Been There, Done That and It Hurts Like Hell

Somebody once told me that you weren’t truly a veteran of the news business until you had been fired. I’ve been thinking about that ever since the news came that WMC was lowering the boom on 15 employees.

I was let go from a news job once and let me tell you that it was an experience that I didn’t want to repeat.  If that’s part of character building then I would rather do without the added character.  I thought I was doing a good job at that station and I was told it was part of budget cuts.  I was one of about a half dozen people let go and it was around the Christmas holidays as well.  As I have stated before, there’s never a good time to announce that you are getting the axe but there are worse times.  And as The GM has pointed out, the end of the budget year just happens to coincide with the holidays.  It’s all about ……timing.

When you get the boot there is an immediate feeling of helplessness and self doubt.  What could I have done differently if anything?  Did I not see the warning signs?  What will I do now?  What do I tell people who ask?  Maybe I’m not cut out for this line of work.  O went through all of that.  Turns out my wife still loved me, my dog still wanted a butt-scratch and the world continued to turn.  Life goes on and it did with me as well.  I got another job in news and got to see another part of the country, made new friends and shifted to another part of life.  That kick in the ass was a step forward.

What I came away with was that sometimes bad things do happen to good people.  Sometimes nothing you could have done would have made a difference.  Stuff sometimes just happens.  Just as someone has to be lucky enough to win the good lottery with lots of money and sometimes someone has to win the bad lottery with the prize being not so pleasant.  These days it’s tough out there.  Sometimes your number just comes up.  I heard a TV weather guy describe the news  business like this:  All newsroom employees have a termination date etched into their forehead and only the GM and News Directors can see that date. If you like what you do make yourself as valuable as possible so that date gets blurred a bit.  Sometimes even that doesn’t help.  Sometimes you win the bad lottery.  If that happens, just remember, “Bad things do happen to good people”  and that a “kick in the ass is still a step forward”.

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8 Comments on “Been There, Done That and It Hurts Like Hell”

  1. The GM Says:

    Insightful and well stated.

    I think these threads have grabbed my attention and elicited my comments because the whole process is so damn disruptive. There is not a GM out there who says to corporate “hey, let’s cut my headcount so we can do more with less.” Equally so, there is not a person who has been laid off who immediately says “hey I understand and this may be the best thing to happen to me.” It is all just a rotten side of business in a horrible economic environment.

    I love my chosen profession but in times like these I realize we’re not necessarily in broadcasting as much as we are chasing a number for an investment banker. This too shall pass and those who see the “kick in the ass as a step forward” really will be better off in the long run.

    The GM

  2. Doug Johnson Says:

    “I’ve looked at life from both sides now…”

    I was fired from my first real reporting job, which was in radio… and I had to fire my predecessor in my only go-round as a TV news director. Both suck, but you still have a paycheck coming when you’re doing the firing.

    I’ve been watching this trend for a couple of months now, reading news of firings in NewsBlues and FTVLive. It doesn’t seem like there are fewer commercials on TV, but there must be if all these stations are pleading poverty to the point of having to turn to drastic cuts. You’d think that the seemingly never-ending political season would have provided a buffer for stations running all those attack ads – but apparently not.

    I suppose I was lucky; I was only out of work a short time when I was let go from the radio station. And of course, there was a karma bump a few years later, when my GM fired me from my news director job.

    And while we’re usually of one mind on things (that’s why it seems so crowded in my head), I’ve got to say that to me, a kick in the ass is often only that.

  3. the tall tv guy Says:

    A very good entry, Joe. This one is one of your best. I may be biased because I’ve been there as well and have learned the lessons you shared. After some time passes you learn to weather the storms and appreciate the good times. Don’t take them for granted.

  4. joelarkins Says:

    As always, thanks to The GM, the tall tv guy and Doug. I’ve only worked for one person who truly had a mean (some might even say a cruel ) streak who might derive some pleasure from letting someone go. I’ve also worked with a couple who just qualify as “bastards”. The others were just doing the job they needed to do. If I had been in their shoes I would have had to do the same thing. That’s the nature of the beast.
    Doug, I love it when you channel Joni Mitchell. Yes, sometimes a kick in the ass is just that. But you can dwell on it or you can move forward. Sometimes it’s easier to dwell on it but rarely does anything positive come from that.
    Tall TV Guy, you mention NOT taking the good times for granted. I think that’s one of the reason I generally tried to treat people the way I wanted to be treated. Sometimes despite my best efforts there would be someone who just wouldn’t play nice (IMHO). But NOT taking the good times for granted is a great piece of advice.
    Regards to all.

  5. Kate Says:

    Regarding the layoffs of the WMC anchors, I’ve heard some in the community speculate as to whether there was some effort to make things appear even. In other words, the layoff of a black anchor made it necessary to lay off a white anchor (or vice versa).

    I’m not totally convinced that this drove the decisions but there is this feeling out there. The public doesn’t know the demographics of those laid off behind the scenes but with on-air personalities it’s different.

  6. Lew Says:

    We’ve seen newsrooms across the country laying off in recent weeks. One thing I’ve noticed in many cases, there’s not much reference to revenues being down (although I’m sure many fell short of projections), but instead talk of “positioning” themselves “in anticipation” of the revenues in the coming year.

  7. The GM Says:

    Gross revenues are down as much as 20% and near term revenue projections are abysmal. Therefore expenses are being pared. Most television stations are still profit machines. The problem is when your company is over leveraged, declining revenue means a smaller profit margin than what was promised to the lenders. The dictate goes out to cut costs.

    One more note. Once things do eventually turn around, don’t expect stations to bloat back up. VJs, multi-tasking, etc., are here to stay.

    The GM

  8. jsmey Says:

    Just saw the WUSA in Washington is going to vj’s or mojo’s (mobile journalists)
    one-man bands are here to stay and will become the norm rather than the exception.
    But while many reporters and photogs will hate that move plenty, what’s really going to stink is when salaries are cut while duties are increased.

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