The Buyout Offer.
by Regan McMahon
The news came when I was out of the office. I had left early that day in late July, and the email announcement arrived late in the afternoon: My company was offering another buyout. It had been only a year since the last one.
I knew times were tough in the newspaper industry. Many of my friends and colleagues had been job hunting and even switching to other professions as they saw the proverbial writing on the wall. Many doubted that newspapers would survive, given the drop in readership and advertising as people increasingly got their news from nonprint media. I’d seen many exceptionally talented people walk out the door thanks to a cash incentive. I’d ignored every previous offer. But this time, I let myself consider it.
The main reason I couldn’t even run the numbers during the other buyouts was that my husband—like me, a writer, editor and author—works on contract and has no health benefits. He had them until the magazine where he had been executive editor for 18 years laid him off several years ago. He was able to develop a thriving freelance career because our family of four could get along with my good union benefits.
But as I saw colleagues get high-paying jobs with benefits outside the paper, I started to be swayed by the notion that I had marketable skills. In my heart, I would have loved to stay at the paper forever. There’s a reporter there who’s 90 and still at the top of his game, doing excellent, cutting-edge science reporting week in and week out. I figured I’d be like him, a lifer. I’d already been there just three months shy of 25 years.
People advised, “Don’t take the buyout unless you hate your job.” I didn’t hate my job. I loved my job. I loved my colleagues. I loved the fast-paced atmosphere. I loved both writing and editing. I loved exercising my news judgment to shape coverage for my section. I was working for the best boss I’d ever had there. How could I think of giving all that up?
I was influenced by a combination of things. The bleak industry outlook drove me to consider making a strategic move to a non-newspaper job so I could begin as soon as possible to forge a new career using my journalism skills. If I waited to see how the industry and my paper fared in the next couple of years, I could be left high and dry with no cash incentive to cushion my fall. And I’d just be older in the job market and competing against even more out-of-work journalists. Top writers and editors all over the country were getting laid off. I didn’t want that to happen to me—to be caught off guard one day and told to pack up my things and get out.
I also figured this would be the last offer that came with money. With my daughter a freshman at a private high school and my son having just started college, our education costs had doubled since last year, and our incomes had not. If I could get out and get a new job fast, I could use the buyout money for tuition bills.