When I got off work tonight, it’s simply amazing I did so with my job intact.
It won’t be for long.
To explain the predicament I find myself in, which should answer the question asked by this article, I need to take you back in time, back when I was a very young lad.
At 44 years old, I’ve held quite a few jobs. I began work at a young age, first selling newspapers when I was 8 years old to soldiers at Fort Knox, Kentucky. I worked twice a day, seven days a week. I would get picked up by a guy who had a paper route on the Army fort, he’d fill my paper-boy bag with Louisville Courier-Journal’s, and drop me off near one of the fort’s mess halls, where I’d sell papers at 10 cents a piece, to soldiers entering and leaving the mess hall, or coming and going from their barracks.
I loved the job, I got a free paper, and I always had pocket money, which at that age, came in handy to support my obsession for baseball/football/basketball cards, and junk food (Dorito’s and Pepsi). I stayed in the job for over two years, until my father received orders to go to Erlangen, Germany. Following three years in Deutschland, we were sent back to Fort Knox, my parents divorced, and my mother remarried, and we settled in the city of my birth, Dayton, Ohio.
Once there, from the ages 14-16, I had an easier, yet more profitable paper route, walking through my West Dayton neighborhood, delivering papers to houses. The money was much better this time around, and the price of a newspaper had jumped to 25 cents a copy.
And again, I loved the job, because, as a sports nut, the sports staff at the Dayton Daily News at that time, was seriously second to none.
I read religiously the likes of Cincinnati Reds beat writer Hal McCoy, sports columnists Gary Nuhn and Tom Archdeacon, University of Dayton Flyers and professional golf writer Bucky Albers, and Cincinnati Bengals beat writer Marty Williams.
I mention these guys because, little did I know then, I would eventually become great friends with all the above mentioned writers, and become a professional colleague. Note: I’ll never say I was an equal or anything like that, because those guys were the cream of the crop in the country, in my very biased opinion. But Hal McCoy, God bless him, would eventually be elected to the writers wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Anyway, back to what I was explaining before. I left my newspaper route when I was 16, because I got a full-time job working at the Montgomery County Adult Probation department. I worked there, until I enlisted in the U.S. Army at 18.
After three years on active duty, I got out, and enrolled in college, I also signed up to join the U.S. Army Reserves.
So, after having worked as a soldier, paper boy, law clerk, and even in a warehouse as a general laborer, my mom — my hero, by the way — was looking through the want ads in the Dayton Daily News, and saw they were advertising for a job opening in the sports department at my favorite paper. The job was a simple one: sports clerk.
I had no journalism training, was attending college to become a teacher, and was stretched thin taking classes full-time, working part-time at a warehouse, helping my mom take care of my baby sister, being an Army reservist, playing in competitive softball leagues, and yes, trying to have some semblance of a social life.
But, I wanted that job in the worst way. So, I called, got an interview, and to my incredible surprise, got the job. That was in July of 1989, my first year in the newspaper business. Back then, the industry wasn’t suffering like it is now, and I like to call it the good old days, because, quality of reporting still meant something.
But the main point is, my life changed, school took a backseat, and I quickly discovered I had a knack for the jobs necessary to become a well-rounded journalist.
Within six-eight months, I was the head sports clerk, still part-time, but working close to 40 hours per week, continued to get incremental raises (I never asked for one, if you could believe that), and was learning anything and everything about the business. I was paginating sports pages (mainly the scoreboard page), a key cog in our prep sports coverage, and began to get writing assignments, which at first, terrified me, but with great teachers like the ones I mentioned earlier encouraging me, training me, and helping me by telling my bosses I should be doing more and making more money.
After a couple of years — and one roadblock as my reserve unit was called into action during the first Gulf War — I had made a name for myself, had become an important member of the staff, and when a full-time job opened up at the Piqua Daily Call as a hard news reporter, I went for it.
And got it.
I worked there for four, brutal months. My boss at the time was just like a drill sergeant, as tough and challenging as the real drill sergeants I had encountered in the Army. Which was exactly what I needed.
He taught me to be a bulldog. Chase stories, build sources, shake things up (if needed), turning me into a hard core journalist. I was only there for those four months, before a job at a much bigger daily newspaper opened up, a job as a sports writer, my dream job. So I worked for four years at The Middletown Journal, and then was recruited to re-join the Dayton Daily News by one of my best friends, and night-time sports editor at the DDN, Greg Simms.
The job was only part-time, but Greg helped me negotiate a set number of hours (38) and a pay rate which rivaled the amount I made as a full-time writer in Middletown. The new sports editor at the time was one of the men I’ve respected the most (Simms is one) in Dwayne Bray. Greg told me that Dwayne appreciated what I could bring to the table, and he’d push to create a full-time job just for me.
He did, and I was in heaven.
I was at the DDN, doing what I loved to do, until 2003,
In 2002, luck started to turn against me. I developed two types of meningitis and missed six months of work. When I came back, there was a new sports editor.
Truthfully, he didn’t like me, and I didn’t get along with him either. He liked the person who had temporarily taken my place, so at the first chance, I was fired. The reason was I didn’t give ample warning when I needed to extend vacation time (really it was paternity leave, since my wife had just given birth to our youngest son). She was having a rough time recovering, so I sent an e-mail stating I was taking an additional couple of days off.
Four days later, I received a FedEx envelope with a letter explaining my dismissal. What a way to celebrate the birth of a child.
