Dear veteran journalists, you deserve better

I never get used to it: the layoffs and buyouts, the shrinking of newsrooms, the doing of more and more with less and less. You’d think, as someone who’s covered the media for nearly four years, that I would have by now.

But I remembered recently that I haven’t when one of the reporters I respect the most in this industry shared on Facebook that he’d been laid off. Roy Wenzl was a skilled and tough reporter from The Wichita Eagle (a McClatchy paper). He won awards. He told amazing stories. And he covered his community like someone who lives there and loves it.

More than a decade ago, Roy approached me at a National Writers Workshop (which Poynter used to put on around the country) and said something to the effect of “your work is so good.” I was speechless. As a young features reporter at a small daily newspaper, I had no idea what I was doing and looked everywhere I could for people who did.

Roy became one of those people, if not the person. He gathered together a small group of us, a club of Midwestern writers devoted to narrative storytelling. We were all given placemats Roy collected from Green Dragon Tavern in Boston, the headquarters of the American Revolution. He called us the Green Dragons.

Roy read my stuff and told me what stunk. He recommended me for a three-day writing workshop hosted by the Virginian-Pilot, where I got to drink beer and talk about craft with amazing journalists on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. He put me in touch with reporters at other outlets when job opportunities came up and helped me navigate what those newsrooms were really like.

He did the thing that young journalists need – he was there.

This week, Roy wrote a really beautiful essay about losing his job but keeping the thing it taught him best to do – really seeing and living in the world.

And I thought: Here he is again, teaching me something.

I’ve seen a lot of reactions when journalists lose their jobs: Sadness, regret, relief, anger, worry, opportunity. It seems like we mourn their losses and the injustice of an industry that’s still slipping and stumbling down a steep slope, and then we move on to the next news cycle until it happens again. Often it happens again the next week.

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And while the list of journalists taking buyouts from The New York Times keeps growing and getting noticed, people all around the country, like Roy, are leaving rather quietly.

They deserve better. He deserves better.

I don’t know what that better is.

A call? A card? An open tab at the bar down the street? Can we help them find other work? Connect them with the contacts we now have (that they helped us start to get?) Share the new things they’re trying everywhere we can?

Most journalists have their own Roys – people who stepped up and, without being asked, pushed them forward. I looked through 12 years of emails and messages, and they’re all me asking for something: advice, support, attention.

Now, what can we do for this generation of journalists who are suddenly without newsrooms?

I’m not sure. So I’m asking.

And Roy, if you want to have a beer or five, they’re on me.

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