Bad news about newspaper downsizing is easy to find, and now a cliche. However, I thought it would be interesting to put the carnage in human terms. In some cases, the downsizing has been a blessing. Reaction and attitude are important.
So. here are the tales of four colleagues of how life has gone since the newspaper business has been among those affected by the Internet.
Tony Barnhart, Atlanta: His severance package must have included a magic wand. Likely the nation’s most versatile college football journalist, Barnhart took a buyout from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2008. After 24 years at the paper, he feared being confined to covering one team instead of a variety of SEC and ACC football. But Barnhart’s list of coaching and media contacts is extensive, and therefore he is in high demand. He currently has six contracts: three with TV/Internet outlets of CBS Sports; Atlanta radio station 790 The Zone; the AJC itself (as “Mr. College Football” blogger, five days a week, 37 weeks a year); and a CSS TV show. He made 31 round trip flights to New York last year, and 2010 looks similar. Is he better off financially than before the buyout? Yes. The real question: Does he sleep standing up?
Diana McCabe, San Diego: Another who has hardly missed a beat. The Ohio State grad and avid runner was a business writer at The Orange County Register before trying non-newsroom work. Now, she has surfaced as the business editor down the road at The San Diego Union-Tribune. She’s also well connected. Husband Gary Robbins also was a reporter at the Register, and now is the science reporter at the U-T. Also, new U-T editor Jeff Light was the interactive chief at the Register for many years. She does it all; she disclosed in a Facebook post that she would be late for a morning run after working the night desk shift. As a former Union sports editor, I miss that newsroom and I also wonder how the Lahaina Beach House in Pacific Beach is doing.
Ray Melick, Birmingham, AL: He once was the authoritative voice of Crimson Tide football. To put this in perspective, I’ll offer a comment from Sports Illustrated a few years ago, in which then-Alabama coach Bill Curry’s minister said: “Is football in the South a religion? No, it’s more important than that.” But in the new journalism world, sleeping with the enemy is allowed. Melick took a buyout from The Birmingham News in May and now does public relations for British Petroleum. Yes, that BP. He contemplated moving to St. Louis — his wife has family there — but using the same skills on home turf makes sense. Melick works on a one-year contract and did 12-hour days while the famous Gulf oil spill was in crisis mode. (He provided me with this account of his work.) The main thing, he told me in an e-mail, is to be working and making contacts. “I know I’ve been fortunate,” he said.
John Newland, London: Some people are willing to go “across the pond” to find work. Newland, a Tennessee native and once a news editor at The Orange County Register, moved to The Washington Post in 2004. The Post has been downsizing, too, but Newland left on his own, feeling no pressure. He moved to London to get married; the couple did not want to move her three children away from their father. “Terrified,” he said of heading for Britain without a job in this environment. But he has landed a job as production journalist at the Financial Times, Europe’s leading business newspaper. In a recent Facebook post, Newland disclosed he was spending time at his in-laws’ house in the English countryside; part of the country house dates to the 16th century.
Yours truly: It has been an adventure since being among those downsized by The Orange County Register about a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I worked in the financial field for a while, and was an editor/reporter for a national B2B newsletter company based in California. Since moving back to Atlanta in 2007, I’ve become something of a poster child for social media, which has a great future. Stay tuned. (Updated 10/20/2010: I’m now involved with http://www.patch.com, an AOL company, as a local news editor in the Atlanta area. Boo yah!)