Bitterness is an understandable emotion. But it always hurts you more than your targets.
I think I have had a lot in common with the journalists, some of them clearly former Journal Register employees, who lashed out at our company or our CEO in comments recently about the company’s Chapter 11 filing. You can read a sampling at the end of my blog post on the bankruptcy or on Jim Romenesko’s or Josh Benton’s or Matt DeRienzo’s.
I’m not going to debate here the merits of the financial move or the criticisms we received. I already had my say about the bankruptcy filing and I’m happy to give critics their say (I haven’t withheld approval of any comments on my blog post and just checked 14 pages of spam messages to make sure no critical comments got diverted by the spam filter). And I’ll grant that critics, even bitter ones, raise some valid points and questions.
What I do want to say here is that I’ve battled bitter feelings on many occasions in my career. The details aren’t important here, but I’ve been fired and have endured the deaths of two afternoon newspapers. I’ve been caught in the middle of a legal dispute. A publisher’s wife tried to get me fired. An editor forgot I had applied for a columnist’s position I dearly wanted. I learned from the bulletin board about someone being promoted into a position I was in line for. I’ve been passed over for other jobs when I was sure I was better than the people who got them. Twice in a row I changed jobs and moved my family for exciting new opportunities only to have the top executives change directions. I consulted a lawyer about an instance of age discrimination. I’ve been demoted and had my pay cut (five days before Christmas; thank you, Mr. Scrooge). I’ve seen more colleagues lose their jobs than I can count. And I had to deliver that unpleasant news to some colleagues after losing a fight to save their jobs (I was gone myself within a year).
Every one of those incidents felt like a profound injustice at the time and I’m sure each of the offending bosses felt they were sound business decisions. But you know (and deep down I know) that life isn’t that simple. Some of them were injustices. But some of them were sound business decisions. And dammit, some were both. And an honest appraisal would note that responsibility for those unhappy moves ranged from 100 percent the employer’s to heavy responsibility for me (since I didn’t make the decisions, I can’t say it was ever 100 percent on me).
The news business is rough, and I don’t think I’ve had it bad. I couldn’t sum up the great opportunities I’ve had as briefly as I just summed up the disappointments. I know I’m lucky to still be standing in a great job when many colleagues I admire are looking for work. But I’ve suffered some blows and I’ve had a lot of angry days.
Again and again, I could have dwelt on the real and perceived injustices. I could have let bitterness screw up my outlook, my family life and my health. I could have let resentment sidetrack my career.
I’m not saying I won every battle with the anger that welled up within me at these various offenses. I had some miserable stretches. My gut was wrenching a bit as I wrote the paragraph above. Could bitterness have contributed to my cancer 13 years ago? Maybe (though it happened at a pretty good time in my career).
But somewhere along the way, I learned that optimism helped me see and seize the next opportunity. I noticed that my tormenters were oblivious to my resentment but the people I cared about noticed and they didn’t like being around me as much.
I’m not suggesting a Pollyannish approach to your career or to your heartbreaks. I had some angry days after each of the incidents I’ve described, even as I matured and learned the importance of optimism. I have indulged (and still might indulge) in sarcasm or snark when some of the antagonists in those events later (sometimes years later) experienced success or setbacks. Repression of emotion can be as dangerous as wallowing.
But I did eventually learn to move on. Vent your anger through discussion, writing (OK, maybe an occasional anonymous blog comment), therapy and/or exercise (basketball and racquetball courts were helpful for me). And turn the page. Focus on the opportunities that lie ahead. Assess your own performance and skills bluntly and work to improve them, whether that’s to avoid repeating mistakes or just to enhance your value.
When you have an opportunity, I even recommend burying the hatchet (and I don’t mean in the back or face of the offender). I have enjoyed (or perhaps endured) uneasy meals, beers or conversations with at least five offenders in the incidents mentioned above. I might not be as inclined to ever break bread with my publisher in Minot or with the executives who sabotaged and abandoned TBD. But I wouldn’t rule out a civil conversation if our paths crossed. I’m having too much fun to continue reliving old injustices.
You’re entitled to your grief over the loss of a job and a career you loved. But you’re stuck at denial or anger in the five stages of grief. Time to move on.
You can tell that many people are actively rooting for John Paton and Digital First Media to fail in our efforts to build a new business model. If you love journalism, you should be rooting for everyone to succeed. I think the New York Times and Gannett (and way too many other newspaper companies) are taking the wrong course with their paywalls. But I do hope they succeed. And I hope Warren Buffett and Laura Amico and every other person or company trying an old-school or innovative venture succeeds. Journalism is too important to our nation and our communities not to root for multiple paths to prosperity.
If you’re really this bitter about the newspaper business, I encourage you to move on without looking back. I know dozens of former journalists who have found fulfilling careers in such fields as law, public relations, academia and the ministry. Your resentment about today’s newspaper business is not going to bring back whatever you recall as the good old days (I’m not sure when that would be, because that string of woes I listed above reaches back to the 1970s).
Bitterness is like a self-punishment, and I feel like I endured enough without piling on myself. Success and happiness truly are the best revenge.
Some earlier posts that also might address some issues of embittered journalists: