Much to Be Lost, and Gained, During Times of Uncertainty

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

There are times when life seems defined by uncertainty. Will my house sell in this market? When can I get that raise I was promised? Will I have a job tomorrow? These questions become all the more prevalent during tough economic times, when financial instability creates worry, angst and a “Why this, why me?” mentality. I suspect many journalists who were laid off at The Dallas Morning News last Friday are struggling to find an answer to this question.

Even those who have stayed are left wondering how much longer they can survive in a “dying profession.”

“Are you sure you really want to go into journalism?” a colleague asked me the other night, a touch of cynicism in her voice.

“Call me crazy,” I said, “but yes, I still do.”

Despite the layoffs, the cutbacks, and the low morale in newsrooms nationwide, I still believe in journalism. I believe in the power of this profession to create change, to give voice to the voiceless and to bring clarity to uncertainty. Journalism is a noble profession that the world needs to be informed and enlightened. I do worry, though, about the quality of journalism, and how the continuous cutbacks will affect the work that news organizations do. Will there still be room for long-form narratives? Will news organizations have enough money to train their journalists? If the veterans leave, who will the younger, less experienced reporters turn to?

On Friday, I saw several talented journalists leave the Morning News, some of whom have been in the industry for decades. Their 25-plus years at the paper ended in an instant. Goodbye. Cubicles once cluttered with newspapers, candy wrappers and family photos are now empty. Something, it seems, isn’t right. Something is missing.

The layoffs created a void that seems to be growing in newsrooms nationwide. It’s a void that isn’t getting filled, and probably won’t be filled in the foreseeable future. I was hoping to bring a ray of sunshine into the newsroom, but I joke that I brought a rain cloud with me. Buyouts were announced on my first day at The Dallas Morning News, and layoffs happened on one of my last days. I don’t regret accepting an internship at the Morning News. In fact, I feel honored to have interned at the paper and lucky to have learned so much while I was there. Being at the Morning News during such a tumultuous time in the industry forced me to work hard despite the low morale and to latch onto the gifted editors in the newsroom who still want to produce good journalism despite the doom and gloom.

More than anything, it’s the holes I worry about. The missing people, the lack of enterprise, the inability to dedicate ample time to stories that need to be told. It’s the uncertainty that has me wondering what the future holds for those still in journalism and those who have left, either by choice or by force. The storm can’t last forever, the pain of reality won’t always hurt this bad. Will it?

I felt reality’s sting when I heard that one of my role models in the newsroom had been laid off. He was gone before I could say goodbye. I wanted to send him an e-mail, but I didn’t know if his work e-mail address had been deactivated yet. I searched for him on Facebook to no avail. I hoped to get his contact information from an editor this coming week but, as fate would have it, I ran into him at Border’s Sunday night. He was sitting in a bright red chair reading a book, seemingly calm after just having lost a job he held for almost 15 years.

I greeted him with an “I’m so sorry,” unsure of what to say.

“It’s OK,” he said. “I’m dealing with it as best I can.”

We talked about how layoffs suck, how at least initially, there’s no other way to describe them. They hurt our financial situations, our egos, our families. But we also talked about how the pain they bring can be turned into positive energy — energy to do the things we’ve been wanting to do but haven’t had time for. The reporter said that now he’ll have more time to watch his young son grow up. He’ll have time to put down his reporter’s notebook and pick up baby bottles and diapers. He’ll have time to be a dad. Another colleague who was laid off wrote on her Facebook profile that she can now work on the novel she’s been wanting to write, spend time with her grandkids, and put Obama signs in her yard because “now nobody can fire me for it.”

In this time of uncertainty — with the upcoming presidential elections, the difficult economic times, and the struggling journalism industry — the need for stability seems more important than ever. As much as we’d like to have stability, though, I don’t think we ever truly find it. We rightfully try to hold onto whatever stability we can find, but like sand in a clenched fist, it eventually falls from our grasp. It seeps back into the ocean, and like the water that ebbs and flows, it comes and goes. The challenge, it seems, is to find the beauty within the changes and the instability, to realize that happiness is a gift that comes in all different shapes and sizes. It’s the foliage that fades into winter. It’s the cat that sleeps on our pillows when loneliness lies beside us. It’s the sense of nourishment we get not from food, but from relationships that make us feel whole.

The reporter I talked to seemed content, but he acknowledged toward the end of our conversation that no matter how hard we prepare ourselves for something, reality’s repercussions still sting. He spoke about being angry and hurt. Who wouldn’t be? Then he held up the book he had been reading. It was simply titled “Happiness.” A yellow smiley face adorned its fluorescent pink cover.

He, like so many other displaced journalists, seems to be working toward finding joy in new nooks and crannies of life. I admire him and all the recently laid-off journalists for their years of work, and for their willingness to embrace change in times of upheaval and uncertainty. I hope that wherever they go from here, they find happiness.

What has your experience with layoffs been like?

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