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The P-I's death two years later: in no mood to mark the occasion

A newspaper veteran who lost his job when the P-I presses stopped reflects on the realities of long-term employment and asks why experience and age now seem to be shortcomings: 'I'm a writer, for godsakes, not a pro athlete.'

John Douglas Marshall

John Douglas Marshall

At least the email invitation had the right tone. No mention of celebration whatsoever, since there is little for most of us to toast. The subject line instead read: “Second Anniversary/Excuse to Come Together to Drink.” Straightforward, newspapery. But it remained to be seen how many former colleagues from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer would want boozy camaraderie on the date that changed our lives forever.

About 35 of the 160 of us did turn up that Seattle evening at the Streamline Tavern, now owned by a former coworker, but I was not among them. I had been uncertain about attending all along. I would have liked to see colleagues again, but had no interest in repeated recountings of how I haven’t yet found regular work. That is the conversation epicenter at our gatherings, everyone hoping for some nugget of good news, however rare.

Our monthly coffees and happy hours have also dwindled to a handful of those who lost their jobs when the Hearst Corporation in New York City ended life support for a feisty, underdog Northwest newspaper founded in 1863, that “just-business” decision producing this dreaded headline: “P-I Presses Fall Silent.”

Unemployment has been a depressing slog for many of us since — likely the reason only about half the staff responded to an 18-month survey of what we were doing at that point. The survey, by colleague Ruth Teichroeb, did discover some encouraging trends; more people were finding fulltime work, yet they totaled only about one-quarter of those suddenly unemployed one March day in 2009 during the great economic implosion. Even fulltime workers sound mournful about smaller wages, less satisfaction, lost purpose.

Consider Dan Raley, a star P-I sports reporter, one of the few staffers lucky enough to land another newspaper job. Raley is editing in Atlanta and relates, “There’s no longer panic or a feeling of desperation in not having a job, but it’s hardly how I envisioned my life – 3,000 miles away from my family, away from the P-I, away from Seattle … But I’ve been a survivor, ready to do what I have to do.”

I suppose I am a survivor, too, mainly because my quarter-century at the P-I resulted in decent severance (gone now), plus unemployment insurance that has been my only regular paycheck (ending soon). I am indeed grateful for those twin pillars of support, and I know I'm much more fortunate than many unemployed compatriots. I have been able to cobble together some freelance work, writing and editing and teaching, although the remuneration from major national websites has been a couple hundred dollars, or less, that pitiful pay underscoring new media’s unmistakable lesson — what you’re doing is just an approximation of real work, a shadow play in Internet ether.

Not that I haven’t tried hard to find something better. My blue file folder marked “Unemployment” overflows with a three-inch stack of paper — weekly tallies of prospective jobs, plus logs of submitted job applications. I knew little of “unemployment insurance” before 2009, assumed that those receiving such benefits were unfortunates lacking in initiative or training or schooling or something. What I have learned since 2009 is how unemployment can happen to anyone and how much work is required to find possible work.

Federal unemployment law mandates that recipients apply for three jobs every week; my current Washington State unemployment mandates four — disheartening searches guaranteed to produce my gloomiest day of the week. Granted, job applications can be submitted electronically, sparing the job-seeker from Depression Era embarrassment of appearing before prospective employers. But this impersonal Internet era of unemployment also means few job applications result in even a “Thanks, but no thanks.” It seems job applications might as well be sent to the moon; perhaps that’s where they end up.

My file folder contains countless jobs I could have done with no sweat, jobs where I should at least have been a finalist. But my 300 job applications have resulted in just three personal interviews, including two with people I know. One guy with the power to hire me at a local university, someone I used to consider a friend, was a guest at my wedding and baby showers. Other people — younger people — got those three jobs. Little did I know that being over 60 could be such an economic curse. I’m a writer, for godsakes, not a pro athlete.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 5:39 a.m. Inappropriate

EXACTLY! A very eloquent presentation of a situation many of us find ourselves in through no fault of our own.

