#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How about Thursday? I'm just not sure

Remember when Christopher took all the Ledgers out of the box?
In my final semester of college in 1986, I was offered a full-time job as a news clerk with the Associated Press in Raleigh.

I told the bureau chief I was going to accept the offer. And then I asked him when he would want me to start. I still had about two months left before graduation.

My thinking was that maybe I'd take a month off after college to travel, have some fun, blow off steam...

"How about Thursday?" was the answer. And so it began, my career in journalism. Working nights in the A.P. bureau in Raleigh, typing in the data for the North Carolina hog markets, taking dictation from Division III Sports Information Directors, changing ribbons on what we called "printers."

Other duties included making runs to Char-Grill for the staff, filing papers, making sure the coffee was fresh and hot.

Basically, I learned to take a punch.

Fast forward 27 years to last Wednesday morning around 9 a.m. My home phone rings and the caller ID says "Newark." On the other end of the line is my boss, Kevin Whitmer, the editor of the Star-Ledger. I don't want to misquote Kevin here, but he said something like, "This is not the type of phone call I enjoy making...you need to come to Human Resources tonight at 5:45 and there's a story on NJ.com that will shed some light..."

"I'm losing my job?" I asked.

 "Legally, I'm not allowed to tell you anything more," Kevin said. "Read NJ.com."

And then, I addressed my boss in a way I'd never address a boss. "See ya later, brother," I said.

I read the NJ.com story about 34 layoffs at the Star-Ledger, including 18 in the newsroom.

I texted my wife, a schoolteacher and typed, "I just got laid off."

Around 5:30 p.m. that night, after I was told "legally" that I wasn't supposed to be in the newsroom, I was ushered into the HR office where I got my packet. Three weeks severance plus the two of weeks vacation I'd never used.

And just like that, for the first time since I walked through the doors of the A.P. office in Raleigh, I was an unemployed American.

 A TALENT ISSUE

It's not the first time I've lost a job. I accepted the baseball columnist job at the Ledger because in 2011, ESPN The Magazine did not pick up my contract after I'd worked for them for 13 years, 10 months. They had offered me a new three-year deal after the 2010 World Cup, but pulled it off the table about 10 days later and changed it to a one-year contract with a bleak outlook for the future.

When I asked if I could discuss a reduced contract with more security in terms of years, I was told, "It's not really a money issue. It's a talent issue."

What do you say to that?

I said nothing, partly because I knew I was about to cry.

I loved writing at the Magazine so much because I was so invested in the product. John Papanek, the first Editor in Chief of The Mag, had hired me in December of 1997, three months before it was launched. I started as an editor and slowly moved into a position as a senior writer. It was the job I had always dreamed of having, dating back to college. And now it was gone.

"A talent issue," was the reason. So funny, because I'd never considered myself "talented." One of the things I loved about The Mag was that, for years, the people in charge seemed to like me even though I wasn't talented. I was a sports writer. I liked writing about sports. I didn't quote French authors or feel the need to use a thesaurus (or send my readers to dictionary.com).

That's why The Mag was heaven for me, a self-described hack.

Now what was I going to do?

Thankfully, the Ledger, the paper I grew up reading, was there for me. Even though it had been 16 years since I'd written for a daily, they hired me to be their baseball columnist.

The day of my first column, with my mug shot on Page One, I joked to people that, like Christopher Moltisanti on the Sopranos, I drove to a box on Bloomfield Ave., put four quarters in the slot and took every copy. It wasn't true, but that's how good it felt.

I cannot pretend that I was a good or even a mediocre columnist for the Ledger. I was thoroughly challenged by the deadlines.

I often questioned myself. I tried my best, but I'd be lying if I said the pressure of producing day after day didn't rattle me. It did.

And then came last August, when our skillful, hard-working Yankee beat writer Marc Carig was offered a great job at Newsday.  

MARCHING TO THE BEAT

The Ledger's financial issues were very public at that point, so I knew what was going to happen, and it did. I was told "another writer is not walking through the door" and so I was no longer a columnist, I was the Yankee beat writer.

I was not happy. I have two teenage sons who like having a dad to make them breakfast in the morning. I have a wife who works full-time.

When I was the columnist, I'd often walk through the door after 2 a.m. after covering a game in the Bronx or Flushing. But at least I'd be home. A baseball beat writer spends about 150-170 nights per year in a hotel room between the months of February and October.

Had the Ledger been looking for a Yankee beat writer when I was on my way out at ESPN The Magazine, I would not have even filled out an application. I wouldn't have done that to my family.

But now, I knew I had no choice but to accept the job-switch because the alternative was to be unemployed. So I went on the beat and, really, the rest is a blur.

