The words started trickling in via Facebook, email and texts after the first 7:30 a.m. meeting today at The Times-Picayune offices on Howard Avenue.
TP employees are learning their fates in a series of one-on-one closed-door meetings today — who will be offered jobs with the new company replacing The Times-Picayune, who will get severance packages. The gauntlet-walk before and after, in front of newsroom colleagues, must seem miles long.
Is there anything more humiliating than a public execution?
The one person who isn’t on hand – and, in fact, has yet to show his face in the TP newsroom, according to sources there – is Ricky Mathews, president of the new NOLA Media Group, which is replacing the newspaper. The new company will concentrate on the Nola.com website and publish a newspaper reprinting online stories only three times a week.
Those of us who have left our TP careers behind can only stand by helplessly today as friends and colleagues of years learn if, come fall, they will have jobs.
The first to go early this morning was a longtime copy editor who, ironically, has been overseeing online content for the past decade. When she burst into tears at the news, the supervisor in charge seemed unprepared, and had to duck into the ladies’ bathroom for paper towel.
And yet, a counselor had been brought in and stationed on the first floor, presumably for grief counseling.
Next to get the severance verdict was an investigative news reporter with six years’ experience. Hadn’t the powers-that-be promised continued, forceful investigative reporting online?
The ax continued to fall. A talented writer who posted bright daily features online about entertainment (isn’t that what the new company is promoting?) left the building in tears. A bureau reporter who joined the paper about the same time I did, who shared in the Pulitzer for Katrina reporting, who selflessly took whatever new assignments she was given …. gone. A friend in Special Sections, who has turned out decades of lively Mardi Gras sections, laid off.
Suburban desks and community news departments seem to be being dismantled. Some of their employees have been told they can reapply for new positions. Available jobs with the new online company, they are told, will be posted Wednesday night. Salaries and benefits TBD.
Other employees have been told they have guaranteed positions with the new company, although the new jobs won’t necessarily be the same as the old. Descriptions have been sketchy.
Those who are in are mostly relieved that they will be working. And even many of those who didn’t make it say they are simply relieved it is over. The past three weeks have been hell.
At Friends of The Times-Picayune, a closed group on Facebook, postings are a mix of news, good wishes, a few job leads and sympathy. But perhaps the most moving sentiments come from those who didn’t fare well today.
They showed a classiness that was missing in those behind that public gauntlet.
They are proud of the work they have done. They cherish the people with whom they have worked. They are determined to make new beginnings, and to continue to make a difference in the world.
They can take away the job, wrote one, but they can’t ever take away the memories and bylines.
As I write this, my cell phone keeps dinging. New texts with new names from friends standing helplessly on the sidelines, as am I. In. Out. Out. In.
Pain. So so so sorry.
I hope, at the end of this long, sad day, that New Orleans will end up with more than memories and distant bylines as evidence of its daily newspaper — and the talented men and women who breathed life into it.
Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie.