Nineteen


Two days ago.

We were all herded into the training room and told we were there for some “tough news” regarding The Salt Lake Tribune.

Our guesses leading up to this moment had been pretty grim: maybe the paper was being sold, or the editor stepping down, or we were moving to some cheaper office space, or maybe even a cutting back to fewer than seven days a week publishing.

But the “tough news” was worse. The editor was stepping down, and 19 people would be let go immediately. We were now living in a horror film. I looked around the room. There weren’t enough people in there for anyone to feel safe.

We were told to return to our desks where every one of us would receive a letter telling us our fate.

We all got up and walked to the uncertain future. I didn’t even want to take the letter my editor handed to me, but what were the other options? I went to my desk in the Photo Fort we had constructed from the cabinets and cubicles left over from previous layoffs and sat there staring at the envelope in my hands, not wanting to break its seal and put something bad into motion, like the death of my career.

Finally I opened the envelope. My brain, in survival mode, had to read the letter twice before I understood I was safe (“your employment will not be affected”). But there was no sense of relief. I looked up and started to take stock of my environment.

I saw people walking quickly for the exits, tears in their eyes, desperately needing privacy. One writer passed with dark sunglasses covering red eyes. People were hugging each other in grief.

I couldn’t leave the safety of the fort, it was too terrifying. I just stood there looking out, crushed. The photographers started checking with each other to see what had happened. One of us, Paul, had gotten one of the evil letters. After 35 years his career as a photographer with the paper was over. He came into the fort, where we had all gathered. In this horrible situation we gathered as family and shared stories like we used to back in the day while we waited for our film to develop.

Paul’s letter said to report to the sixth floor at 4:30, which was an hour away. We passed the time together trying to forget what was happening all around us. Across the newsroom other small groups were gathering to commiserate. It was the biggest loss we’d ever experienced.

I finally left the office to photograph a high school football game, an event that felt completely meaningless after what had just happened. I was on autopilot, and turned in a series of generic action photos that I’ve already forgotten. I went home and I stayed up texting and looking at the many depressing status updates about the layoffs on Facebook. I found out that one person had been laid off on their birthday, one had a new infant child at home. We were all trying to process it online. I finally made it to my bed for a night of little sleep. Across the neighborhood one of my co-workers was on his couch with his laptop doing the same thing. He fell asleep while online and woke up at 5am sitting there with all his clothes still on. Never even made it to bed.

Two days later. 19 friends are gone, two of the top editors are leaving. I’m shooting figure skating and college football today, hoping the work will clear my head.

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September 14, 2013