I still remember where I was when I got the news I was going to be laid off my previous full-time newspaper gig at another Northwest Indiana publication.
We didn’t have a central office anymore, so I was working from home most days. My usual agenda as assistant sports editor was putting the budget together, maybe writing a column or feature, then going out to cover a game.
It was late February, 2014, and one of our union reps who was also a sports reporter, called my work cell phone while I was microwaving some lunch and getting ready to sit down in front of my laptop to write something — likely on the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team that Marquette Catholic graduate Ryan Fazekas announced as his next destination.
I was stunned, at first thinking “What did I do wrong?” or “Is this a joke?”
The answers to those rhetorical questions were nothing and no. Because I was in the union, it was required that I get two weeks notice of a possible layoff, in case there’s a way to negotiate out of it.
There wasn’t and almost 15 years at a company — easily the most I’ve spent on a job in my life — was over. It’s a cruel business.
So I know how 100 employees of ESPN felt on Wednesday when it was announced the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” was cutting on-air personalities left and right.
Being in the newspaper business, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the main reason the job hacking took place: money, money and more money.
I’d like to blame Millennials and how they don’t need cable or satellite television anymore — the modern term is “cord-cutting” — with options like Netflix, Hulu, DirecTV Now, Amazon Prime and Sling TV. They are all between $70 and $90 cheaper than the average cable or satellite bill.
ESPN has lost more than 12 million subscribers in the last five years for a loss of around $2 billion in revenue. That’s not good for a network that has spent four times that amount in rights fees to cover the National Football League, National Basketball Association and other leagues.
The problem is — and I had this same feeling when I was laid off — that the people let go were some of the most hard-working, talented journalists at the network, but not the highest paid.
NFL reporter Ed Werder, MLB writer Jayson Stark, NFL analyst Trent Dilfer (hopefully he doesn’t need to sell off his Super Bowl ring), golf commentator Dottie Pepper and radio host Robin Lundberg, who did the overnight 3-5 a.m. show “First and Last,” as well as occasional weekend shows. I really enjoyed him as a host and called into the national show a couple times.
Oh, and his wife just had a baby this past year. It’s a cruel business.
What about that $3.5 million salary of Stephen A. Smith, who isn’t a journalist, just a yeller? Or those high-paid SportsCenter anchors or hosts of those afternoon shows? Instead, the hard-working journalists get bumped. I felt the same way, thinking, ‘Why are the peons getting laid off when our parent newspaper out of Chicago had columnists making more than $500,000 a year for less work than us?’
Some sports fans don’t like ESPN. There were several Twitter strings on Wednesday that were happy because of their disdain for the network and its political views. Yes, believe it or not, some people were openly applauding human beings’ pain due to losing their jobs because of the perception that ESPN is a liberal institution. What does politics have to do with it, especially when families are affected?
Back when I was laid off, I remember getting more than 120 messages of condolence and wishing me luck in finding another job. But I did notice the supposed friends or people I had written nice articles on who didn’t wish me luck or act like they cared.
I still have a special place in my memory banks for those people who weren’t really my friends, and so should the ESPN people who were dismissed since several of the grave dancing was from fellow media outlets. Good journalists and hard workers will always be needed in a growing media world that keeps evolving, and some of them might be future co-workers of the same people dancing on their employment graves.
Be careful what you wish for. It’s a cruel business.
Reach sports editor Steve T. Gorches at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 214-4206. Follow him on Twitter @SteveTGorches.