Todd needed to go.”
  • “What part of the comments were “erroneous”? The part that the viewers want him back? That he and Judi were good together? That he put his heart into his work – walking to work in the snow, living with the homeless? Again what part was erroneous?”
  • “I don’t own a Bull. I never have. But I do know what a bull does several times a day. And this smells just like it.”
  • “Excellence is not a word to be used in any way by WIS. You did not allow him OR Judi to anchor the final broadcast. There is NOTHING excellent about that. Rest assured your other employees are planning an exit, because the station has lost it’s moral compass.”
  • “WOW!! I have read through many many discussion forums in my life…NEVER have I read through one where all the comments from the public voicing their opinion are all in agreement!!! The viewers have really spoken and come together on this one! WIS really should re-think their decisions on this one!!!!”

As always, I hate to see a guy lose his job, but there’s an emotional core to this protest that I’m having trouble understanding. Was there this kind of outpouring when David Stanton left? Maybe there was, I don’t recall — I was sort of busy with my own stuff at about that time. Maybe y’all can enlighten me.

Anyway, it must be some comfort to Ben to know he was so appreciated. I hope so.

Thoughts? Observations?

The resignation of Gen. Shinseki

In better days: Gen. Shinseki congratulates Strom Thurmond on his 100th birthday.

In better days: Gen. Shinseki congratulates Strom Thurmond on his 100th birthday.

Well, we certainly knew this was coming this morning, didn’t we?

It was reported that Eric Shinseki had issued an apology for the mess in the V.A., after which he was headed for a meeting at the White House. You just sort of knew he’d be coming out of there without a job.

Which is what happened.

It’s a shame for Gen. Shinseki’s distinguished career to end this way. Or rather, his second career. He had risen to the top of his profession by being good at his job. He was the guy who was right about Iraq when Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush were wrong. He, like Leroy Inabinet, is a man of honor who deserves to be remembered that way.

But today, he felt compelled to do something men of honor have done since ancient times: He dutifully fell on his sword.

For his part, the president implied that he didn’t think the V.A. scandal was Gen. Shinseki’s fault:

Obama paid tribute to Shinseki, telling reporters that he arrived at his decision to accept the VA chief’s resignation because of Shinseki’s “belief that he would be a distraction from the task at hand.”

“He is a very good man,” Obama said. “He’s a good person who’s done exemplary work on our behalf.” He said Shinseki concluded that “he could not carry out the next stages of reform without being a distraction himself.”

“I think he’s deeply disappointed in the fact that bad news did not get to him,” Obama said. “His priority now is to make sure that happens, and he felt like the new leadership would serve our veterans better, and I agreed with him.”…

It’s interesting to contrast this with the way things played out with Kathleen Sebelius. She presided over a major systemic failure, probably the greatest embarrassment this administration has faced, considering how large health reform loomed in its legend. Yet she was allowed to stay until it was obvious that things had gotten better, and then quit.

The WashPost yesterday demonstrated the difference between the two cases in a graph, showing a statistical difference in terms of calls for each secretary’s resignation. The dam burst on Wednesday. And there was a qualitative as well as a quantitative difference. This time, Democrats were saying he had to go.

Dang. When you’re on your own, you have to think so HARD

So this morning, I was trying to post a quick reply to something Doug had said, and I was trying to think of a word. I was trying to think of a word for considerations that exacerbate a situation (I never have trouble remembering “exacerbate,” because, you know, it sounds dirty).

When I was at the newspaper, I would have gotten up, walked next door to Cindi Scoppe’s office, and said, “I’m having trouble remembering a word that should be easy. What’s the opposite of extenuating, or mitigating, circumstances? You know, like committing the offense within the context of another crime or something.”

And she would have said, “aggravating,” and I’d nod, say “of course,” and go back and type that, assuming I didn’t get distracted on the way.

But without her and all those other people to check with, just sitting here blogging alone (is that redundant?), I had to think of it all on my own, which took several seconds.

