The editor who took me to lunch during my tryout week.
The editor and the reporter I met during orientation, when he asked me to take a look at her story and tell him what I thought. Later I would work for him for two years and edit her for 15, and come to regard both as friends.
The copy editor who polished my last story (and the copy chief who pushed the button on it). The one I worked with on the metro desk and the style desk and maybe even the culture desk somewhere along the line. Another one who helped me on Oscar nights and auction nights and many in between for the better part of two decades (and now sends me students).
The veteran news assistant on a section I helped edit for five years. And our boss on that section.
Oh, and the editor to whom my kids have been addressing cover letters, seeking summer internships.
These are just a few of the 100-plus people walking out the doors of The New York Times this month in the latest round of buyouts and layoffs (some sadder than others). Theoretically, Dec. 19 was to be the last day for most of them, although some are staying until the end of the month. The main newsroom farewell is Friday at 12:30, I hear.
I left the building six and a half years ago, but despite a few remaining stalwarts, this round of buyouts is really the passing of my generation from the Times newsroom. Once, we looked up to the bylines in it as role models for our future; now, we don’t recognize half the names.
Coincidentally, I’ll be back in the building at the time of the party. The commencement ceremony of the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, where I coach the international students, starts at the Times Center at 11 a.m.
Last year I didn’t go. Faculty members were told by e-mail that seating was so tight we would have to sit onstage, and as a relative newcomer, I felt that would be presumptuous. This year when the e-mail came asking if we planned to attend, I responded: “I’ll come if I don’t have to sit on the stage.” Christa Noelle, assistant director of student services, responded in the only sensible way: she assigned me to usher. Thus converge two parts of my post-New York Times life.
The Class of 2015 is the first with which I have been involved from the beginning, having interviewed some international applicants to assess whether their English was up to the program’s demands. Since those interviews two years ago, I have seen a dozen of this year’s graduates though orientation, introduction to newswriting, neighborhood beats, business strategy stories, capstone projects. I’ve coached them in writing ledes,structuring stories, asking follow-up questions and meeting deadlines; I’ve advised them to make friends with AP style. I’ve taught them English idioms and how to say “Long Island” properly; when to use articles, and when not; the rule that, in English, periods and commas go inside quotation marks; and a lot more.
“Is there life after this?” That e-mail could have come from any of this year’s CUNY graduates, who’ve barely lifted their heads from their laptops for three semesters. In fact it was written by that Times editor I met on orientation when I congratulated him on taking the buyout — who’s barely lifted his head not for 18 months, but for 30-plus years. My answer: “More than you can possibly imagine.” (If you have any doubts, just read this blog.) I suggested he might “join our merry band” — his words, 1995 — down the street at the J-school, which, I’ve decided this semester, offers all the fun of working in a newsroom and little of the stress.
I don’t know what new lives any of the Times people are commencing — nor, I suspect, do they. Six and a half years ago I had glimmers of mine, but nowhere near the whole picture. My best advice: it takes a full year just to decompress. Get some rest.
But I do know what’s in the graduates’ futures: media careers that many in my Times generation can’t even imagine. Last year, two of my students had to cancel the post-graduate semester they had planned because they were offered jobs. Two others, Natalia Osipova and Sofia Perpetua, are already working in the Times video unit, which has expanded into the space where my cubicle used to be.
Your turn, kids. Good luck, and get it right.