Laid Off After 58 Years in Newspapers — Here’s What John Van Doorn Thinks

By: Greg Mitchell

John Van Doorn, a longtime reporter and editor (at the New York Post and The New York Times, among other places), joined the ranks of the thousands of recently unemployed newspaper staffers on Tuesday as one of 25 cuts at the North County (Calif.) Times. He quickly wrote a column about it and sent it to us. As he says, he “may now be reached at”

by John Van Doorn

It has been on my mind for some time to share with one and all my views on the economy and its varied hand-me-downs, such as mortgages, gasoline prices, food costs, banking shenanigans and corporate catastrophes, plus the horrors of unemployment and lost homes, families, cars, futures and dignity.

What with one thing and another, I never got around to it. In some quarters that is probably regarded as intellectual sloth, and no doubt there’s a hint of that in my work.

But more than that, I have held off each time the economy slipped over another precipice because I needed to find a strong local angle. That was the mandate when I was appointed to be the Observer. Local. Personal.

Now I have one, and it’s a pip: I got laid off Tuesday.

My services are no longer required, in the sense that I am freed of any obligation to go to the office, write a column several times a week and otherwise make myself useful as an editor of nagging perceptiveness and uncommon pedantry.

Don’t cry for me, California. I don’t for a second want any of you, including both my fans, to take up cudgels or keyboards in my behalf.

Do not rush to the barricades with large signs declaring: “We demand reinstatement of the old guy,” or “Let’s look at the record,” beguiling as the record might be.

I am a direct descendant of the economy. It is bad, bad, as everyone knows, and there are layoffs in the hundreds of thousands across the country; last I read (I am not writing in the office this minute so I don’t have my journalistic research tools immediately at hand) the
unemployment figure stood at 2.5 million, which now must be adjusted to 2,500,001 if accuracy matters anymore.

So I have company, which is an unfortunate word in this context, isn’t it? At my own (former) newspaper others have been laid off, too. I don’t know the numbers but I do know some names and, more important, many faces, and I can tell you that they’re the same as the faces of your neighbors, friends, and family, in that they’re all above average in the way of looks, and they’re smart and real. I rather think some are tear-stained these days.

The economy got all of us who have been gotten. I expect more to follow, not necessarily here but throughout what is clumsily referred to as the “media industry.” I make no pronouncements as to the shape of the industry in years to come. I don’t know what’s going to happen.

I leave my job with not a jot of bitterness. You cannot imagine the glory of being a newspaperman, which I have been for 58 years. I have worked at, and occasionally been in charge of, a few of the country’s largest papers — Newsday, the New York Post and The New York Times come to mind — and at a handful of lesser lights oh so bright withal.

I have loved every second of my time. I got to run around the world, reside in 11 countries and work in 35, rub shoulders with presidents, prime ministers and a king or two, and with ordinary people far more substantive, such as the North County population.

It’s been a glorious career for me, and I hope that everyone in it has felt its majesty once or twice or constantly. It would be even better to know that it has rubbed off on outsiders.

This is beginning to sound funereal, and I have no wish to leave on that note. I’ll still be working, of necessity as well as in answer to the call; I cannot not write.

I’ll still be appearing in these pages. The beauty of it is that I won’t have to have truck anymore with meetings, office politics, or regular paychecks, which I frankly found a burden.

I am gone but not a goner.

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