JamesD

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 9 a.m. Inappropriate

Having worked in a construction trade (now retired) I became very bitter to those who made fun of me for being unemployed. It was the nature of the business, but even my parents could not tolerate my attitude (they had a great idea how I should be a janitor). But I find no joy for people suffering the same fate now.

sonny

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 9:08 a.m. Inappropriate

John's article reminds me of the day in November, 2000, when on a Friday afternoon I was told I was being laid-off. This was after 26 years of employment at a highly regarded Seattle recreational firm.
I was 62 years old.

My boss told me he could find other people to do the job I was doing which I took to mean a younger person at lower pay.

I was shocked and highly hurt and very angry. But, I didn't want to work for this man and the company offered very generous severance benefits. An age discrimination law suit was not worth pursuing.

For awhile I tried to find another job--submitted many resumes,had a few interviews, but I realized that no one was going to hire a gray- bearded 62 year old even though I could submit a resume full of years of accomplishments.

Because at this point in my life money was not a major issue--my wife and I could live adequately on our savings, investments, pensions--I decided to give up the job quest and pursue my dreams which for me was to focus on conservation-type volunteering.

Finally, toward the end of life I was doing the outdoors work I dreamed of decades earlier when as a child in Michigan I said I wanted to be a forest ranger.

My mantra now is simple: "live your dreams and do some good."

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 9:10 a.m. Inappropriate

"EXACTLY! A very eloquent presentation of a situation many of us find ourselves in through no fault of our own."

No fault? Not so sure of that. I think you can trace the fall of the newspaper business to a decline of journalistic ethics aqnd objectivity which, in turn, led to public disenchantment (and, therefore, loss of revenue). As the press became more partisan, the public lost trust in the product. I - for one - would rather go without a newspaper than pay for one that condescends and attempts to lead me somewhere. Further, I believe a community is better off without a formal "press" than it is with a lopsided propanda machine. At least then, citizens KNOW that no-one is serving as their fourth estate and they might be inclined to keep their own eyes on their government doings. Sorry, James, but having pissed in the whiskey ex-journalists can't bemoan the fact that the public quit buying their single-malt.

BlueLight

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 9:12 a.m. Inappropriate

John: Those you know your work know it to be highly professional. The shift to new media no doubt has hurt your chances. Although age discrimination is not supposed to exist, it does. You are truly middle-aged, at the peak of your abilities, but some will not grasp that.
Your knowledge of books and literature also is rare. Hang in there.
Some smart employer will in time recognize your special talents. There are many "invisible" but skilled unemployed and underemployed in this prosperous city, by the way, and your piece will help bring people to that realization.

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 9:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Keep writing.

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 9:43 a.m. Inappropriate

John, thanks for sharing your story, which is an all-too-common one. I wish policymakers and pundits would think about the millions of Americans in their 50s and 60s (and even 40s) in this situation before they tell people they need to work longer and wait until they're 67 for Medicare and 69 or 70 for full Social Security. What they don't seem to get is that most people would like to work longer but age discrimination and the bad job market (or in some cases health issues) make it impossible for many to stay in the job market. I want to hear one of these entitlement cutters explain exactly how someone is supposed to wait longer for their Medicare and Social Security when no one will hire them and they have little or no income.

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 10:08 a.m. Inappropriate

One other thought. I sure wish hiring officials would look individually at people rather than looking at their age. When I was a hiring editor in the 2000s, I hired reporters who ranged from their early 20s to their early 60s and I found no correlation between age, willingness to work hard, enterprise, or openness to editing and direction. Two of my best hires were people in their 50s and 60s, and one of my worst was a young person who had just received a master's in journalism. It all depends on the characteristics of the individual.

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 10:40 a.m. Inappropriate

BlueLight-

At the risk of violating the terms of use here, your post really exemplifies why the teabag wing of the Republican party comes across to most normal human beings as a bunch of sociopathic Ayn Rand-worshipping scumbags.

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 10:43 a.m. Inappropriate

Thank you, Mr. Marshall, for a brutally accurate portrait of the devastating reality of longterm unemployment.

I know you speak the truth because I have been there myself, though now at age 71 I am (bitterly) resigned to the fact I will never work again. Hence I have learned to live on a tiny Social Security pension, my now-faltering health sustained by the very Medicare programs our genocide-minded politicians seek to destroy.

