Piece of Cake

This week, I’ve noticed that reality — the down side of being unemployed — is beginning to ooze through the veneer of my happy job-seeking world.

In my 14th or 15th week of being unemployed as of the Houston Chronicle’s massive layoffs in March AND with only one more month of unemployment compensation to go without a benefits extension AND with no job prospects in sight, I was still optimistic, mailing out my resume and news clippings packages to a world of hopeful prospects, when I got an interesting call from my career transition team counselor.

 This poor counselor is from the career transition company hired by the Chronicle’s parent company, Hearst Corporation, to help the estimated 200 people laid off from the Chronicle in March, many of us well over 45 years old.  They were to help us, the company’s downsized,  get jobs in this downsized economy, show us — even former reporters with 30-plus years of experience — how to do things like interview wth people and, most importantly, how to “network.”

 Networking is a major concern of career counselors these days. I took the advice, started this blog, signed up with Facebook, LinkedIn, JournalismJobs.com, and about 30 other job sites and social networks to at least be on the cutting edge of the job search as I face this depressed economy still in a state of depression.  I am well networked.

 The counselor was very upbeat, as usual, even perky.  She asked me how things were going, and she patiently listened to my littany of woes and horror stories from the job-search front.  Then she asked if I’d  come to the last day of the Hearst-sponsored training to say goodbye to her and to other team members, as well as other still-unemployed people in the group, while enjoying some refreshment, “a little party,” she said.”

 Just what are we celebrating? While I found it commendable that Hearst cared so much for its former employees, some with 10, 20 years of service or more, that it hired this company to come in with job tips to help us face prospective new employers and new advertures on the job horizons, I had to decline the counselor’s invitation. 

 I love party hats and noise makers and calorie-ladened cake as much as the next gal, but I just had to pass.

 Of the seven phases of grief, I’m still well locked into  shock and anger. I suspect Hearst is throwing the party for those who haven’t found jobs yet and the team that didn’t help me or anyone else I know find one for the same reason it spent the money to hire the career transition team in the first place — to mitigate its own guilt in firing — excuse me, laying off — so many of its most loyal, hard-working and talented employees.

I don’t want Hearst to lighten its guilt load that I suspect it doesn’t feel, but should.   I want that company to feel every bit of pain and gloom and despair and anxiety for its future that I do for mine.

 I told as much to the friendly counselor who obviously still sees the world as a glass half full.  She told me a couple of weeks ago that if I wasn’t getting any nibbles from prospective employers, perhaps it was time for me to “bring some money to bear in the situation.”

What money, I asked.  My source of money seemed to dry up along with my job.  I don’t have the big investment dollars that would help to set myself up in a new company.  I might as well send a resume to Buckingham Palace for the queen job.

What, excactly, are we supposed to be celebrating? The phones that don’t ring? The e-mails not received?  The employers who have shown no interest in hiring people well-versed in a dying industry? The ads on Google about how citizen journalists can make a fortune by writing key-word-ladened copy for less than 20 cents per article?

People were laid off from the Chronicle after Hearst spent the Houston Chronicle’s revenues in trying to prop up its flagging, sagging newspapers around the country, after the company paid lawyers for its legal battles over ownership of its Post Intelligencer, and after — and I’m not making this up — the study of window treatments for the multi-million makeover of the Hearst Building in New York that includes an executive gymnasium.

 I’m looking at having to sell my house before the bank gets the idea of repossessing it. I’m looking at a bank account that won’t cover bills I accrued when I thought my hard work would pay off in job security until I was able to retire. I’m looking at a family who suddenly acts as if I’m poison because they think this is my fault, that I must have done something wrong, even though the Chronicle human resources people  told me and others who were laid off that it was “just a matter of crunching the numbers, nothing personal, no reflection on your work.”

 Nothing personal.  It’s the economy, stupid.

 I wish someone would come up with a forumla that would prevent companies from laying off people near retirement age, and another law that would keep people from acting like hard-working people who suddenly lose their jobs are all rotten bums who are intent on picking their pockets. 

While we’re at it, maybe somebody would find a way to bail out the profession of  journalism and keep the news industry, well the “media moguls,” anyway, from succumbing to bad management practices that are helping, along with a fickle public, to drive the nails in its coffin..

