Monday, January 21, 2008

And Then There Were Two

LAST WEDNESDAY WAS MY IMMEDIATE supervisor's last day. The day before, we celebrated her nearly three-decade career at the company with a breakfast. I'd sent around a note the previous Friday to solicit interest in both this and the Wednesday lunch, and I got a legion of responses to both. Breakfast on Tuesday was fun and relaxed, and lunch on Wednesday was fun and loud, but both were tinged with sadness and, on my part and that of my remaining co-editor, a touch of anxiety.

I've only been there for seven months. I know more than when I started about their house style, the audience, what little layout I need to do, and working on the Web site. But there is a whole aspect of continuing education to our publication, and I never had the chance to learn the full production cycle for that process before my boss left. The people who do know about it are the managing editor, whose day is divided among three publications, and who is based a few states away; and a person whose labor we're sharing with another magazine. The other editor has crafted articles of this type before, but had nothing to do with soliciting, generating, or verifying the question we have an out-of-house education group write and deliver for each article.

This will be an education, to say the least.

And now comes word that they want to divide our office. The layoff a month ago added to a fairly noticeable number of empty desks and offices. Our bosses, a private equity firm not used to seeing value lie idle, has decided that we can sublet half of the floor space, which would have us shuffling into the other half. If I didn't know my neighbors before this, I'll know 'em now.

With a recession either in the cards or having begun a short while ago, defaults on real estate and consumer credit spiking, and a tsunami of stock-market losses crossing the Atlantic even as I type this, I have to wonder if our owners will survey their holdings and turn their thoughts to pruning underperformers. My magazine is running artificially slowly because of the double-desk deficit in staff. If they've laid off once, they may do so again.

Would there be virtue in cutting loose and beating them to the punch? Would there be greater virtue in learning what it might take to be a freelancer? I don't know. So far I haven't panicked at work. I had a long talk with the remaining editor, and we are of one mind on the unpaid overtime issue. Our two former coworkers burned themselves out on the place by staying late, working on weekends, bringing work home, or even driving down to the Mid-Atlantic region to meet the managing editor on her own turf and hash various things out for the next several issues (and to inject a bit of spine into her, which sadly didn't work, and was possibly the last straw for our clinical editor).

I'm merely ticking items off my list, asking questions when they come up, sending things down to the art department for typesetting, and trafficking things as best I can with a big chart. The higher-ups know this issue will be late. What worries me, though, is if — after we all get past this one and endure into the next one somehow — they assess our department, decide we can do well enough with just two people under our managing editor, and decided not to leave open the two desks for the folks to replace our recently departed coworkers . . . in effect, making their absence from the process permanent.

I believe at that point we'd see me playing a spot of Massive Raise Chicken.

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