First the Sack, Then the Plaque

Journalists don’t like getting interviewed. Or at least I don’t. I would imagine it’s akin to a doctor being asked to drop his pants. You feel even more vulnerable because you know what’s coming next.

 

Sorry, unnecessary metaphor. The point is, when Michael Miner of the Chicago Reader called me the other day to ask about the recent Lisagors Award dinner, I involuntarily shuddered.

 

It wasn’t Miner, a terrific and sharp-edged media critic, of whom I was afraid. It was me.

 

A fellow reporter could call and ask me about the Swine Flu and I would make myself sound responsible all in the interest of offering up a decent quote.

 

In this case, however, I was afraid of sounding bitter, a whistleblower, the kind of person no one would ever want to hire in the future.

 

The problem here is that there had to be about 300 eyewitnesses when I went up to accept my award for Best Feature of 2008, and ended up having to retrieve it from the managing editor of the Tribune, my former employer, who ostensibly was accepting on my behalf.

 

That the Tribune editors did not know I was there was probably appropriate under the circumstances as I no longer existed as far as the company was concerned. That the managing editor, whom I had never met, appeared to observers to want to rush up and grab it so that emcees Phil Ponce and Felicia Middlebrooks could move on to the next category and perhaps minimize the moment and any potential embarrassment for the paper, seemed to be more the case.

 

“I wasn’t planning on keeping it for the Tribune,” Jane Hirt told Jim Romenesko of Poynter Online.

 

But no one, including me, suggested or even entertained the thought that the paper would be interested in – with apologies to the much-respected Chicago Headline Club – a simple plaque.

 

I won the award, not the plaque. And here is why I cared; why I nominated the story myself and why I went feeling the way I did. Why I got my hair cut and put on the dress I wore to my daughter’s bat mitzvah. Why I gratefully accepted the donated ticket after being invited by the paper to the dinner a week earlier, accepted, then told hours later, “Sorry,  table's filled.”  

 

The winning feature was the most meaningful story I’d written in my 26 years as a journalist. It was the story of my parents and their simultaneous 20-year battle with Alzheimer’s until their deaths from the disease. It was the story of my family, the story of my adult life, the story, as it turned out, that would mark a career soon to be over at the only newspaper I ever wanted to write it for.

 

I went last Friday to accept the award in their honor. And yes, for the paper that allowed me to write it, the paper that once seemed to care about stories like this one. The paper that I never thought would allow its employees to walk out the door without a thank-you or even a good-bye.

 

But it is not, of course, just those of us let go last week. We grieve too today for the Baltimore Sun, for the editors and managers, loyal and trusted employees only seconds before, ushered out of the newsroom by security guards on Tuesday. And for the sportswriters who were called out of press boxes and fired on Wednesday. 

 

We grieve for every worker laid off in this country without being given the dignity they have earned.

 

It was never about the damn plaque.




The Lisagors, Chicago Reader 

 

Romenesko, Chicago Reader
 

Fade to Black -- Something's Not Right with Mom, Chicago Tribune

 

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Comments

  • April 30, 2009 6:36 AM Owen wrote:
    Glad to have found your blog. All your post-Tribune entries are engaging and powerful and meaningful and well done. And yes, sad. O
    Reply to this
  • April 30, 2009 7:27 AM Holly wrote:
    Touche!!! As a Career Coach, work with hundreds of clients who feel exactly what you captured here! Great article!
    Reply to this
  • April 30, 2009 7:51 AM Bill wrote:
    Sorry you got caught in our paper's sad, nasty crash. But congratulations on all your good work in print and now on the blog. The Alzheimer's story was one of the smartest and most moving pieces I've read in a long time. I'm glad it got the recognition it so richly deserved. Best wishes. Bill
    Reply to this
  • April 30, 2009 9:13 AM Larry wrote:
    so, they invite you to the dinner, then disinvite you after the layoffs.

    you stay classy, tribune!

    congratulations on a well-deserved award.
    Reply to this
  • April 30, 2009 9:32 AM Tony wrote:
    Wow. As many times before you touched my soul with your writings. I can't imagine the tribune newsroom today sure is different from my years.
    Congratulations on the award God bless
    Tony
    Reply to this
  • April 30, 2009 10:21 AM Jodi wrote:
    It's a shame that employers are unable to express gratitude and/or regret when a (formerly) valued employee is forced to leave. What exactly about that event instantaneously infects the person they have relied upon, praised and/or promoted with some sort of seemingly communicable disease? I've had that disease, too, and it doesn't feel good. Thank you for putting this out there. Your work and talent continue to be appreciated!
    Reply to this
  • April 30, 2009 10:58 AM Gil wrote:
    As much as I (and my wife) will miss you in the paper, I am glad to have found your blog.

    The Tribune is much poorer without you and your laid-off co-workers. It is no longer the paper I grew up with, and like your brother, I have cancelled my subscription. This was particularly sad, as I was (at least) a third generation subscriber. I also delivered the paper--along with the Sun-Times--in the late 1960's and early 1970's.

