I won’t forget the date. It was Feb. 13, a Wednesday.
Editor Sean Scully brought the newsroom to a halt, announcing that we all needed to stop what we were doing and go to the conference room.
I stiffened. Impromptu all-hands-on-deck meetings are almost never good news.
Davis Taylor, our publisher, was seated at the head of the table. Like sheep fearing the slaughter, we gathered round.
The deal was this: For economic reasons, the Register was offering six of 18 editorial employees at the Register and the Upvalley weeklies a financial incentive to retire now.
Who were the six? Anyone over age 55 with at least 10 years of service.
Whoa! My publisher was talking about ME.
My heart raced, my head spun. I felt caught up in a journalist’s version of the rapture.
The offer was portrayed as humane cost-cutting. Takers would get two weeks pay for every year worked, with a maximum of 26 weeks.
I couldn’t process this information unemotionally. My brain latched on the thought that the company’s real goal was to oust me. Me who was 72 years young. Loyal me in his 47th year with the paper. Had they no decency!
Only back at my desk did I begin to look at the situation more broadly.
On the plus side, I was being offered a half year of severance to go home and do NOTHING. How great is that!
Another happy thought: With all that walking-around money, I could lounge at coffee shops for the rest of my life.
But there was a disturbing flip side: As a person without hobbies or even the barest outline of a plan for what to do in retirement, my ouster would probably kill me.
I waited until evening to share the drama with Cheryl. I half expected her to embrace unplanned retirement. Aren’t house husbands in vogue these days?
Cheryl was not pleased. What could I possibly do at home? Did I expect that she would retire now too?
Perhaps I can reinvent myself, I said. There’s a lot of life I’ve never tasted, books I’ve never read. Maybe I’ll become Creepy Coffee Shop Guy Who Talks to Strangers.
Cheryl cringed. Keep doing what you love, she advised. Retire when YOU think it’s the right time.
While I appreciated the vote of confidence, the situation called for strategic thinking. If I didn’t accept the company’s offer, the Register might lop me off later without compensation.
Twenty-six weeks’ pay now seemed better than the prospect of nothing down the road.
We decided I would play my cards close to the vest. I’d wait a week or two and see what fellow coworkers in the crosshairs did.
I slept poorly that night. I was facing an existential threat. If I’m not a journalist working in a busy newsroom, who am I?
As I left for work the next day, Cheryl and I confirmed our plan: Do nothing impulsive.
I held that thought for one hour. Then the minute Sean arrived, I went into his office, closed the door and spoke my truth.
I’m not leaving, I declared. I don’t care if you fire me this summer with zero severance. I like my job too much to abruptly walk away.
I don’t know how I expected Sean to react. Hugs?
What I got was a non-reaction. I couldn’t tell if he approved of my decision or if I was making life difficult for him.
It didn’t matter. I left Sean’s office a happy man.
My journalism career is not forever. My life is not forever. I get that. But there is no life-beyond-the-home activity more compelling than what I’m doing right now.
The 45-day decision period for early retirement ended April 1 with photo editor J.L. Sousa and executive sports editor Marty James — both newsroom stalwarts — accepting the company’s offer. J.L. left in mid-March, Marty will depart in early June upon his 40th anniversary with the paper.
That ended newsroom downsizing, at least for now.
In the wake of all this, those of us who remained counted fingers and toes and took deep breaths, then went back to doing what we always do. The news-gathering machine never stops.
We had papers to put out.