In February 2017, I was part of a round of lay-offs at The Montreal Gazette. I had been a Gazette employee for 22 years, mostly as a visual journalist and designer. This article is a personal reflection a month following my departure:
The rational mind
When I deal with any stressful situation, I find I rationalize… a lot. I’ve done it all my life. So rationalizing has helped me cope with years of buy-outs, cut-backs and lay-offs as my former workplace (The Montreal Gazette) went from being a Southam paper to being owned by Conrad Black’s Hollinger, then bought up by CanWest, then owned by Postmedia.
The HR employee I met with last month told me that when she began working at The Gazette 9 years ago, there were about 1,000+ employees. Today, it’s fallen to below 100. I’ve heard that the security guard at the main door has a similar employee list, growing ever shorter.
The shake-up began (at least for me) — around 2012, when I was asked by my then-supervising manager to write a list of my duties as a designer. I did. It was a 3-page list of what I did in one day. It sounded snarky. Like, here’s what I do — see if you’ll find someone to do all that! When I look at that list today, I am astounded I managed to do all that in one day… and yet, I did. Now, I realize, lots of that work has been centralized or absorbed by another employee. But a lot has also just been dropped. Who needs another graphic that’ll take half a day to create, require a designer, a reporter, an editor?
So, I rationalized — It’s about creating efficiencies and centralization. Newspapers are getting killed in an industry thrown into turmoil.
Technological change has nudged newspapers out of the picture — younger and younger (then older and older) generations are leaning ever forward and staring more and ever harder into their mobiles. They don’t read newspapers, never mind pay for them anymore. So, advertising revenue is dropping and digital revenue… well, that’s something else, isn’t it? What’s a Newspaper to do?
I watched that supervising manager take a buyout, and then 2 designers leave, along with so many other Gazette journalists.
Then, in 2014, a shift to a new corporate mindset: the 4-platform model was announced. La Presse had rolled out its new La Presse+ tablet version and well, we’re going to go digital now, aren’t we? Better yet, Postmedia promised to offer news on all 4 platforms: Mobile, iPad, Web, Print… And it became exciting again! How were we going to do it? Who knew? All the way to the Launch Date (October 21, 2014), there were so many unknowns. I began working on the iPad team as one of the 3 designers onboard, along with 2 editors, 2 producers, and a fearless leader.
It was great! We pumped out reams of great interactive iPad pages, beautifully designed and well edited. It was the best work I’d ever done — and it lasted exactly one year. They killed the iPad app on the anniversary date it launched, exactly one year to the day in fact. The iPad app reverted to a static feed.
I rationalized again — Tablet sales were sliding, no one was picking up our app, and it was taking up too many precious resources to maintain.
The Gazette’s iPad team disbanded, and we went back to our previous jobs. Our fearless leader on the iPad team took a buyout, along with a group of others, because, of course, there was another round of cut-backs.
Except this time, in late 2015, there wasn’t a sense of excitement. The change we were sensing within the Newsroom was one of foreboding dread. But I tried to keep my chin up even as my own role changed from designer to project manager.
This isn’t so bad, I rationalized. I’m taking on social and content marketing, and developing project management on the side. But why did it feel WRONG?
It felt wrong, because as I made yet another “what I do” list for a second, then a third supervising manager, I found I was no longer doing much of anything that resembled design or journalism. The newsroom’s new focus to “Digital First” seemed logical (wasn’t every media heading there?), but with so many cuts happening to the Paper, how we could maintain the Journalism necessary for content to be created?
So, when the last round of buy-outs came and went, and then a round of lay-offs was announced, I was not totally unprepared when I was called into the Editor’s office and handed a brown envelope.
“We tried to save your job,” she said. “We couldn’t. I’m so very sorry.”
So now, this is how I rationalize what’s happened—All these buy-outs and lay-offs are giving employees a chance to chase their dreams, away from journalism, away from newspapers. Who needs all that stress! Look at that post-Gaz glow! Aren’t they better off, thrown into early retirement, a second career, another life? Aren’t WE all better off?
So this is what I say now, a month after being handed my lay-off notice, and two weeks after having stopped work. The bags filled with my notes and bric-and-brac from work are still siting in the corner of my office basement. I’ve been to numerous lunches, dinners and hugged too many times, with “I’m so sorry,” whispered into my ear or the more cheerful “You’re on to better things now!” clap on the back.
Right now, I’m a bit raw, a little tender. So, I’ll let my rational mind take over to give me a little time, because even though getting canned sucks, I know it will get better. And I truly am excited about getting that “post-Gaz glow” and facing my next adventure!
April 2017: A month after writing this post, there have been more cuts in Postmedia, most notably, 54 cuts in the Vancouver newspapers (Story here and some tweets from the staff so poignantly compiled here). The Globe & Mail’s recent article took a look at how all buyouts and layoffs have affected the bottom line in that company. Despite all the cuts to my former newsroom, there are still excellent journalists covering the news at The Montreal Gazette. Don’t count them out yet!
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Visual Journalist & Designer. Formerly of the Montreal Gazette.