Ann Arbor Theater Vixen: Jenn McKee's Blog

{July 8, 2009}   The view from a dying newsroom

This isn’t directly related to local theater, but because I’ve now covered that beat for more than five years from The Ann Arbor News’ newsroom, I feel compelled to report a little on how profoundly strange it’s been, for the last three months, to work in a place that’s been marching doggedly toward the day of its pre-determined death and extinction (July 23).

Increasingly, there’s a ghost-town vibe here. Most desks, where photographers and copy editors and graphic artists and reporters used to be, are bare; the family photos and personal items that used to decorate them seemed to disappear in an eye-blink, leaving crumbs and bits of paper and an empty chair.

The sound of a drill, and the sight of a dolly hauling away equipment, have become common. Pete Bigelow, often the lone man in the sports department, now listens to Bruce Springsteen songs while working, so that some of us hear the low, blue-collar hum of the Boss’s vocals throughout the day. The chair where my former editor used to sit has a small piece of paper taped to the seat reading “Remove.” The table everyone checked out of the corner of their eye every day – because occasionally, doughnuts or cookies or breads or other treats would be there, having been brought in by a colleague – was standing on its side when I left work today.

For a while, people who took the most recent buyout worked their last days in a slow succession, so that nearly every week, you were invited to a “goodbye lunch” and were signing “goodbye cards” pretty constantly. (A co-worker, in a great example of gallows humor, suggested that on the last day, those of us left will sit around the conference room table, signing each other’s goodbye cards in assembly line fashion.)

For the work that remains, many (myself included) have struggled to find motivation. And while many voice a deflated kind of apathy, I notice people still reflexively take painstaking care in their work. These folks didn’t get their jobs by accident. They are meticulous, they are professional, they work to make each other and the paper better every day, and they root for each other as we all explore where we go from here. In my book, that’s a highly subtle brand of heroism, and one of the many reasons I’ll miss this place.

It’s hard for me to imagine Ann Arbor without the News, but it’s even harder to imagine not ever returning to this newsroom, which was, when I first arrived, full-to-bursting with talented, hard-working, smart, funny, and compassionate people whom I, in many cases, already miss.

No matter how many months we’ve all had to prepare for it, the end will still be emotionally grueling and difficult. And watching as the pieces of an empty newsroom make their way elsewhere only makes the inevitable seem far too tangibly real.


Frank Anderson says:

Great piece. It sort of reminds me — this is a very lame comparison, but it’s really my only reference point — of the trickling away of students from the dorms at the end of spring semester. If you have a final on that last day of exams, you’ve seen all of your friends bleed away for the summer. It’s a weird and bittersweet time. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s much “sweet” in what you and your colleagues are going through, though I hope this new venture of your helps!

On an even stupider note, I wonder what will happen to Clark Kent and Peter Parker. Twenty years from now, when Superman and Spider-Man are resurrected yet again in a holotheater for the youth of 2029, what will their professions be? What’s Clark Kent without Lois, Perry, Jimmy and the Daily Planet? Who will Peter sell his Spidey photos to? That’s how deeply connected your profession is to American culture — two of our most popular superheroes are journalists.

Kathy Waugh says:

Thanks for your blog, Jenn. I’ve got it bookmarked!

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