For weeks, I have dreaded Fridays at the Chicago Tribune. Friday was the day that folks got tapped on the shoulder or called at home to tell them that they had been laid off. The company is going through a “reduction in force” to help keep the lights on. To pay the bills, employees have been used as collateral. So far, nearly 80 in the newsroom have been put on the block.
The fear of working with an ax over one’s head is enough to drive anyone mad. I tried my best to be a reassuring voice in the midst of it all.
We each had our own logic about how it would go down. There were talks of employees being taken to off-site locations to hear that it was curtains. Others feared that they would take an elevator ride to the balcony, be given the news, and then forced to jump.
Then it happened. I got tapped. It was on a Friday. One of the managing editors caught me while I was in the middle of editing a story for the Web. He said, “Emeri, do you have a minute?”
I knew. In one quick flash, my whole journalistic life passed before my eyes.
I thought about my days as a cub reporter at a small paper in Louisiana. I thought about how I spent my first day as a copy editor editing stories on 9/11 at Newsday. My mind drifted to the five years I spent at the Baltimore Sun. Then, I thought about how proud I was every time I walked into the Gothic Tribune Tower and how finally I was happy with my job. I loved my co-workers and the paper. I wasn’t stressed. Now, 11 months after reaching euphoria, it would all be gone.
I walked slowly to his office and took a seat. With no compassion or a hint of emotion, he looked at me and said, “Your position has been eliminated.” Just like that. I felt like I was just a faceless person on the “Older Worker Benefit Protection Act List.”
He didn’t care that I came to work nearly an hour early each day to get ahead. He didn’t know that I was the person who made that big catch in a story about a little girl’s death that made him so proud. Nor was he concerned that I worked my way up the chain to get to the mothership.
At the end of the day, I was just “Editor, Subject Asst. Age 30.” I was handed an envelope with my name on it. And, after a brief talk, I placed my badge on his desk and walked out of his office. I could take being fired. At least when you are fired, you know that you have done something wrong. However, when you are laid off without any rhyme or reason, it is much harder to swallow.
Maybe he thought I would finish my shift. I didn’t. I said goodbye quickly to the metro editor, logged off my computer, placed my nameplate in my bag, and left. Mama always taught me to never let them see you cry. I chatted briefly with a co-worker outside the building and hailed a cab. Once inside, I became human again and cried.
I informed my mother that the nightmare I had the night before about losing my job was now a reality. She reassured me that God didn’t bring me this far to leave me and that everything happens for a reason.
I got home at 10:50.
I slowly pulled out the blue folder and arranged each bundle neatly on the floor.
There was a ton of mind-numbing paperwork to sort through, and I couldn’t even wrap my mind around it. I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer and realized that while my position had been eliminated, I wasn’t. I had two degrees and was an adjunct professor at Columbia College. My ultimate goal was to make the transition from newspapers to academia.
I just didn’t know my path would shift so abruptly.
A simple e-mail to my supervisor at the college turned into a blessing in the storm on that dark Friday. I wrote not asking for a job, but to just inform her of my situation. She gave me more classes to teach. I guess it’s true that when God closes a door, he opens a window. At 10:15 Friday morning, my position was eliminated. By 5:30 Friday evening, my other position had expanded.
God was putting me back on track to making my goal a reality. I cried again. This time not because I was broken, but because I was made anew.
But that’s not how the story ends. God opened another door for me.
Soon after I left the Tribune, I was contacted by an editor from Microsoft. I interviewed for an editing position with MSN.com and I got the job. The folks at Columbia College were very understanding, even though I was conflicted about it. But they encouraged me to take it. So, after losing my dream job, I walked into a bigger blessing that I could not have foreseen for myself.