 I don't remember much of what I wrote in August, September and October. I just know I wrote a lot. I didn't miss any deadlines. That's the good thing.

But when it comes to remembering anything I typed, I can come up with only one lede that stayed with me.

Here it is. From the Yankees-A's game on September 22.  

NEW YORK — In the five hours and 43 minutes it took to play the game, it seemed day turned into night, summer turned into fall, and 36 Yankees turned into one.

What's funny is I didn't realize that summer officially did turn into fall that day.

It was pure luck.

Fittingly, it wasn't talent that came up with those words. It was luck.
  
BETTER TO BE LUCKY

And I've been lucky. Lucky to go nearly three decades without ever having to beg for work. Lucky to have done exactly what I set out to do when I enrolled in Journalism School as a college junior back in the Fall of 1984. Lucky to have worked at Sports Illustrated, The New York Daily News, ESPN The Magazine and the Star-Ledger.

And lucky to have learned how to take a punch at the A.P.

 As I walked into the streets of Newark, packet in hand, I did not feel any anger or sadness. I'm not sure what I felt, probably because I'd never felt unemployment before.

 I realize I'm not alone. So many friends from my past have reached out and told me how they handled unemployment. By taking on projects around the house. By committing to a crazy workout routine. By cooking dinner for the family every night.

 I've also heard from some talented (and I don't just throw that word around) writers who are also looking for work. It's so humbling. These are hard times in the only business I've ever known.

It's too early to say what I'm going to do. It's only been a week.

Today, if someone were to say, "How about Thursday?" I don't know what I'd do.

28 comments:

Jeff Smith said...

Wow, you had me at "Char-Grill". So good.

Trying to stay positive I guess. Looking forward to your rebound. I'll be watching.

Ed Kemmick said...

If your columns were as good as this description of your career, I'd say you were very talented. Good luck, brother.

Jeff Bradley said...

Thanks for reading.

Jerry Milani said...

A big loss for us S-L subscribers, Jeff - will miss your work. Taking away writers we like the same week as the rate increase, doesn't bode well, unfortunately. Keep us up to date where you land!

Erik said...

Been reading your work since your days at ESPN. Always really enjoyed your soccer work and hope you can find some way back into that. Unfortunately (though fortunate for your family) that can be difficult given the high profile of your family! Hope to keep following you on this blog in the meantime to see where you end up.

Your story reminded me of certain thoughts I had when I made a decision to eventually not pursue sports writing after college and it saddens me to see this happen to you and others I know. But for one second do not think you are not talented - you have at least one fan out there in me...

Kevin said...

I'm a former sports writer and know what you mean about deadlines, the life of a beat writer/family and sadly, layoffs. Good luck in your future endeavors.

Tom Keegan said...

Those who write for peers quote French authors and reach for the thesaurus. They don't tell stories. They don't know how. They're too wrapped up in the words to use that they get in the way of the story and nobody stays until the end because it's impossible to follow.

Talented writers tell stories in a way that makes the reader concentrate on the story, not the storyteller.

Clearly, the writer responsible for the above story fits into the second category. Always has.

Anonymous said...

Have always enjoyed your work. Especially liked your pieces when you traveled by car to write about the Yankees in the playoffs. It reminded me of our families cross country trips to see our beautiful country in our popup trailer. My father, brother and I spent many a night listening to a game, any game on the radio. I enjoyed the professional way you enabled your readers to see the picture you scribed with your writing style. More importantly I have come to know more about you as a person, father, brother, and friend through your writing and social media posts. You are a person of integrity and character, one who puts others before himself and family before all else. It always made me proud to tell my students, I know that writer. But more proud to say, I know that person. Hope something comes your way soon, if not maybe we could get together one Thursday...




Vince Lara said...

Hang in there Jeff. Rooting for you. If anything comes up, I'll let you know.

Tom said...

You are a talented writer, regardless of what anyone says, Jeff.

I've always loved reading your soccer stuff.

Good luck to you in whatever you decide to do next.

Larry said...

Love the Sopranos reference. It was nice getting to meet you on the Yankee beat last summer. Best of luck with everything!

Anonymous said...

Been there, brother, 4 years ago.

But Louis L'Amour's words are true: "There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. Yet that will be the beginning."

Anonymous said...

Good luck to you. I have to remind myself every night when i go to work at my crummy TV job, that there are 25 million Americans who'd kill for my job. I spent way too long unemployed, so I hope you land on your feet soon.

Paul said...

Funny, but I used to be a sports writer and since I left the profession, I've been laid off four times. Here come the platitudes: work your network, take advantage of the time with your family and take care of yourself. (Hey, they're cliches because they're true, right?) Best of luck.

