Jan. 25, 2008, isn't just a milestone for me. It means the Toronto Sun editorial department has gone a year without putting employees on the street.
In 2006, there were two rounds of layoffs announced at the Toronto Sun, coming on top of the 'Baby Suns' layoffs in 2005. That's three rounds of cuts in less than 18 months. Other areas of the Sun also felt the pain, as my brother-in-law and sister-in-law – both long-time employees with 21 and 27 years at the company – were laid off on the same day in March 2006. Darlene Avery, with nearly 27 years of experience, was laid off in 2005.
In my 22 years at the Sun, I never faced a task as difficult as sitting in the same room as colleagues whose lives were being devastated, when all you can offer is Kleenex, sympathy and the assurance that they have recall rights for two years if their position is reinstated in the future.
I can't say I was surprised to see my name on the layoff list in November 2006. The list was arranged by classification, with Bill Brioux's name at the top and mine second. I was still reeling from the disbelief of seeing Bill's name when I read mine. And I remember exactly what I thought: "Now I don't have to worry about being laid off anymore. It's happened." I also recall thinking that if I left the company, I'd never have to deal with the anguish of another round of layoffs at the Toronto Sun.
My relief was short-lived, as the full horror of the list of names sunk in. As with previous rounds of job cuts at the Sun, it wasn't about trimming the fat, but instead cruel and unnecessary amputations.
Union executives were sworn to secrecy about the layoffs, but at the same time we had to work behind the scenes to try to solicit some voluntary buyouts to minimize the pain. Luckily, Dave Henderson and Fred Thornhill volunteered to take packages, saving the jobs of Jon McCarthy (facing a potential third layoff notice in less than 18 months) and Dave Lucas (who later bolted for the Globe). A few days later Sandy Naiman agreed to take a buyout, saving Brodie Fenlon's job. Two other employees offered to take buyouts to save the jobs of younger workers, but their requests were refused.
The last two months that I worked at the Sun were a strange period that I call my "dead man walking" phase. Whether I did a good job or a bad job, I was going to be gone in eight weeks. Quality didn't matter, except for my own personal standards. Then again, if Quebecor really cared about quality, award-winning journalists wouldn't be getting layoff notices.
With the luxury of a 56-week severance package, I took a good chunk of time off after I left the Sun, selectively applying for jobs. As I told friends, I didn't want to take a job just for the sake of paying the bills. I was looking for a career.
In December, my job hunt paid off. I landed a contract position as a communications officer with the Ministry of Energy. I'm across the hall from Alan Findlay, a building over from Ciaran Ganley, Mike Patton and Al Cairns, and down the street from Linda Williamson.
As Gord Walsh observed, who would have predicted that Sun Media would be the launching pad for so many civil service careers.
I love my new job. I'm doing interesting work with a great group of people and wonderful, supportive managers. My hours are stable, so I am continuing to take night courses to keep my skills current. And the government is even paying for me to take a weekly, two-hour conversational French class during regular business hours. C'est formidable!
Count me among the people who believe that getting laid off from the Sun was a blessing. I miss the people, but I don't miss the way the paper's vibrant, quirky corporate culture has been destroyed and talented journalists turfed.
I can assure you there is life after the Sun. But the bigger issue is, whatever happened to the way of life at the Sun and can it ever be revived? I guess that's the underlying theme of this blog.
There's good reason the church was packed for Doug Creighton's funeral, including people who hadn't worked at the Sun for years. He had instilled such a strong sense of camaraderie in the workplace that people truly felt he was both a kind father figure and a friend.
In 2002, a Ryerson Journalism Review article about the Toronto Sun contained the following quote from Creighton: "I was publisher for 21 years and during that time we managed to not lay off anybody. I think layoffs are wrong and I think the way they're carried out is wrong."
Creighton knew that corporate loyalty was a two-way street. He knew that executives who operated with a "my way or the doorway" policy risked a steady brain drain and/or a union drive. He also knew the formula for getting the most out of employees without paying industry-leading wages: Make it a fun place to work, treat employees fairly and with respect, provide generous benefits and vacation time, share the wealth in good times, work together through tough problems in bad times, and reward hard work and loyalty. He knew how to inject both profits and fun into a company. His media magic is sorely missed.
For the sake of all the dedicated workers at the Sun who have invested so much of their lives and talent into the paper, I hope the convergence mania is tempered with Creighton-style corporate innovation and the Sun plugs into a brighter future.
Thank you for your e-mail, Maryanna. All the best.
Friends and former colleagues can reach Maryanna by e-mail.