In the wee small hours

It’s Wednesday, Feb. 29 — Leap Day in 2012.

Two days ago I was pushed into an uncertainty the likes of which I would have never been brave enough to leap on my own. Before that, I had been the editor of a daily newspaper for a dozen years. There were stories I wanted reporters to write and ideas in the back of my mind for  columns I wanted to write.

And today none of that is there. At least not for me.

Forgive me for being egocentric, but it seems as if  losing something as fundamental as my job is all anyone has wanted to talk about for the past two days. I have heard from hundreds of people. More encouragement than I could ever hoped to receive.

I’m grateful for it. Because when it ends, I know I will just be another one of the 12.8 million Americans who were counted in January by the federal government as unemployed. Undoubtedly, there are many more who were not counted.

And that leaves me awake in a dark house at odd hours of the morning, worrying that soon I will be forgotten.

I worry that words of encouragement with what sound now like job opportunities in the end will be nice gestures from nice people who didn’t know what else to say. Nice people who by this time next week will have moved on to the hundreds of daily tasks that occupy their time and no longer fill up my day. And they won’t have time for me.

Don’t worry. I’m not as depressed as this sounds. But it’s all very unfamiliar when you’re someone who has worked virtually every day for 30 years. And it’s scary as hell.

I wouldn’t wish for any of this to happen to anyone  — not even the  people who still have jobs even though their past decisions led to the decision announced Monday that many kind people have told me they think was very bad.

12 thoughts on “In the wee small hours

  • Well, Chris, for what it’s worth – all of the many former Lee people I know who have been pushed into this same uncertainty (myself included) have had positive outcomes. I should add that all of those people are doing something that doesn’t involve newspapers. Like me, they say that they would never have made the leap on their own. Sometimes we just need a push off that cliff to discover where we’re meant to be. So, Happy Leap Day!

  • Chris, You have your intellect, your skills in communication, and judging from your remarks about your spinning classes your health. Unfortunately you have just had a personal lesson in the humane behavior of modern business (one of the many reasons that I am a believer in unions). You write about the moment when the sympathy/concern stops. It won’t, people still feel it, they just stop expressing it. Your main skill is communication, an important one, since we get ourselves in all kinds of trouble because of mis-communictation. So it is a high value skill, and you will find another niche that uses it at some point. The secret is to get from here to there without being immobilized by the loss that you have gone through.

  • Chris,

    If it is any consolation I know exactly how you feel in 1985 I quit my job as civil defense director in protest over the govts. Position on nuclear war. Mine was voluntary but the worry was there none the less. It ended up costing me a marriage and a hand to mouth existence. But with “a little help from my friends” actually a LOT of helper made it. Enough of my ramblings. If you need to talk stop in at the library and give you phone number to my son Bobby and I will call I have unlimited LD.



  • Chris, you may still be a newspaperman at heart, but you also are an astute communicator, community volunteer, and social media expert. Those are skills that will carry forward to your next career. I’m sure you remember people who clung to their typewriters when you started your newspaper career, and hopefully they are doing okay on Social Security today. Nobody knows the future of newspapers, but it’s not too profitable. It sucks that a newspaper can win awards one week and get rid of the editor the next. I wish I could offer some concrete advice, but keep your options open and hang in there for the long haul.

  • Mr. Steinbach, I’ve never met you, but I was with the “the paper with no name” from 2003-2006 under a different administration…I had started my career at a major newspaper in the Midwest as a clerk, worked one year at the Los Angeles Times, then won several state and national writing awards during my time in Muscatine, including being praised in Lee Enterprises’ internal newsletter, a 1st place in the state AP contest for spot news and 2nd place in the INAs 2 years in a row…

    It wasn’t enough…I lost my writing gig under similar circumstances you suffered through, although at the time, I was struggling with several chronic illnesses…My hiring was the last executive decision of a previous editor who was fired a week after I arrived in town…The publisher and editor of that time seemed to be more interested in rectifying that “mistake” than helping me advance…And because they chose to kick me while I was down dealing with a serious heart condition, I’ve had nothing to do with that paper since…

    I never returned to journalism (the industry was starting to collapse even then)…I was unemployed w/o health care for a year and a half before I found my “second act” and got my health back…

    I loved Muscatine and its people…and the irony wasn’t lost on me that I was treated with far more respect and dignity by my sources and citizens than by some of the people I worked for…

    I’m writing to you because even from a distance, I still try to keep up with what’s going on in Muscatine…You seem like a good man and I wanted to reach out and tell you that you will have a second act as well…Best of luck to you in your further endeavours…

  • Chris I have not personally gone through this, but my wife has, both of my brother’s have, my wife’s brother who got caught up in the GPC lockout (indirectly), etc. It was a tough deal for all them, and for a couple it still is.

    What is different now, is the internet based social network structure. It is much easier to maintain that connection now with friends and acquaintances, than when it totally relied on initiative to make direct contact.

    Keep your head high, and hang onto to that spirit that a good newspaperman such as yourself has.
    George Fisher

  • Chris,
    I remember being out of full-time work for three years at one stretch and a year-long stretch last year. As much as people are being supportive, I can relate to the feeling of “yeah, but I still need a job.”
    My best advice is to take people up on their contacts and suggestions and do what you have to do to make money. Someone somewhere will think you are a good asset to them. Or, maybe you can work on your own projects.
    Best of luck to you. Like the new virtual parlor.

  • Hi Chris,
    I had to basically end my photojournalism career a while back because of a medical condition that prevents me from driving (but not from riding a bike, though!). I’ve not fully recovered career-wise, but my photography work has advanced to level I would have never achieved had I still a newspaper job. I may not be making any money, but I’m proud of my work, just as you must be of yours. Take a breather for a bit…something good will happen.

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