Bad news brings bad memories for retired editor

Rant Alert!!!! Rant Alert!!!! Rant Alert!!!!

This is what’s happening these days to print media employees. “Early” retirement. When you think retirement, what age comes to mind? 65? Maybe a little older now, given the tough economy. So if an employer mentioned early retirement, you might think a couple of years earlier, say, 62 or 63. Or maybe as young as 60.

You’d be wrong. Some employees at Oklahoma’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, 150 of them who’ve accrued 15 years’ experience with the paper and reached the ripe old age of 55, are being offered early retirement. (Newspapers are slowly dying as the world goes electronic.)

I don’t know the details of the offer, such as whether the company is throwing in “lifelong” (until their next budget cut) health insurance, or padding employees’ retirement funds (which could disappear tomorrow if the company undergoes some kind of financial reversal). And the story doesn’t say if the offer is a “voluntary” early retirement, or one of those deals where the employees are out, one way or another. You know the kind: “You can resign now, or be fired; your choice.”

Why am I so angry about this? Because too many details in that story sound too damn familiar. I lived in Oklahoma City for a very long time. Almost all my working years were in that market; all my job searches were in that market. And I’m here to tell you, that market sucks for anyone working in print. There are even more coincidences: I was fired the week of my 55th birthday and just 15 years after I’d started working with that employer.

In this day and age, 55-year-old workers are at their peak, not tottering off into the sunset. In this economy, they are many years from retirement. They are counting on having those years as their most well paid years, as the years when their retirement funds, finally, will really start growing by leaps and bounds due to larger contributions from the employer and accruing interest. At 55, a worker is just beginning his best, most lucrative years of financial preparation for retirement.

I haven’t the words to tell you how heavily a person can be counting on those years after 55 to get ready for retirement. I can’t begin to describe how devastating it is, both financially and emotionally, to be suddenly, unexpectedly fired at that age. It’s even worse if you’re single, because there’s no one else there with emotional and secondary financial support.

It gets worse, of course, as the months drag on and the unemployment checks finally stop. OKC is an especially lousy job market for jobs in print. One major newspaper, a couple of smaller community and business papers, a couple of small community and private magazines. If you happen to have worked your way up to the higher level editing/managing tier, you can count on two hands the opportunities available there. And for the most part they are not really in publishing; they’re the PR directors for the companies big enough to have PR directors. And the same people keep holding those slots; they just advance sideways through the different companies.

I heard some of the management-level discussions when my non-profit medical association was looking for a new director. I heard what they said about the guy who was obviously the best-qualified, nicest guy in the bunch, the one we all wanted to work for. “But he’s 55,” the bosses said. “He’s just biding his time till he retires.”

So they hired some cocky young wunderkind all the way from a snooty rich county association in the NYC suburbs. (Many in Oklahoma City still have an extreme inferiority complex that they try to overcome by hiring people from more sophisticated parts of the country.)

I only lasted a few months after that jerk (shorthand for “arrogant, pompous ass with “Short Man Syndrome”) arrived. There were two of us “antiques” spoiling his office ambiance, and the other woman was the bookkeeper/accountant who had, at the behest of our boss, cooked kept the association’s books for the previous 20 years or so (I learned from her how creative accounting really is). I was only the managing editor of a journal that had never turned a profit at that not-for-profit association. And hell, by then (1998), any pretty young (preferably single) secretary could crank out a publication using Microsoft Word, right? Why keep paying a professional (and old) editor to do it?

Do you detect a little bitterness here? Just a tad, maybe? Nahhhh. It’s ten years later. I’m not bi … bit … bitt … resentful. Hell, no! Why should I be!? (Besides, even though three different lawyers said I might have a case, they all said my time and resources would be better spent looking for another job. So I did. Unsuccessfully. Now that I think about it, all three were men, all three were well-to-do and employed, and all three were in their 40s.)

I know. I know. I need a shrink to help me get over this. But have you checked the going rate these days for a shrink?

(I did warn you this would be a rant, didn’t I?)

