By:
July 8, 2021

This story is part of a series. You can read other stories from Some Personal News here.

At the end of the day on Jan. 6, while the country was consumed with news about an angry mob storming the U.S. Capitol to protest a fair election, Matt Memrick sat thinking about a conference call he had earlier in the day where he learned his position at McClatchy was being eliminated.

“Part of me knew something was up. I didn’t know if my hours were going to be reduced,” Memrick said. “I had a feeling that it wasn’t good, but I didn’t realize that they were going to be so quick to eliminate my position.”

Memrick had been working at the McClatchy Publishing Center for over five years as a digital content specialist. There, he designed newspaper pages and edited stories for the company’s 30 daily papers. He was oftentimes assigned the role of “sweeper,” sending off pages for publication after getting them approved by the page checker.

Sweepers had the lowest status in the newsroom, Memrick said. On Jan. 6, he and a few others who had primarily worked in the positions lost their jobs. His last day would be in two weeks — Inauguration Day

The layoff didn’t come as a complete surprise. McClatchy had filed for bankruptcy in February 2020 and was later bought by hedge fund Chatham Asset Management in July 2020. Memrick knew the conference call would bring bad news, but he had hoped he wouldn’t lose his job. Maybe, he thought, the director on the call would tell everyone that times had been challenging during the pandemic and they needed to find new ways to generate revenue.

“When a new hedge fund takes over your company, you sort of feel like, ‘Well, there could be bad things happening,’” Memrick said. “‘Certainly they can’t keep eliminating jobs.’ But, you know, they did.”

This wasn’t the first time he’d been laid off from McClatchy. Six years ago, he joined The Charlotte Observer after spending more than a decade working at the Gaston Gazette. A coworker had encouraged him to apply for the Observer position, which would earn him more money.

Memrick jumped at the opportunity. But after just a few months, he was laid off. At the time, his daughter was only 1 year old.

“The funny thing I want to say is that I have two daughters, one’s seven and one’s two. And every time I had a one year old, I seemed to get laid off,” Memerick said. “I thought that was a sign that basically I can’t have a third daughter or a third child and be in newspapers.”

The first time he was laid off, Memrick spent a lot of time at home, unsure about what to do next. This time, he feels more optimistic.

Before he was let go in January, Memrick was substitute teaching and freelance writing. He started a Substack newsletter with other alumni from his alma mater, Belmont Abbey College, to cover stories that were going unreported. At McClatchy, Memrick hadn’t been able to write much, so freelancing was an opportunity to practice his skills.

“I feel like I have a little bit more brand name recognition, maybe a little more skill built up,” Memrick said. “Maybe it’s time to get out of newspapers — maybe not journalism essentially — but maybe there’s a better life than … working a second shift.”

In his search for a new job, Memrick has considered a variety of positions: digital content specialist, van transporter, executive assistant, social media consultant and grant writer. He worked as a substitute teacher during the school year, but he hopes to find full-time work this summer. If he is still unemployed in the fall, he plans to return to substitute teaching and may explore full-time teaching.

Even if his next job is not in journalism, Memrick still hopes to “do some journalistic good in the world.” As a kid, he would often sit in his driveway and read newspapers after school. He took journalism classes through high school and college. Upon graduation, he got his dream job — a position at a local paper.

“I was kind of blessed in being able to jump right into journalism right out of college and then have a long run with them (newspapers),” Memrick said. “The first time I was laid off in McClatchy, there was a big party — not necessarily a party, but there was a bunch of people that were either retiring or they were being let go. And I said I’m not ready yet. I’m not ready to leave newspapers, and I was kind of hurt by it.”

“This time, I sort of feel like it may be time.”

This story is part of a series, Some Personal News, that shares experiences of people who were laid off from their journalism jobs or left the news during the pandemic. We know thousands of people lost their jobs last year, and want to capture the stories of journalists, printing plant employees, ad sales people, news researchers and anyone else whose employment by newsrooms ended or was altered because of the pandemic. You can tell us your story here.

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Angela Fu is a reporter for Poynter. She can be reached at afu@poynter.org or on Twitter @angelanfu.
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