Paul Oberjuerge header image 2

Journalism Layoffs and Quickly Reaching ‘Acceptance’

April 26th, 2017 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Journalism, Sports Journalism, The National

It’s called the Five Stages of Grieving, and professional journalists by now know it by heart.

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.

An interesting development in the grim business of companies firing large numbers of journalists, which has been a primary characteristic of the profession for more than a decade now … is how those being fired in 2017 seem to have vaulted the first four stages of grief and gone right to “acceptance”.

It says something rather brave about the people who were fired, but it also says something about the business.

Those first four stages of grief? A waste of time. May as well jump to the end and get on with it.

I noticed this today, in particular, when ESPN fired the eye-catching total of 100 journalists, and most of them posted their unemployed status on Twitter by using a remarkably calm and formulaic tone.

Here is one that was replicated dozens of times.

“After 5 incredible years, I was laid off today by ESPN. I met & worked w/ some great people & I am very grateful to ESPN for the opportunity.”

Fact of firing, number of years put in at ESPN, love for ESPN coworkers and managers and news product noted. Over and over and over again.


Even if we assume that whatever severance package set aside, for those fired, is contingent on the ex-employees not criticizing the company … more than a few of us would have gone off the reservation, a decade ago, with some angry gibes at people in power.

(This blog began, in 2008, a few days after I was fired, with a recounting of the process of leaving the business. That was back in a time when people might get peevish on their way out the door. Before HR departments refined their methods for dumping people, keeping them out of the office, etc.)

But, really, after all these years of industry contraction, the “acceptance” reaction is the way to go.

Don’t burn any bridges. Don’t look like a hothead. Because you may want to get back into the business, somehow, and pitching a fit as you are shown the door is noted by prospective future employers.

Still, it never ceases to make me a little queasy, reading about this stuff, especially when it hits people I know and have worked with and respect.

In a span of 11 days, the newspaper where I ended my full-time journalism career, The National, in Abu Dhabi, fired 40 newsroom employees, and then ESPN called them and raised them 60 by dropping 100 from the roster.

The moves by The National stripped the newsroom of many of its senior reporters, people who knew Abu Dhabi and the UAE.

Much of it perhaps could have been anticipated as the newspaper transitioned from generally indulgent government ownership to more bottom-line-oriented private ownership — which also struck some hammer blows at perks such as vacation days.

At ESPN, the company seems to have shed most of the people who covered leagues or individual teams in individual cities, almost like “beat reporters” for newspapers would have done.

These were print-like jobs, in how they were structured, and much of ESPN’s website was rather like reading a newspaper. Which I very much appreciated.

Most of those uncoupled were rarely on camera, but you knew from reading that they were covering the team like a print beat writer would — at the ballpark/arena/stadium early, checking in with sources, Tweeting, sending in notes, breaking news stories.

Not having those people will, I’m afraid, leave us with one less source of coverage for all major U.S. sports teams and athletes. Maybe just one or two are left, and we hope they can keep up.

ESPN’s moves apparently are linked to the Worldwide Leader losing 10 million subscribers, from a peak of 91 million to about 81 million, since 2013. The average monthly price for ESPN charged by delivery companies is $7.21, so multiply that times 10 million, then by 12 months to get annual revenue … and that is a lot of money the organization no longer takes in. It got harder, then, to pay the people who were sidelined today. (Even if ESPN is still making $5 billion a quarter in profit, per Deadspin.)

For those now unemployed, acceptance is one thing, optimism another.

Journalism lost a bunch more jobs unlikely to come back and another batch of careers have been interrupted, with spouses and families wondering where a breadwinner is going to get his or her next paycheck.

I feel badly for them.

Having gone through this, I can say with confidence that things will work out for nearly all of those fired over the past 11 days, and many will actually prefer their lives, two years from now, over what they were doing two weeks ago.

They have one advantage we didn’t have earlier in this century: They know the futility of dissent and can move immediately to “what comes next.”

Good luck to everyone.


0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment