Bad news brings bad memories for retired editor
Rant Alert!!!! Rant Alert!!!! Rant Alert!!!!
This is what’s happening these days to print media employees. “Early” retirement. When you think retirement, what age comes to mind? 65? Maybe a little older now, given the tough economy. So if an employer mentioned early retirement, you might think a couple of years earlier, say, 62 or 63. Or maybe as young as 60.
You’d be wrong. Some employees at Oklahoma’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, 150 of them who’ve accrued 15 years’ experience with the paper and reached the ripe old age of 55, are being offered early retirement. (Newspapers are slowly dying as the world goes electronic.)
I don’t know the details of the offer, such as whether the company is throwing in “lifelong” (until their next budget cut) health insurance, or padding employees’ retirement funds (which could disappear tomorrow if the company undergoes some kind of financial reversal). And the story doesn’t say if the offer is a “voluntary” early retirement, or one of those deals where the employees are out, one way or another. You know the kind: “You can resign now, or be fired; your choice.”
Why am I so angry about this? Because too many details in that story sound too damn familiar. I lived in Oklahoma City for a very long time. Almost all my working years were in that market; all my job searches were in that market. And I’m here to tell you, that market sucks for anyone working in print. There are even more coincidences: I was fired the week of my 55th birthday and just 15 years after I’d started working with that employer.
In this day and age, 55-year-old workers are at their peak, not tottering off into the sunset. In this economy, they are many years from retirement. They are counting on having those years as their most well paid years, as the years when their retirement funds, finally, will really start growing by leaps and bounds due to larger contributions from the employer and accruing interest. At 55, a worker is just beginning his best, most lucrative years of financial preparation for retirement.
I haven’t the words to tell you how heavily a person can be counting on those years after 55 to get ready for retirement. I can’t begin to describe how devastating it is, both financially and emotionally, to be suddenly, unexpectedly fired at that age. It’s even worse if you’re single, because there’s no one else there with emotional and secondary financial support.
It gets worse, of course, as the months drag on and the unemployment checks finally stop. OKC is an especially lousy job market for jobs in print. One major newspaper, a couple of smaller community and business papers, a couple of small community and private magazines. If you happen to have worked your way up to the higher level editing/managing tier, you can count on two hands the opportunities available there. And for the most part they are not really in publishing; they’re the PR directors for the companies big enough to have PR directors. And the same people keep holding those slots; they just advance sideways through the different companies.
I heard some of the management-level discussions when my non-profit medical association was looking for a new director. I heard what they said about the guy who was obviously the best-qualified, nicest guy in the bunch, the one we all wanted to work for. “But he’s 55,” the bosses said. “He’s just biding his time till he retires.”
So they hired some cocky young wunderkind all the way from a snooty rich county association in the NYC suburbs. (Many in Oklahoma City still have an extreme inferiority complex that they try to overcome by hiring people from more sophisticated parts of the country.)
I only lasted a few months after that jerk (shorthand for “arrogant, pompous ass with “Short Man Syndrome”) arrived. There were two of us “antiques” spoiling his office ambiance, and the other woman was the bookkeeper/accountant who had, at the behest of our boss, cooked kept the association’s books for the previous 20 years or so (I learned from her how creative accounting really is). I was only the managing editor of a journal that had never turned a profit at that not-for-profit association. And hell, by then (1998), any pretty young (preferably single) secretary could crank out a publication using Microsoft Word, right? Why keep paying a professional (and old) editor to do it?
Do you detect a little bitterness here? Just a tad, maybe? Nahhhh. It’s ten years later. I’m not bi … bit … bitt … resentful. Hell, no! Why should I be!? (Besides, even though three different lawyers said I might have a case, they all said my time and resources would be better spent looking for another job. So I did. Unsuccessfully. Now that I think about it, all three were men, all three were well-to-do and employed, and all three were in their 40s.)
I know. I know. I need a shrink to help me get over this. But have you checked the going rate these days for a shrink?
(I did warn you this would be a rant, didn’t I?)