Veteran reporter saves younger journalist's job by taking voluntary layoff
After 37 years as a Cleveland journalist, Tom Feran took a layoff — and then wrote about it for his paper
Like many regional newspapers across North America, the Cleveland Plain Dealer — Ohio's largest newspaper — has been gutted by layoffs.
Just a few months ago, it cut 29 jobs. And then, last week, the news came down that 14 more journalists had to go.
After 37 years as a reporter and editor at the Plain Dealer, Tom Feran's job was safe. But he volunteered to leave in order to save the job of a younger journalist.
Feran spoke with As it Happens host Carol Off. Here is some of their conversation.
Tom, tell us about the call you got from your editor on Monday.
George Rodrigue, our editor, called me at 8:00 in the morning and very nicely asked if I was sure, and I said I was.
Sure about what?
About being laid off.
He said, "OK, I'm laying you off."
And then he said, "I know it's your normal day off, but would you mind coming in to write the story?"
To write what story?
Well, I said, "You mean the layoff story?"
He said, "Yeah."
And I think we both laughed about the improbability of the whole thing ... I kept laughing all day. I went in and wrote the story.
Well, I know you have written a number of obituaries for the Plain Dealer over the years. Did it feel like you were doing another one?
Well, that's what one of my sons said. He said, "Dad, you're writing your own obit."
But it didn't quite feel like that because there had been so many of these stories in the media over the years.
I'm focusing on undoing that. You know, you've got your job to do, and I said, "Well, this could be the last one. So I want to make it — I want to make sure it's right."
It was, I thought, a compliment to me that I was asked to write the story. It was kind of an honour — kind of a privilege — that, you know, he knew I would be fair and accurate.
And that's all I could try to do.
I was really one of the lucky ones, as I see it, because I could take a lay off. I'm 66. My kids are grown. There are other people who were younger.- Tom Feran
Did you have to write about your own role in this story?
I wrote it as dispassionately as I could, and at a remove.
I don't like intruding myself into a story like that.
How did you come to the decision that you were going to volunteer yourself?
Actually, it was not that difficult a decision. You know, I was really one of the lucky ones, as I see it, because I could take a lay off. I'm 66. My kids are grown. There are other people who were younger. I did ask about, you know, if it would save a job possibly.
George, our editor, did tell me that yes, it did save a job. And that was a great thing. I was really pleased at that. And, you know, especially saving the job for a younger person.
Do you know who got your job, or who the editor is going to give that position to?
No. There were 14 — ultimately 15 — layoffs that are happening. And it's not a one-to-one ... "You saved so-and-so."
It's just that many layoffs are being filled and other people who are still working, you know, won't have to go — at least yet.
This is the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and this is a paper that's won many awards. It's been a mainstay in your town for years — decades. So what is that going to do to the Plain Dealer?
It hurts. The staff reductions started some time ago, as they did at other newspapers.
I think you become acutely aware that you're not covering all of the things that you'd like to see covered. You can't get to all of the stories that are out there.
You are missing, I think, a lot of the things that really animate society — and your readers are not being informed in the same way that you'd like them to.
It's difficult with reduced resources.
I think a newspaper really explains that community to itself. It becomes part of the identity. And people might hate it, as they frequently do — their local newspaper, whatever it is. But they'll still rely on things that they don't hate about it — you know, they'll use the listings, they'll look at the headlines, they'll see the local agenda that a newspaper will set.
In the piece they did in New Yorker magazine about you, you compared the scene that you were in to a 'Monty Python' moment.
Yeah, I said, you know, over the years we have ... this job loss, that job loss, resources diminished — it's like the black knight scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where, you know, the black knight loses, you know, an arm and then the other arm and all his limbs, and he's propped up on the ground saying, you know, "Come on! Come on, it's a flesh wound! Come on, I'll bite your legs off!"
And this is what it's like ... unbent, unbowed, still bristling. But missing all limbs.
And darkly funny.
Yeah. Well, you have to have a sense of humour about it or you'll go nuts.
Interview produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A edited for length and clarity.