>The Holmes and Rahe stress scale lists some three-dozen major traumatic life events. Thank god I am not dealing with the death of a spouse, jail term or personal injury. Shucks, I merely rank at No. 7, with “loss of a job.”
On Wednesday, after 14 years with Billboard, I was one of around 10 staffers laid off at Nielsen. I’m actually on the payroll for sister Radio & Records, the pub that did the dirty deed, so all of my duties for Billboard—as senior correspondent/pop and single reviews editor—were more or less delivered gratis… and willingly so.
So here’s what came down last week: R&R staffers were informed of a mandatory “Town Hall” on Wednesday. There was little doubt that the ultimate result would be layoffs. Like most trade publications, the weekly print model has suffered over the past year from a lack of ad support—not to mention its reporting of an industry—terrestrial radio—that has done everything in its power to demonize itself among consumers, advertisers and Wall Street.
At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the publisher of Billboard/R&R led a phone call, informing staff that the business model has been challenged, times are tough and “today is going to be a very difficult day for R&R” and—ready for this?—please return to your desk and wait for the phone to ring to discover your fate. Did I think I would be among the sacrificed? Based on what I competently deliver on a weekly basis to the magazine, no. Based upon R&R’s hierarchy, which is based on the West Coast, I was not as confident.
Ring! It was my editor Paul on the phone, asking me to join him with a human resources rep. My fate was obvious before I even entered the room. “Your position has been eliminated. Just know that this has nothing to do with your performance.” My first thought is, “Damn straight.” The HR rep starts her routine and at one point, I said, “Is all this written down somewhere, because I’m hearing about half of what you’re saying to me.” She’s saying things like “reduction, salary continuation, transition, Cobra,” and I’m hearing, “layoff, layoff, layoff, layoff.”
At this point, Nielsen has its layoffs down with a genuine sense of elegance. I was axed as of Feb. 25, and remain on payroll through March 25. No security guard standing by my desk to escort me out, my e-mail remains active, allowing me the opportunity to contact my allies. I have time to (toss out and) pack up so many years of crap. And because I have been with the company as long, I have severance.
Okay, at last, let’s address the stuff I really want to talk about: the emotions behind all of this.
• First, I hated walking out of the HR rep’s office, knowing my co-workers were eyeing each of us as that door cracked open. It’s like a cancer: the fear that being laid off might be contagious. But I was greeted with so much love, gracious spirit, true generosity… I am so fond of my co-workers and they would come out of our hugs with tears in their eyes! I was the one reassuring them that I am okay.
• More than anything else I feel, I’ve had a wild, wonderful ride here and truly have no regrets. After 14 years, it’s appropriate for me to turn the page. Let the new kids live their dream now. I could ask for nothing more from this experience.
• Billboard has given me the best, always. I discovered the magazine in the student union during my freshman year at college and from that moment on, dreamed of one day working here. More than a decade later, in 1995, I received a call from managing editor Ken Schlager inviting me to interview for the position of radio editor. Since I was hired and moved from D.C. to NYC in October 1995, I’ve lived every imaginable dream in larger-than-life living color. At Billboard in the mid-1990s I covered the consummate teen pop era that was just ahead. As radio editor, I founded my own column, where I interviewed a hit artist of my choice every week. In its day, mine was the third-best-read column in the magazine.
• In my time here, I did more than interview my idols: I dined with and spent quality time with Sheena Easton, Celine Dion, Olivia Newton-John, Jon Secada, Darren Hayes, Delta Goodrem, Jim Brickman, Debbie Gibson, Jessica Simpson, Darren Hayes and Clint Black. I curled up on a sofa with Jewel. I spoke with Britney, Justin and Hanson, know the Backstreet Boys and BBMak, had a blast with about every ‘80’s star I admired previous to arriving at Billboard: Human League, Air Supply, Toto, Lionel Richie, Roxette, Belinda Carlisle, Erasure, Phil Collins, Bette Midler, Barry Manilow. I met Mary Tyler Moore, Meryl Streep, Tony Bennett, Elvis Costello. In all, I interviewed more than 300 artists. What more could I ask for?
• The last two years as senior editor at R&R have been like coasting on a bike with worn-out brakes—working for a pub that I am certain will retreat to an online-only model by year end, if it survives at all. The majority of the staff, from the top down, are challenged to put two sentences together with words in order… But the point of that mag was never about editorial integrity—to the point that there is literally a mandate that forbids editing the columnists. It’s simply about filling pages with words to sell ads against. What could I miss about that?
• Ironically, about a month ago, I wrote a major feature for R&R about “surviving a layoff.” Boy, I learned a lot. I am certainly Everyman, so am prepared for all stages ahead: numbness, a little anger, acceptance, the future, and then actively moving forward…
• My fellow co-worker A who was laid off alongside me said that the night of our exit, she was updating her resume and looking for jobs online. I told her to stop it: Exhale, take a breath, panicking is not the proper first reaction. Take time to accept before even considering what’s next. I truly believe it’s essential to take a moment to chill.
• My friend E, who was laid off years ago, offered the best advice I’ve heard. She said, “Enjoy the silence.” Look at your future as an empty box, not an obligation to rush back to the first job that comes along. She wrote a novel in her time off, which was not only published (and is a fucking marvel), but it provided her income long past her months of unemployment. And you know what? I am a master storyteller. I’m not a fiction writer, but boy, I could sit down with someone for three months, collect their history and write a brilliant biography. Hello, words neatly arranged! Next stop: New York Times best-seller. Pulitzer? Oh, stop it, you’re embarrassing me.
• I am thankful that I don’t work for General Motors, where, when the assembly line shuts down, I am helpless with the tools I need to do my job. I don’t sell medical supplies, I don’t work at retail. I am fortunate that my life’s work is “talent.” All I need is a pen in hand. A blessing.
• After so many hugs at work, one of my co-workers said Friday, “The fact you seem so positive is making us feel better.” Honestly, I feel right good. More than anything, I will miss daily contact with so many co-workers who are persistently amusing and inspiring… and god knows I love the East Village—but it’s all just a train ride away. I can still hop the subway and buy my toothpaste at Kmart, you know. And then… there’s Lunasa every Friday. Yeah, man, my rock.
• I am surprised that being laid off is as all-consuming in my head as it is. Every other thought seems to have something to do with this evolution, whether considering health insurance, direct deposit, my pre-tax subway card… All of the logistical factors are beginning to sink in alongside the emotional revelations. I was walking down the street Sunday realizing that it’s on the verge of exhausting. But I suppose, all part of the process.
• And that, cool cats, is where I am five days in. Stay tuned for weekly updates.