IN 2007, a mean-spirited robber baron bought an important american media company with money that wasnt his, in a deal that no responsible anti-trust division would have permitted. over the next two years, hundreds of journalists were laid off from the LA Times and other newspapers. in october, i became one of them. departing with me were the deeply talented writer lynell george, the best editor i’ve ever worked with (maria russo) and many others.
i was given a few hours to clear out my stuff and get out of the building. i was offered a measly two months severance pay and — thanks! — free career counseling at the onset of the worst economic downturn since the 1930s.
earlier this year, after the company declared bankruptcy, another wave of layoffs hit, taking my other favorite LA Times editor, craig fisher, with it. today is yet another wave, which has already felled the talented reporter tina daunt. (the LAT now has less than half the staff it did when i was hired in ’02. let me point out too that the tribune executives who sold the chain and let the paper fall behind walked away with golden parachutes in the tens of millions.)
one of the most salient explanations i found to this madness was contained in louis uchitelle‘s “the disposable american: layoffs and their consequences.” this excellent 2006 book, by the veteran new york times economics and labor reporter, looked at the phenomenon in historical terms. what he finds it that the huge wave of american layoffs is not inevitable — a natural way of responding to the up-and-down cycle of prosperity — but rather the result of years of legislation favoring big business. if the laws are written for the corporations, they will see the people who work for them as disposable. (and they have.)
some of the layoffs in LA and elsewhere, of course, have to do with the slumping economy and the collapse of newspaper’s income source. even the new york times, as was announced yesterday, may be doing some serious laying off. gourmet magazine just closed.
for now, i’m praying, in my agnostic way, for my friends and former colleagues.