Talented Friends, Former Colleagues Hurt by Dallas Morning News Layoffs

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Tuesday started off with uncertainty and ended with confusion and loss. In yet another round of layoffs, The Dallas Morning News lost several talented reporters, photographers, copy editors and more.

Though I was only in the newsroom for three months last summer, I met countless journalists who befriended and coached me during my internship. Many of these great journalists were laid off Tuesday, even despite their years of hard work and dedication.

Sure, news organizations lay off people who may not be performing well, but the journalists I know who were laid off were committed to the craft, proving that newsroom layoffs these days are far less about poor performance and much more about a news organization’s need to survive.

I wonder, though, how one of the country’s largest papers can manage to continue to survive after losing so many of its key players. I’m not saying it won’t stay around, just that it’s going to be a lot harder for the paper to produce quality work when its journalists are stretched so thin. Such is the case with too many papers nationwide.

We say that these papers will have to do “more with less,” but really, they’re often forced to do “less with less.” Journalism contest judges I’ve talked with say the quality of work submitted seems to have diminished throughout the past year, in part because there just aren’t enough resources to dedicate to long-term projects. In a Poynter Online article this week, for example, Kenny Irby said that judges in the NPPA contest “boldly withheld winners in a few categories rather than embracing the ‘good enough’ attitude that has plagued online journalism.” Good work is still being done, though, even if it’s harder to come by.

What doesn’t seem to be hard to come by is newsroom camaraderie. It might not be evident on a daily basis, but just look at journalists’ Facebook pages after a round of layoffs and you’ll see what I mean. This is how I kept track of who had, and hadn’t, been laid off throughout the day.

In many ways, social networking sites are transforming the way journalists vocalize their reaction to layoffs and buyouts, and the way others respond to them. Some DMN journalists came right out and said they were laid off in their Facebook statuses. Others said it had been a “good run,” while one simply wrote “–30–“. An editor wrote: “If you’ve ever had to say goodbye to dear friends, as they are headed down to HR, and all you can do is hug them, hold on to them for one more second, in tearful silence, because nothing you say can possibly change anything, and all you can think about are these newsroom treasures, slipping away, along with the laughs and craziness and the great stories — then maybe you will know what this day is like.”

Colleagues wrote thoughtful posts on these reporters’ and editors’ Facebook walls, reassuring them that their futures would be bright.

The Dallas Morning News lost a lot of bright stars Tuesday. I’m confident, though, that wherever they end up — in journalism or not — these stars continue to shine.

(Here’s a piece I wrote about layoffs at The Dallas Morning News last fall.)