Having to remember stuff on your own is hard

Remembering teachers for what they did to (I mean, for) you

Had to reTweet this item from The Onion today:

Unemployed, Miserable Man Still Remembers Teacher Who First Made Him Fall In Love With Writing

AUBURN, CA—Explaining that she introduced him to the literature that made him the man he is today, 41-year-old Casey Sheard, an unemployed and fundamentally miserable person, confirmed to reporters Tuesday that he still fondly remembers the high school teacher who first inspired him to fall in love with writing. “Mrs. Merriman was the one who put a copy of The Sound And The Fury in my hands when I was 16 years old, and it totally changed my life,” said Sheard, who has reportedly been unable to hold down any semblance of well-paid, full-time employment, constantly struggles to stay financially afloat, has thus far failed to make a living off of writing as a career, and has frequently spiraled into long periods of severe depression and unhappiness….

A couple of other word guys liked that. Mike Fitts just added, “Yep.”

You’re a good man, Jim Hesson. Hang in there…

Jim Hesson was possibly my best friend on senior staff at The State, except for Warren Bolton. He was the paper’s IT director. Actually, we called it “I.S.,” for “information services,” and Jim lived that. He was helpful, patient, competent, and had a great sense of humor.

Jim Hesson

Jim Hesson

I still remember with embarrassment the time we were all riding up to North Carolina in a van for a senior staff retreat. He and I talked and joked back and forth so constantly that the person sitting between us finally offered to move, so that we would stop talking across her. Which made me feel bad that we’d been so rude. But I always had a good time talking with Jim.

The purpose of that trip, by the way, wasn’t to talk business. It was to go whitewater rafting. Holly Rogers, the life-loving soul who was then our human resources director, had this idea that to work together effectively, people should sometimes have fun together (another year, she dragged us all out to Frankie’s Fun Park). I would grumble and complain and pass critical remarks about these outings, and fret about the work waiting for me, but once there, I would throw myself into it and have as much fun as anybody. Those were different times.

Back to Jim Hesson. Today, Jim posted this on Facebook:

Yesterday morning I was having my quiet time on the train heading in to work. I was praying that God would give me clarity about my job and if it was time to seek another position. After I got in I was called in to a meeting where I was told my position was eliminated , along with a number of others in our IT dept. So God did answer my prayer, just not in the way I expected. God is good. And I know He can be trusted in all things.

I am so sorry, Jim. But I believe your faith is well-placed. You got an answer; it’s just not going to be an easy one to accept. May you soon see clearly the next steps on the path before. That’s the hard part — wondering whether that next opportunity will ever come. The good news is that you’ve got the right attitude about it.

I am deeply impressed by Jim’s honesty in sharing this. I wasn’t like that. Oh, I shared a lot — far, far more than most people who are laid off do. Thousands upon thousands of words, in my last columns and on the blog. On the first day I didn’t have a job to go to, I stood up in front of the Columbia Rotary Club and cracked jokes about it. And I didn’t lie about anything.

But it was superficial, stiff-upper-lip stuff. It was never gut-level. Not that I meant to mislead; I was just so busy figuring out the next step of each day that I didn’t plumb the depths of what I felt. In truth, of course, I wasn’t feeling on a deep level. I wouldn’t fully realize at the time how much I was losing. The grief of losing the job that paid me well to do what I do best is something that has unfolded itself gradually over a period of years. At the time, the bad feelings were offset by relief that I would no longer be the one laying off, and then having to figure out how to do the job going forward, without those good people. I quickly got over the rush of anger that I felt in the moment I got the news. I refused to dwell, even in my own mind, on how it felt to tell my wife and family.

And I certainly didn’t share private communications between me and the Almighty. In any case, they would have seemed rather incoherent and repetitive, not elegant and direct like what Jim shared.

It occurred to me to keep a journal, maybe write a book, about what it was like to have reached the pinnacle of what you wanted to do for a living, and then have it all taken away in an instant, just as you’re stepping into your peak earning years. And about what happens next. It would have relevance, in that year of 2009. (And today as well. How many people out there have never regained what they had? The unemployment figures don’t tell you that.) But I thought, what a bummer that would be — I certainly wouldn’t want to read such a book, much less write one.