The bad news for us all is what is being done to you and has already been done to me is merely capitalism in action. The capitalists have elevated infinite greed to maximum virtue. Quality no longer matters; their only standard is profitability.

That is why, regardless of our skills, we workers are evaluated as if we were machines – thrown away the instant our masters discover a person who can do the work cheaper and thereby put more money in the investors' pockets.

Which is really what the fight over Medicare and Social Security is about: the capitalists now saying to themselves, "why keep alive those people whose labor we can no longer exploit for profit? Let them die of neglect – so we can take their money too."

There is also the fact capitalism regards old people as dangerously subversive simply because we remember better times.

The good news for you – assuming (unlike me) you are still healthy enough for long-distance travel – is that not every place on this prison-planet is as savage as the United States has become. Some places still recognize capitalism is like nuclear power, that it must be carefully caged lest it destroy us.

Given your background, you might be well advised to look for work in New York City which – just as James Baldwin wrote so long ago – still truly is Another Country. The huge Sunday help-wanted section of the The New York Times is now available online.

You might also look in Canada and the British Isles and on the European mainland, perhaps even in Australia and New Zealand.

Yes you would have to say farewell to the Pacific Northwest and quite possibly to the U.S. as well. But the latter could prove a blessing in disguise: at least you would not be trapped here when President Palin closes the exits and begins arresting everybody who is not a Teabagger.

In any case I wish you the very best: none of us, regardless of age, deserve what is being done to us by the capitalists and their political enablers.

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 10:47 a.m. Inappropriate

Given the state of America's press, bubble, maybe "most normal human beings" agree with me on this. Could it be you are, in fact, the scumbag here?

BlueLight

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 10:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Great article. Thank you for expressing so powerfully an experience that so many (including me) are dealing with at an age when all that you have accomplished -- instead of earning you serious consideration from a prospective employer -- works to your detriment. We still persevere despite the odds because we maintain a strong confidence in our abilities to excel in our professions and because we desperately need to work for our own well-being.

Veritas

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 10:53 a.m. Inappropriate

This comment thread has been, for the most part, honest and respectful. Let's keep it that way. Please refrain from personal attacks including name-calling. Those are the types of comments that will be deleted here if they continue.

Michele Matassa Flores
Managing editor

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 10:53 a.m. Inappropriate

The ageist phenomena Mr. Marshall describes occurs in EVERY occupational field in America - you're the one who decided to beat an irrelevant partisan drum with it.

Right-wing newspapers are also declining in circulation due to the rise of the internet, so your "analysis" of Mr. Marshall's situation really doesn't hold water, either.

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 10:58 a.m. Inappropriate

Your moving and well-written piece should be frightening to any reader over the age of forty, especially with all the news coming out of Wisconsin regarding the attack on the unions by the new Republican government. It is time for us to remember that unions are the main restraint on employers who want to have the unbridled power to fire anyone regardless of ability or years of service. I personally would rather see a company go out of business than be allowed to do what was done to you and your colleagues. This is a reminder that your employer has no investment in you, no loyalty to you, no gratitude for your work. What is happening to the workers in Wisconsin can happen to the workers in Washington, and your experience is an omen for the future.

Spike

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 11 a.m. Inappropriate

I wasn't analyzing Mr. Marshall's situation, bubble. I was analyzing the press' situation. "Most normal human beings" tire of right-wing patronizing as sure as they do left-wing patronizing. Partisan reporting - in either direction - is afield of where America's fourth estate should be. Those entrusted with America's fourth estate are responsible for prostituting it. They should not be allowed a "through no fault of our own" out.

BlueLight

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 11:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Spike, it's not just readers over the age of 40 who should be frightened. I have never been as glad not to be 22 and just graduating from college as I am now (at just about four years from 40).

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 11:38 a.m. Inappropriate

Sorry to hear about your individual story, but I am not sorry about the PI's closure. As mentioned, I felt I was reading a propaganda organ.