Anonymous said...

Everyone has a story, a path, and a journey that often arrives at a fork in the road. I used to manage a group home. Not exactly glorious work, and certainly not well paying, but I took pride in doing my job well and in making sure the people I was responsible for were well taken care of. Unfortunately, I got hurt in August of 2011 trying to rescue a resident in imminent peril of being backed over. My injury is permanent and life altering and I can no longer walk without a cane. No more dancing or running or even lifting more than 20lbs. I was forced to leave my job. I've been looking for another job for over a year, and while companies aren't supposed to discriminate, they see me hobble in with my cane and my application gets dropped in the reject pile as soon as the interview ends. It's okay though, because despite all I have lost, I still have my family, my brain still works, and I have adjusted to a different existence. I started writing, and turning my arts and crafts hobby into a small business. Above all, I learned I was a survivor, and while my path took an abrupt turn, this journey, this story keeps going. Good luck my friend

Anonymous said...

You are very talented! Good luck and God Bless!

sportsdoc said...

Your piece touched my soul, it took tremendous courage to bear your soul, you set the bar so high, you will be back so soon -- my deepest thanks

DC said...

Always enjoyed - and now miss - your work at ESPN The Magazine. Good luck, I look forward to reading your stuff wherever you land.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, been there, done that - it's difficult and scary, a lonely feeling, but you'll get through it, I promise, and if my experience and that of many of my friends is any guide, you'll probably end up in a better situation. Believe in yourself, stay close to friends and family, and remember, what's done is done - every second spent agonizing over what's past is one spent not finding your next role. (That's a helluva lot easier said than done, mind you!) You're a talented guy with great connections, it may not seem like it right this minute but I would bet heavily on your landing in a great spot! I'll miss reading you in the Ledger, but look forward to catching up with you wherever it is you go... best wishes for continued success! Cheers, Dan

TR Sullivan said...

Your security is not in your job... it is in your talent... and you have talent.... People still want the information.... something will turn up....You're too good

Anonymous said...

Been a subscriber to the Ledger for 20+ years, including when I was in college, mostly for sports and Yankee coverage. When I read the story in last week's paper about layoffs, I wondered who was impacted and how much longer I will have the Ledger to read in my hands each morning. I liked your writing and hope things work out for you. you are far better than what most internet "columnists" are these days.

Dan J said...

Jeff,
Boy, if this doesn't sum up how crummy it is to be a print journalist, I don't know what does. Such a shame, too, because as you said, a lot of talented people (such as yourself) are out of work, and there aren't a lot of viable options out there.

I've been victim of the newspaper layoff brigade myself, and yeah, it was NOT fun. Applying for jobs outside of journalism was a real pain, as people tend to only see you as a writer and don't think you can do much else.

Best of luck to you moving forward, and sorry to hear another group of talented people have lost their jobs, due to no fault of their own.

Matt Juss said...

You're definitely talented and thanks for putting this out there for all the other writers like us who are trying to get by. You have a loyal follower here now. Keep up the excellent work

Anonymous said...

Let's clear something up immeidately. You're very talented. Your experience makes that very clear. As a former sports editor I've been laid off three times, so believe me, I've been there. You get knocked down, but you stand up, dust yourself off and think about your next adventure. Because the one thing I've learned is that it usually leads to something much better. MUCH better. So hang in there, good luck to you, and let us know where you land.

Betty Bean said...

-Hello from Knoxville, Jeff!
I've followed you, off and on, for years – sometimes losing sight of you and then finding you again.
I've always enjoyed your stuff. It's inciteful, unpretentious and funny, when you're doing funny.
I was a fairly early casualty of the print-to-internet revolution – I worked at the old Knoxville Journal, which bit the dust in '92 (I knew your sis in those days when she was with Gannett).
So I feel a shiver of deja vu whenever I read one of these stories – but I'm betting you'll not be un employed long. You're too good. And, yes, talented. I'm bookmarking your blog, so please keep on doing it. And, btw, I'm getting so damn old that memories sort of flit across my brain and vanish sometimes, but I think I may have conversed with you some way, some time -- maybe about Cas Walker?

Jay said...

I'd never heard of you brother, until a moment before I began to read one damn fine piece of honesty - about that Man's January.

Anonymous said...

I am a former sportswriter who was working in another department at the Ledger, too, until I was dealt the same news that you received on Jan. 16.
I also have two kids and a lot of concerns about the future.
Wish I had more hopeful or positive words here, other than to say it's an experience you unfortunately are sharing with an inordinate number of people in this endless recession-that's-really-a-Depression.
Good luck.

Tonja said...

This is cool!