Cake?   No, thank you, Hearst.

 Eat THIS.

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9 responses to “Piece of Cake

  1. I agree, especially with the last part. I’m tired of the attitude that something must be wrong with you if you can’t instantly get another job (or 3)

  2. Great article. You strike a very good balance between charm and venom. How apt that your tagline quote is from Dorothy Parker.

    I have to wonder how much they paid the career transition company – was it worth losing an extra job for the cheery optimism they provided? (I won’t question the window treatments; they were clearly a good call.)

    Thanks for sharing this. I can’t help you find work at the moment – could use some help myself – but it helps to share.

    Or maybe it doesn’t.

    Either way, I enjoyed the piece.

  3. Hmmmm…sounds so familiar! Only I am one of over 600 losing our jobs, because our factory is closing down due to the economic downturn, and with us, too, it’s not personal- we are “an excellent team”, “competition to be feared”, and it’s “a matter of business”, numbers. We, too, have a career transition company helping us…teaching us to network, “tap the hidden job market”, write resumes, prepare for interviews.
    Only instead of a newspaper staff, we are a semiconductor fab….And, instead of a party with cake, we are having a picnic and baseball game….and my first week of unemployment begins after this week…I want to be optimistic and hopeful, but…Betty, you are scaring me!

  4. The worst of it is that the craft of journalism has now become “content production.” No one cares whether the writing is any good any more. They just care that it gets produced. Dow Jones is even hiring former investment bankers to do our jobs. Crazy. And we have no money to retrain. Well, time to rejoin the secretarial pool ….

  5. Hi Betty,

    Nice piece. I’m going the other way (maybe) – jettisoned from 20 years in finance/IT and having a go at the writing game.

    I’m churning out some of the key-word-rich copy for slightly more that 20 cents per article (I have my standards!) and dabbling in other bits and pieces which have more promise.

    While the sun is shining and the interest rates are low it’s pleasant enough, although the kids still mutter under their breath when I refuse to give them the money they ask for, despite knowing I don’t have it.

    I’d love to know where journalism is going, because there’s got to be a market for quality writing somewhere.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Andrew (in the UK).

  6. I’m so sorry this happened to you, Betty! I got out of newspapers in the early 1990s, though, because I could see that many of them were negative work environments, resistant to change and conforming to the Internet. I switched to public relations and was very happy, until I was dumped in 2003, despite having 10 years seniority.

    I’ve considering changing careers to marketing, but it’s all about number crunching, not writing. Most companies are hiring business grads to do marketing, which includes writing many reports. Where the heck do talented writers fit in, especially when, as Maddalen writes, the Web values content production, key words and SEO, not quality writing?

    I’ve been writing for publication since I was 15, but never have I seen a job market this insane, this harsh.

    God bless you in your search, Betty. Without my faith in God, I would have been lost a long time ago…

  7. Way to go. Great piece and hope everyone at the party ate too much cake……

  8. I love your final words — some bridges deserve to be burnt! btw: My outplacement service was also useless, but they didn’t have a parting party.

    Someone made a comment about ‘content production’ (‘content creation’ is more common is my circles) that I think is significant. I’ve been a technical writer for 30 years. I noticed when MS and others reduced their documentation from complete reference guides to installation brochures and online help that explains only how to perform the simple and obvious stuff. I refused when they told me to do the same. My profession is undergoing pressures similar to yours — pretty much dying; the jobs have been shipped overseas and quality is irrelevant, just so long as they have some kind of document to bundle with the product.

    People complain about the 20-cents per article blog jobs; I’m not sure if that is all they are worth because of their lousy quality, or if the quality is so lousy because it’s not worth caring about it for 20 cents. Then I look at the names of the authors and companies: ZDnet is willing to put their name next to this crap? This guy had a column in PC Mag for 15 years and he lets his name go next to this typo-ridden article with missing verbs??

    I used to think the high-level executives were the greedy buggers who should be shot, but these days it seems nobody cares anymore… (I’ve been out of work longer than you, so my depression and anger is deeper.) Unfortunately, I keep banging my head against the wall because I’m a man of principle.

    Advice from a fellow ex-sailor: a couple of shots of scotch and a batch of brownies helps a lot. 😉

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