The Back-Up Plan
IT WAS 2008, I THINK. THE FIRST TIME I EVER ATTENDED A GATHERING OF NEWSPAPER PEOPLE AND HEARD THE WORD “LAYOFFS”.
It was a terrifying moment. Unthinkable, really.
Newspapers, after all, had survived the Great Depression. They’d thrived during the recessions of the 1970s. They seemed immune to the vagaries of the American economy.
How could this be happening?
We all knew we were never going to get rich as journalists, but there were plentiful jobs for those who hustled. And who knew how to write.
Beyond that, it was fun work. Newsrooms were packed with wise-cracking writers, crusty editors and a daily arms race for the front page.
It seemed everyone in every town bought at least one newspaper.
But along came the internet. Overnight, it seemed, the old metrics vanished.
Layoffs happened everywhere. Again and again. Some papers folded, some stop publishing print editions altogether and went online. There were cutbacks in newsrooms across the nation.
Suddenly, the country was drowning in unemployed journalists.
After that first meeting, as we all nervously waited for that call from the editor saying we were on the hit list, I phoned my brother, The Genius. He’s a creative businessman, a guy who helped pioneer the concept of “branding.”
“What should I do if I get laid off?” I wailed.
So far, the only back-up plan I had was to become a private detective. I had the skill set, I figured. And it’d be fun to have a job where I could be armed with more than a notebook.
“Calm down,” he told me. “You’re not going to be a private eye. Buy your domain name. If you lose your job do what you do best.”
“What’s that?” I moaned.
“Write,” he said. “Your back-up plan should be to start a website. You can say what you want without worrying about what anybody thinks.”
So for 10 years I squatted on kerrydougherty.com. I paid the yearly fees and thanked God I didn’t have to use it.
In October The Virginian-Pilot announced a voluntary RIF for workers who’d been at the paper more than 25 years. I’d been there for 33.
It was time.
Time to unshackle myself from the increasingly politically correct AP Stylebook. Time to discard the Oxford comma. Time to write short, breezy pieces about national issues, lifestyle trends and the media.
So here we are.