    I saved the very moving article you wrote about your parents. I experienced the same thing, and couldn't even articulate--let alone write about-- it as eloquently as you did. Thank you for touching me, my family, and my sisters' families. Best wishes for the future. I will keep reading.
    Reply to this
  • April 30, 2009 11:40 AM Alan wrote:
    Amazing. You know where to find me.

    sol
    Reply to this
  • April 30, 2009 2:21 PM Marla wrote:
    Missy,
    The Tribune has broken a lot of hearts, so sorry yours has to be one of them now. The Lisagor story is amazing and is being sent between former Tribsters faster than you'd believe. Hard to believe that the paper used to be a class organization. Hang in there.
    Reply to this
  • April 30, 2009 4:00 PM Lise wrote:
    That was a great article--I'm glad you were recognized for it, even if the presentation of the award lacked the class you deserve. I'm still a subscriber, but the Trib I get is not the Trib I used to know...much luck to you in your future endeavors.
    Reply to this
  • April 30, 2009 4:44 PM fellow dumpee wrote:
    Melissa:

    As another of the Lucky 53 of last week, I'm sure I'm not the only one who has found comfort in your words since the axings went down. I grew up reading your work, and it was a shock to see your name on the list, even more than it was to see my own.

    But I write to thank you, first, as a reader, for the thought and care you always put into your stories; second, as a fellow dumpee, for putting into words what so many of us feel, in a way we can't do nearly as well.

    Thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
    Reply to this
  • April 30, 2009 6:28 PM Peter wrote:
    It is a sad, low rent place compared to the institution we signed on to those may years ago but class acts like yourself help make the years worthwhile.
    Reply to this
  • April 30, 2009 7:39 PM kelly wrote:
    I am blown away by this entry. It brought me to tears. I am so sorry it happened that way. Your story about your parents deeply touched me. I lost my parents too and feel your pain. Thank you for sharing your story.
    Reply to this
  • April 30, 2009 10:23 PM Marcy wrote:
    The story about your parents was one of the best things to ever be in the Trib and I'm glad you won an award for it. For a brief while, you and I were friends when we were about junior high-ish and I've been enjoying reading someone that I used to know. I'm glad you are writing this blog - I've had tears in my eyes for each entry. You write so well that I'm sure you will land on your feet.
    Reply to this
  • May 1, 2009 9:13 AM Michael wrote:
    As one who got laid off by the San Jose Mercury News a year ago, I know how you feel. I won an award given by a local press club and still don't have it. But that's OK -- I don't want it. You deserve your award and your moment to honor your parents. Good luck. A year from now, you'll feel as I do -- you're better off. Good things are in your future.
    Reply to this
  • May 1, 2009 10:05 AM Michelle wrote:
    Missy,
    We're rooting for you in Miami. Keep your voice alive with that blog. Someone out there is bound to see it and say: "We must pay that woman to write!''
    Stay strong.
    Michelle
    Reply to this
  • May 1, 2009 5:42 PM Creig wrote:
    Missy,

    I am sorry such a crappy things keep happening.

    You're a great person and bigger than them.

    Best of luck. Let me know if I can help in any way.

    Creig
    Reply to this
  • May 2, 2009 2:20 PM Nancy wrote:
    Missy,
    I've always been proud that I followed your footsteps at Tribune Co., in Orlando. That was a long, long time ago. I'm ashamed now to say I ever worked at a Tribune Co. paper. Unfortunately, this is true of all newspapers today: We loved them, and they never loved us back. Your talent will trump the Trib's callousness. Bet on it!
    Reply to this
  • May 4, 2009 1:04 PM Andrew wrote:
    I just wanted to say that was a great story -- one of the best that I have ever read. What a loss for the Tibune.
    Reply to this
  • May 4, 2009 3:11 PM Cindy wrote:
    I am so glad you won an award for that piece. I was blown away reading it, and I often remember it and what you wrote even a year later. You are so talented, and I'm glad that you have this blog to continue to share your voice with the world. Best of luck to you.
    Reply to this
  • May 16, 2009 5:27 AM Sadie wrote:
    I am coming to this website much later than most of the posts after seeing the interview on Chicago Tonight but got more insight of the night of the reward dinner on how they rushed up there perhaps to avoid the shame of their letting you go. I can't believe they did not know you were there. Sorry you lost your job there. Like many others who have lost their jobs it will be a stepping stone to better things I hope for you.
    Reply to this
  • June 22, 2009 3:58 AM Spielautomaten wrote:
    The Tribune is much poorer without you and your laid-off co-workers. It is no longer the paper I grew up with, and like your brother, I have canceled my subscription. This was particularly sad, as I was (at least) a third generation subscriber. I also delivered the paper--along with the Sun-Times--in the late 1960's and early 1970's.As another of the Lucky 53 of last week, I'm sure I'm not the only one who has found comfort in your words since the axing went down. I grew up reading your work, and it was a shock to see your name on the list, even more than it was to see my own.
    Reply to this
  • November 24, 2009 1:49 PM Yvette wrote:
    I know you are busy...trust me as a mom and bubbe i get it and i only babysit 3 days...not work...but miss your entries...If nothing else, hope all is well. Have a wonderful holiday with your family and I PROMISE>>>I AM NOT A STALKER, I just miss your blog entries...Fondly, Yvette
    Reply to this
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