Now, if I wanted to go back and write something like that, I’d have trouble assembling the details. I’ve just forgotten so much of it.

In any case, what could I write that would be as powerful as what Jim did?

You’re a good man, Jim Hesson. I know God will bless you going forward…

Finally, a perfect job fit for me!

Back during my long period of unemployment, I signed up for a number of Internet services to help me in the job hunt. I still get emails from them.

Today, I got one that claimed, “An employer or recruiter on TheLadders just posted a job that matched with your profile.”

Exciting news, eh?

What was the job? Vice President of Logistics for Belk. An excerpt from the description:

This position is responsible for planning and coordinating domestic transportation and retail DC operations and includes operational and fiscal responsibility for these activities.  He / She will take a strategic leadership approach and will be accountable for creating plans to develop and integrate the capabilities of the organization in line with the current Supply Chain Mission.  The VP of Logistics ensures that internal and external customers receive the highest level of service, makes decisions that maximize the operation’s performance and cost metrics, and builds strong associate work teams with a positive work environment…

Yeah… that’s me all over.

This would be mildly amusing except for something else I know… algorithms that are no more sophisticated than the one that saw this as right up my alley are making decisions about who will get interviewed for jobs and who will not. I don’t know how many jobs I got rejected for before a single human being had looked at my application, but I assure you it would be a depressing number.

Sun-Times lays off entire photo staff

Fellow former newspaperman Burl sent me the following link yesterday, along with the message, “We got out just in time:”

Chicago Sun-Times cuts entire photography staff

The Chicago Sun-Times and its sister suburban papers have eliminated their photography staff and will ask the papers’ reporters to provide more photography and video for their stories.

Managers at Sun-Times Media Holdings LLC, the Wrapports LLC unit that owns the papers, told the photographers in a meeting this morning that it was cutting their jobs, according to people familiar with the situation. The number of full-time workers affected is about 20, but including part-time employees, it could be closer to 30, they said.

While the company, which has been trying to revive profits, still will hire professional freelance photographers for coverage, it will increasingly rely on reporters to take photos and video to accompany their stories, the sources said…

And I responded to Burl, No, actually, YOU did — you found a great job right up your alley (in an awesome location) and quit BEFORE you got laid off. Me, I got the same treatment as these photographers…

Just for the record.

There should be nothing new about reporters having to take pictures, although for some I’m sure it’s been a shock in recent years. Hey, I was usually my own photographer when I was in a rural bureau back in the late ’70s. I did a pretty good job, too. But it was always nice to have a photographer along. For one thing because, you know, some (but not all) were better photographers than I was.

But it also was helpful to double-team a source. If I was interviewing someone and needed to pause to get a picture, the person tended to tense up and look self-conscious. Whereas a photographer could get good candid shots of the subject while I was distracting him or her.

Also, it could be handy to have a partner along in a dicey, remote situation. One photog I worked with, for instance, carried a gun in his glove compartment. Just in case.

And you could learn things about people while out on assignment. Once, a photog whom I will not name but whom I had known for years and years went out with me to report on a train derailment way, way out in the boonies in West Tennessee. It had gone off a bridge over a creek a good distance from any road. We were going to have to leave the car and hike maybe half a mile over fields that had close to a foot of new snow on them.

He said we should both put on hats, since a person loses so much of his body heat through his head. I agreed — who wouldn’t? We both had knit caps. I put on mine. I didn’t realize he was building up to something. He hesitated. He said, “If you ever tell anyone about this, I’ll kill you.” About what? I started to say… and then he pulled off his hair.

I had had no idea.

Anyway, I swore I’d never tell, he put on his hat, and we set out.

Months or years later, one of the old hands in the newsroom made some casual remark about how that photographer was so sensitive about his baldness.

I said, incredulous, “You know about that?”

She was surprised at me: “Oh, everybody knows about ____’s rug.”

But I digress.

Anyway, photographers are useful (and sometimes entertaining), to have around. So I’m sorry not only for the individuals who just lost their jobs in Chicago — believe me, folks; I feel your pain — but for journalism. The craft just got even poorer.