That’s when I entered a rough stretch, I didn’t recover well from the meningitis. To this day I still have daily headache episodes, go to the Cleveland Clinic once a month or every other month to see one of the country’s foremost neurologists in an effort to come up with some sort of effective relief.
My doctors would not let me work for close to five years. When they finally cleared me, I joined The Columbus Dispatch as a sports clerk. I loved it there, although I was limited on hours, and there was very little chance for advancement. But it felt good to be working again.
I then took a full-time job in November 2009 at a small paper near my home in Mechanicsburg. This didn’t last long, as the company which owns it, went bankrupt and I was laid off.
Then, on January 3, 2011, I was hired, again part-time, by a paper owned by the same company I just got laid off from. The job is too low to be called entry level, I get 30 hours per work, and $9 per hour.
Keep in mind, I have been trained by some of the best writers in the business, I’ve done every job there is to do in this business, in every department, from sports, to hard news, to features, movie/music/book reviews, copy editing, page designer/paginator, I’ve had great bosses, not so great bosses, and for most of the 22 years since I began in the newspaper industry, I’ve been a boss myself, leading a crack team of sports clerks at a major daily newspaper.
So, I know it’s taken several paragraphs to get to answering the question of when is the right time to quit a job, but hopefully now you have a good impression of my skill-set, the level of talent necessary for the size of the papers I’ve worked for, and my ability to mimic a chameleon, blending in in any environment, any newsroom, in any job, mixing with any type of personality.
So, on April Fool’s Day — what I wouldn’t give for the meeting I had with my boss a few hours ago to be a joke! — I had a 90-day performance-review meeting with the editor of this paper and the editor’s significant other, the sports editor (I don’t work in the sports department, and this person is not in my chain of command, so I was confused as to why he was in on this meeting.
For 90 days (half of which my boss was off on medical leave), not one time did my boss, or any of the editors pull me aside and criticize me about anything.
So when the meeting turned into a steady stream of insults about my job performance, again, in front of the sports editor, whom I don’t report to, making me feel even more embarrassed, I had no choice but to get into a defensive position, especially when it’s obvious these two particular people (who’ve also been in the business since the late 1980s) really aren’t worth worrying about.
The paper is a mess, the hierarchy at the top of the editorial staff has stifled any kind of creativity and chance of any other member of the staff to do more than create simple, boring, safe copy, no chance of any enterprise reporting or package features in which the staff’s top talent — the full-time photographer — spends most of her time playing it safe, and only on occasion showing off her immense skills. None of the other members of the staff have been encouraged to try and wow readers by writing pieces which will actually get readers to excited about the content.
Currently, the newspaper reads more like a series of simple, plain press releases, which, unfortunately, dots the paper on nearly every page.
In this meeting, I was actually told to not personalize any stories, actually to take any personality or flair in a story and gut it.
Mainly, during this review, I was not just insulted, but belittled, and humiliated (with the sports editor in attendance). I was bullied and expected to take it. I was told my probationary period would be extended 30 additional days. Yes, you read that write, in a job which pays as little as it does, and calls for basically a glorified receptionist to do most of the job description, a probationary extension.
I bring real, hard-hitting abilities, I think outside the box, I’m outstanding with breaking news, my features receive compliments nearly every time I write one. People stop me on the street and tell me that the paper (and its weekly cousins) have been better to read since I joined.
The sad part is the paper has some excellent talent, it’s just the two-headed monster in charge of the editorial staff, don’t know how to encourage and allow the staff to grow. They are actually repressing the staff. It certainly doesn’t help when those particular two editors stroll in close to 6 or 7 p.m. and leave no later than 11 p.m. I’ve never been around editors who put in less than 40 hour weeks. I’m sure they claim 40 hours, but I haven’t seen it.
When they enter the building, everyone quiets down, and the tension is high. The sports editor acts like the editor’s lap dog, and refuses to cover games. For a paper as small as this, and a full-time sports writer at your disposal, there’s no way he should be sitting in the office every night. He acts like a sports editor at a newspaper ten times their size. Because of this, the sports coverage is a joke, in an area where high school sports is huge.
So, when is the right time to quit? I should have quit during the meeting, but I do have a family to care for, and, I want to go out on my terms.
Under the circumstances, I feel the best way is to do it right. I asked for the weekend to think over whether I want to accept the 30-day extension, and truthfully, I can’t see any way in which I would do this. I will go in on Monday, and request a meeting between the editor, myself and our publisher (not the sports editor, I will specifically request his absence).
And in this meeting I will express my concerns I’ve written here, backing up each of my concerns with the bevy of proof I have at my disposal. My aim is not to get any one fired, but reprimanded? Yes. An apology? Yes. Dropping the 30-day extension? You bet. And, letting the publisher know just how things are, maybe he’ll affect some change, and help heal the serious rift between management and staff.
Still, I’ll be cleaning out my desk over the weekend, with the express intent at working in a different job within the next couple of weeks. Because without serious changes, there’s no way I can work with people who are as spiteful and lacking of tact and understanding, as these two. Ruling with an iron fist is how you intimidate people, and people who intimidate, and under the circumstances where raises are out of the question, at least they could do is make its employees feel good about working there. Because the bottom line is, if you leave the job at night and feel like you’ve been insulted and treated unfairly, then it’s time to look in the mirror, and say “I will not be made to feel inferior”, because you will, and it’ll be your own fault, if you allow them to do so.