Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Prospective journalists, take heed

Before you complete that graduate degree at Columbia or Syracuse, remember there are plenty of careers to get into that don’t involve getting lemon juice poured over an industrial-sized paper cut on your ass as it’s kicked to the curb. Just ask Fred LeBrun.

The columnist and University at Albany J-school professor who Editor Rex Smith recently referred to as “the man who epitomizes the Times Union more than anybody else” narrowly missed earning himself a full year’s salary and a $33,000 stipend for simply leaving the paper. LeBrun could have also scored a year of health insurance coverage minus his co-pay, and “all accrued vacation time, personal days and makeup days” for accepting the buyout package the paper is now offering.

Instead, he announced his retirement in March, meaning he’s technically not eligible for the buyout now being offered by the paper. Now that’s gratitude for 41 years of dedication to a bloodless profession, which is only surpassed by medieval torture cells in its abject cruelty.

Despite being the Capital Region’s premiere online news service, the TU announced this week their decision to offer buyouts to 30 salaried workers. If all the targeted workers accept the buyout, the paper would reduce its staff by about 6 percent. Comparing apples to oranges, this number of buyouts is about twice what the TU lost in print circulation over a six-month period ending on March 31, which was strangely LeBrun’s last full day at the paper.

In a memo released March 11, Smith announced LeBrun’s retirement, ending a career that spanned from suburban beat reporter to city editor to metro columnist. Smith’s memo lauded the aged columnist’s dedication and identified him as the “longest-tenured newsroom staffer.”

Smith also promised LeBrun would be back as a free-lancer, which he has in twice-weekly columns. Ironically, he had a column in the paper last week offering a sort of apologia for lawyers ensnared by the state Attorney General Office’s investigation into alleged double- and triple-dipping into New York’s retirement pension system.

In contrast to these attorneys, LeBrun got one dip into the TU’s retirement pool. And it doesn’t even appear to be the lucrative cash-laden dip his co-workers are now being offered.

Hopefully, Hearst alerted LeBrun of the impending buyout and cut a deal with him to pad the veteran’s wallet on his way into retirement. After all, the company surely knew their financial situation long before offering buyout packages totaling in the tens of thousands of dollars. But the track record of most media companies is dismal, meaning LeBrun was probably escorted out the door as the Hearst lawyers were furtively drawing up plans for the buyout on the other side.

It’s a lesson any future reporter or newsroom flunky should learn and learn well: Working in the news business is akin to having a nice long stay in a maximum security prison. The conditions are miserable, the time is thankless and if you don’t watch your back, there’s likely to be a knife sticking out of it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This column came to mind after reading your post.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...


"Send more profits!!"

Great link. I was alternating between out-loud laughter and quiet sobs. As farcical as the writer may sound, he's speaking the cold hard truth...A must read for journalists, critics and the like.

9:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, it is tough being a journalist/writer especially if you have a dissenting viewpoint. The publishers of newspapers are intolerant of such americans. has anyone else noticed that the opinion pages of all newspapers are increasingly smaller? It is no accident. Here is an essay of mine that i havent been able to get published anywhere in upstate new york, save for maybe the INFORMED CONSTITUENT which is a great source for political info. i hope you will find my OLD GLORY essay insightful and most of all relevant since it is memorial day weekend. cheers

Old Glory

The image of the American flag against various landscapes of America can often be one of life’s simple pleasures. However, and not just since September 11th, 2001 the flag has become a symbol of elitism and, ultimately and ironically false patriotism.
Every time I see the American flag, it occurs to me that America now isn’t the America I grew up in. Not that America has ever been perfect. America is like a woman with a bad reputation; she is desperate to hide her ugly past and will vilify anyone who dares to mention it. America, like anyone of questionable character, spends a lot of time reinventing itself. There is no question that if redemption is in fact possible, America would be the place you’d want to do it in.
How did we become the current nation of gas guzzling, mall hopping, celebrity obsessed, flag waving elitists that no longer appreciate individualism or any dissenting political viewpoints from those who dare to step away from the confines of mainstream popular culture?
As far as the rest of the world is concerned, we Americans have fallen terribly out of fashion. We are no longer the media darlings we once were. American is no longer the nation the rest of the world seeks out to be best friends with. One could argue that America has become the laughing stock of the rest of the world.

The recent past and current Presidential administrations have also made it dangerous to be an American in many parts of the world right now. It is especially precarious if you are an American journalist, as journalists seem to be a favorite target for anti-American extremists. This irony isn’t lost on me. Journalists are far more objective than the ignorant American public.
Writers, much more so than most people are well aware of how language has the power to persuade and influence people. Dissenters of the status quo are often quite provocative. Writers are generally truth tellers. That is their function. Truth tellers are held to a much higher standard than most people. It’s unfortunate that liars, posers, and false patriots are rarely under such scrutiny in this country. Spin doctors run the show in America while those who are unwilling to go along with such nonsense are often accused of being a turncoat.
On September 11th 2001, Americans were finally made aware of the growing resentment and animosity that other nations feel for us. There had been previous warnings like the attack on the U.S.S. Cole and the first attack on the World Trade Center in February of 1993 but Clinton chose to ignore it so he could contend with the ever increasing scandals that marred his administration. Americans chose to ignore the warnings so they could continue to do what Americans do best; shopping and driving.
All is not well in America. We no longer welcome immigrants in spite of the glaring fact that the majority of Americans got here because of our ancestral immigrant relatives.

The America of yesterday was the place of hope and aspiration so that ones offspring could have a better life. The America of today is one of increasing celebrity obsession, massive television viewing combined with little or no work ethic, where people strive to look important rather than be important. Truth telling is frowned upon while political propaganda is considered patriotic.
When I look at the American flag I cannot help but feel genuine sadness for all those who fought for the freedoms that so many of us take for granted. There was a time in this country when the flag stood for pride, self respect and common decency.
American Culture is in need of vast improvement. For Americans the flag means different things to different people, to me it is a symbol of a fading celebrity who still believes her own publicity.


9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pretty good Anon 9:09

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear 9:09,

I find your essay encouraging and also pleasing to read.
It makes people such as me realize that I am not alone in how I think.
We have too many citizens in this country who have lost sight of what is important.
Why can one person build a 62,000 sq. foot single family house for him and his wife and yet a whole city can not afford to fund affordable housing for our poorer families?
If you don't think that the distribution of wealth in this country is sorely out of alignment then I would suggest that you are one of those people who have lost sight of what is important.

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dear shotinthedark:

glad you found my essay pleasing to read however your last two sentences left me confused. Have I lost sight of whats important? I beg to differ, thats the whole point of the essay. perhaps you could clarify.

5:49 AM  

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