Thursday, June 25, 2009


There was a certain vengeful glee in Bobby's face and tone as he relayed the information yesterday. Bobby didn't deny it: "The whole thing put a smile on my face," he said.

What made him comeuppance happy was the fact that on Monday, a day when I was off and would not have heard, all of the salaried people around the newspaper office had been called into a meeting and told: 1. everyone's pay would be cut by from 7 to 11 percent; 2. everyone would take a two-week unpaid furlough; 3. everyone would start contributing more to their health insurance benefits; 4. the company would no longer put money into the pension fund it had infused for all these years.

People receiving a salary are not people who belong to the so-called union. They are the ones who traded that protection for (I don't know this but imagine it) more money and a willingness to do management's bidding. The management style has been based largely on intimidation, so salaried people were treated with an understandable wariness by those of us who had to carry out their sometimes irrational and certainly not collegial instructions. They had moved up the management ladder in return for their homage, their spin-doctoring, and their willingness to hurt others. Now they were tasting a bit of bitter fruit and Bobby was not about to say he didn't enjoy it. Union members had endured a series of layoffs and an assumption of more and more work as others were forced out the door. They had been forced to eat a lot of shit while listening to salaried employees suggest it tasted like filet mignon.

Salaried employees had chosen to kiss a lot of ass and in return had now been bitten on the ass. I could sympathize with Bobby's retributive glee and even feel some of it myself.

But folded into this gotcha smirk was the knowing that retribution was really not enough. Retribution did not speak to the loss of honor and quality that many of us continued to hope the newspaper might attain. The loss of staff and unpleasantness of working conditions meant that mediocrity was being given a big boost on behalf of income. Unhappy people do less than their best -- in part because they are hurt and angry and in a fuck-you state of mind, but also because it just is not possible to do a good job when there is little or no time to devote to what might be a good job. Time is money and money is increasingly the goal ... making money with as little effort as possible; pretending that a press release is a news story; scamming the readers.

If 'everybody' says that the Internet is the place to get news, then surely that must be true. 'Everybody' is who I want to hang out with. It is warming and social and I long to be in warming and social circumstances. The emperor is wearing clothes because 'everybody' says so. It is consoling and supportive to agree and be agreed with.

But, whether at the newspaper or anywhere else, the elevation of ignorance cannot be equated with the truth. A bare-nekkid emperor is a bare-nekkid emperor. The price of relying on others is a perpetual uncertainty. What I dislike about it all is not so much that there is some shining philosophical truth that deserves to be upheld -- some 'morality' or decency or 'fairness.' What I dislike about it is that people will get hurt. Was it ever any different? Nope. But do I need to cast my lot with those who elevate and extol the emperor's clothes? It's my choice and my responsibility... just as it is yours.

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