In February, The New York Times carried an article with this lead sentence, "After Thursday Liz Smith will not have a home in a New York City tabloid for the first time in 33 years." The article stayed with me, not because of Liz Smith or the New York Post, which let her go, but because of that word "home."
For so many of us, home is the newsroom where we work. For some, the newsroom may be more a home than the place where we officially hang our hats. On days when a big calamity has the place humming and every member of the team, like members of a family, busily works their end of the story, (hopefully) part of a well-oiled machine. On holidays when nothing much is happening and you kick back, take a breather and chew the fat. The times you might hang out after hours just because you like the company. The circle of journalists who share your quirky love of this crazy job, the odd hours, the people who make the newsroom "the place where you belong," should you be so lucky, make the job more than something we do for a paycheck, and make the place more than a workplace. If home is where the heart is, and if a newsroom is the place that offers a journalist the chance to do his or her thing -- better yet, where people "get you" because they, unlike many other people, think and act like you -- then the newsroom is, for certain, a home.
That's why it can be so wrenching to lose it.
And, as we all know, lots of journalists besides Liz Smith are losing their jobs these days.
As one colleague put it after being booted out of a long-term career at a network newsroom, when you lose it you feel abandoned. Cut off from the world. With no place to go. His "workhome" was a place he went to every day for years -- to which he could not now go.
Even if you get another job in another field, or strike out on your own using the same talents as a freelancer, without the deadlines and excitement, the immediacy, the special shared thrills as you do your work in the hubbub of activity that is a living, breathing newsroom, the camaraderie is irrevocably different. If not altogether absent.
And even if you still have your job, if a newsroom is where you spend your days, with so many in the next cubicle or desk decimated by layoffs, the feeling of home may not be what it once was.
Of course, you may hate your co-workers, your boss, the whole wretched zeitgeist of the place where you earn your living as a journalist. It all depends. But for many if not most a newsroom will offer the working journalist a place where his or her ideas and efforts find an outlet, a home. And that's nothing to sniff at.
Liz Smith is landing on her feet, as more and more journalists do these days, on the Internet. She will have outlets and a place to post her scoops there and elsewhere in syndication. Not to worry about her, whether she has a home in a New York newspaper or not.
Without a newsroom, where a group of people gathers in one central spot, as part of your day, you, too, may also still find work as a journalist. Journalists, of course, have always included those who work their network of sources like a lone wolf and come back only to file, or never show up "at headquarters"-- filing from who knows where with who knows what kinds of newfangled gadgets. And you may be fine with that.
But when you take away the writing, the editing, the gathering, the doing of the job itself, for so many what's left is that the newsroom feels like the place where you fit in, get your kicks. Where you're always welcomed. Where you are "in the circle," both an inner circle within the broader community, privy first to things most others in your town are not. And sharing all that with a community of fellow journalists, where, hopefully, you feel valuable and valued.
You may never think about a newsroom as home until it's gone. Only when it's gone might you realize what's missing. And that there may be almost nothing like it to replace it.