5 thoughts on “Bad news brings bad memories for retired editor

  1. I’m 41 and in New York, that’s old–too old to get hired in print. I expect to be compensated for my experience, you see. Instead, a lot of places would rather go with a 30-year-old with lower salary requirements. Experience doesn’t matter anymore. As long as you have five years, it’s all about salary. I’m convinced of it.

    Ah, well, this is why the jobs I’m looking at aren’t in journalism. As you say, print is dying out in favor of electronic, and you know, no one over the age of 23 knows anything about THAT. (eyeroll)
    I vacillate constantly between missing my job and being glad I’m out of the rat race. The bar is down to 30 now? That’s so … self-defeating!

    There have to be employers out there who appreciate and value experience, skill, and judgment; they’re just getting harder to find. I know you have to eat in the meantime, but the right job is out there somewhere. You’ll find it.

  2. i do not get why, in the western world especially, our older and wiser are tossed aside, viewed as incompetent or unable to learn. Perhaps this is a huge part of the reason our young people seem so out of control, spoiled?

    In other parts of the world, older folks are revered and mined for their life experience, acquired wisdom and knowledge and it is their beauty.

    What a tremendous resource wasted! What arrogance and ignorance. How wrong.
    I read Terri’s post and her situation at age 41, or listen to my 40-year-old son saying that in his field, computer program developer and systems administrator, he’s considered over the hill, and I’m just appalled. At this rate, in another 10 years, management will be 30-somethings hiring 20-somethings, while at the same time retirement ages and life expectancies keep increasing. I just don’t see how that’s supposed to keep working — logically, mathematically, or by any other calculation.

  3. Rant on mama! G.E. pushed my dad into early retirement; I’ll never forget how it made him feel. I’ve hated G.E. ever since. Here’s a guy that worked for them FOREVER and … buh-bye, like it was nothing.

    And, when they force someone into early retirement, yet they are not old enough to receive medicare benefits, what are they suppose to do to get health insurance coverage? It can screw a person over in so many ways. It’s b.s.

    I can see why you are so frustrated.

    @c, “40 year old son 40 yrs old considered over the hill” that is so ridiculous.
    Ah yes, the health insurance. I’ll bet most people these days are working as much for health insurance as anything else. And if you happen to be the head of the family, like your dad, you’re probably talking about taking away the coverage for an entire family. As crushing as it was to me, as a single, I can’t begin to imagine how it must hit a person who feels (and is) responsible for his or her entire family.

  4. Er, it’s a bit late to be responding to a 4 year + year old post, but I don’t like to rush things. (Plus I just noticed your blog in the Featured Section of WP, an honor I have yet to be accorded, gnash gnash) I’m older now, you see, and don’t move as fast as I userd to. 😉 But what I wanted to say, er, let me try with that old brain of mine to remember what I was saying… I think… I think…. I think the young eventually get older, too. They just don’t think it applies to them. That’s because they’re special. Time waits for no one, except them! More seriously, I think it doesn’t take genius to realize that in this country, whatever one may have learned from life and its harsh lessons, or the experience from a lifetime on the job, is generally viewed as essentially worthless, by potential employers. Young and stupid (and cheap) is the preferred hire. Experience to them is just another disposable piece of annoying ie, expensive) baggage, except in what used to be called “the professions.” Those who have not managed by 40 to accumulate a fortress stash of f*** you money will be at the mercy, at the very mercy I say, of wild dogs roaming in the late afternoon. I call it the iceberg syndrome. It’s every person for themselves, that’s the ticket! Me, moi, and mine. Such a pleasant thought, innit? And probably does not really make for a structurally viable, sane society, long term. Nice blog, btw. Learned something new today: “pied type.” But wait, I think I’m too old to learn anything new, they tell me. 😉

    1. Sounds like you move at about my speed. And I figure if I’m still moving at all, that’s pretty good. As for being too old to learn anything new — let ’em think that. That way they’ll never suspect what we’re up to. We are still up to something, aren’t we? 😉

... and that's my two cents