I do continue to subscribe to a newspaper. The Wall Street Journal. There's more journalistic balance in the WSJ than the PI ever had.

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 12:06 p.m. Inappropriate

Craigslist (and the resulting loss of ad revenue) had a whole lot more to do with the decline of the bricks-and-mortar newspaper than any alleged "partisan" reporting did.

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 12:30 p.m. Inappropriate

Maybe. It didn't hurt the Wall Street Journal, which is where my money goes when I want a newspaper. Their readership is going up, in contrast to the rest of the American newspaper industry.

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 12:41 p.m. Inappropriate

I Googled John's name and mostly found a handful of things he's written on various websites, as well as things people have written about him (bios, etc.). In other words, if I were a potential employer and I Googled him or searched for him on a social network (which is increasingly common), I wouldn't really have a clear picture of what he's all about -- what does he want to do? What kind of work has he done? Etc.

I don't know if John is reading this thread, but if he is: Do you have your own website? What methods of looking for work have you used (in-person networking, social networking, etc.)? Are you producing content/doing work even when you're not technically working (e.g. blogging)?

I'm only 27, so I can't really speak knowledgeably about ageism with regard to hiring, but I do know that the jobs and opportunities I've gotten have been as a result of not only doing good work, but of promoting that good work on my own and making sure people saw it. Fact of life for writers/journalists in 2011.

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 12:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Also: Gah! HTML'd a couple reference links in there, but I guess Crosscut's comment engine doesn't allow that. Anyway:

Google search for John's name: http://www.google.com/search?aq=f&sourceid;=chrome&ie;=UTF-8&q;=John+Douglas+Marshall

More employers are using social networks to screen applicants: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/20/more-employers-use-social-networks-to-check-out-applicants/

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 2:48 p.m. Inappropriate

Most pro-athlete careers are a few decades less than the writer's. Realities of long term 'employment' or should it be 'unemployment'? And, journalists should resist making the story about themselves.

animalal

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 2:58 p.m. Inappropriate

" Please refrain from personal attacks including name-calling. Those are the types of comments that will be deleted here if they continue."
Thanks Michele. Being explicit works!

afreeman

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 4:51 p.m. Inappropriate

Trouble is newspapers, and especially on-line ones give their content away for "free". Who besides a nut case like myself would pay for what is given away free?

As for journalistic integrity, I found the PI to be at least an attempt at it for local reporting. But truth be told, when the majority of your revenue comes from advertisers and not subscribers, you can't afford to alienate your revenue stream. Hence I now find clearer news in "The Stranger" whose advertisers have no where else to go, and "Real Change" which is donor and subscriber funded. As for the WSJ, once Murdock bought it, it went from bad to worse, what a rag. But even the NYTimes fails to report the real news, or give context to the source of it's material.

As a nation, we need muckraker journalism and unfortunately its no longer in local printed papers.

As for being unemployed, been there, done that. The system is dehumanizing if you let it get to you. When you least expect it, something will work out. But you have to stay on it. And volunteering with your time is a good way to at least feel good about the passage of time and gives you something to talk about when you do get an interview.

God be with you.

GaryP

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 7:11 p.m. Inappropriate

Bluelight, the only things your comments indicate is that you don't appreciate journalists saying things you don't want to hear. Ergo, your criticisms make very little sense. The world is not better off without newspapers. None of them are perfect, but they try to make sense of the world. The reason subscriptions and ad lineage are down is called the internet. You may have heard of that.

T.M. Sell

Posted Wed, Apr 20, 11:56 a.m. Inappropriate

I, too, worked for a company that closed its doors, in Spring of 2008, and laid of 750 local employees. While many people had a hard time finding jobs, those of us over 50 have had a miserable time. I, too, went thru the severance money, my 401k, and unemployment. Finally gave up completely just over a year ago and am fortunate enough to have money to hold me until Social Security kicks in about four years from now. Thing is, though, Congress is discussing moving the retirement age to 70, and I have no idea how on earth I could make it to 70. I keep remembering Ronald Reagan et al and their promises that they were "just borrowing" from Social Security. Just exactly when are they planning to start paying us back, after we're dead?

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