Back in 2009, when Mom’s death was fresh and I was shakily making my way back onto my feet, living in my childhood home, my childhood hometown, after so many years away, I met a man in a bar. He had the same DSLR camera I did, and he was handsome, and I started a conversation with him. We talked about being writers, and how I had my MA in journalism and needed to start working again but I didn’t know where to start looking. He told me to contact the editor of the Register-Guard entertainment blog, a woman named Serena Markstrom, and see if she’d give me a gig.
I went out on a limb, and I followed his advice. And Serena went out on a limb and agreed to let me contribute pieces to the blog. I didn’t get paid for anything I wrote, save that one piece that appeared in print on Christmas Eve 2010. It wasn’t a prestigious job, I didn’t become well-known and launch a career writing for some big-name entertainment rag. But that job boosted two immeasurably important things for me: (1) my confidence, and (2) my portfolio. I had fresh writing and photography samples, a current clipsheet, which I hadn’t had in a long time. I had references and stories to tell, concrete examples to point to that showed yes, I am reliable and smart and capable of this job you have that I want to do.
There are people who I’ve told, straight-up, that they had a direct hand in saving my life. People who pushed me to go to the doctor when things were hinky, people who supported me when my life was in chaos, people who helped me get the bills paid. Serena helped me get the bills paid, by going out on a limb for me.
She’s not the editor of the entertainment section at the R-G anymore. In fact, she’s not anything at the R-G anymore.
Serena, pregnant with her first child, has been sacked from the R-G, after those in charge of such decisions moved her from her desk at entertainment to the backwoods local beat. Anyone familiar with newsroom politics knows a shift like that smells like impending doom. But she was so talented, so positive about the opportunity to connect with the rural communities that surround Eugene, that I hoped, for once, that I was wrong about the drumbeats I heard coming for this woman (to shamelessly mix my metaphors), this woman who was instrumental in my recovery from grief, unemployment, and all that goes with both.
I wasn’t wrong, no matter how hard I hoped.
The reasons given, in print, for her dismissal make no sense to me. She checked work email while on pregnancy-related medical leave? She “destroyed company property” by deleting old emails? The cherry on the cake: criticism of her work, of her methods (she interviewed too many people in connection with a story? WTF does that even mean?) only started after she announced her pregnancy. I’m not an attorney (yet). I’m not an expert (yet). But I will say if you come across something brown and lumpy and covered in flies, and it smells rancid and squishes under your foot when you step on it, it’s probably manure of some sort or another.
The thing about manure, though, as a professor once said, is that it’s necessary to grow flowers.
Serena, being the incredibly resilient person she is, will bloom, despite this heaping plate full of newsroom politics shit that has been handed to her as though no one would notice. Well guess what? People are noticing. You can’t fire one of your most popular features writers, someone who has worked for you for 13 years, without people noticing.
I haven’t read the R-G in years. Not since high school, really. Not even when I was writing for them. The quality of the work published was in decline, even then. Beyond that, I knew about manure of this sort going on in newsrooms all over the country. That sort of backbiting political bullshit is why I didn’t pursue traditional journalism. You get paid a pittance (that piece I published in 2010 earned me a whopping $50), behavior like what happened to Serena is commonplace, and fuck you if you stand up to the old boys club.
Dear the old boys club:
How about FUCK YOU. How about this is 20-fucking-14 and you can’t fucking behave this way anyfuckingmore. It was wrong 50 years ago, it was wrong 20 years ago, it is wrong now. I hope the R-G goes bankrupt because of this. I hope the backbiting manipulative scheming fucks who think this is acceptable, that no one would notice, have to rely on someone kinder than I am to go out on a limb and give them the chance I don’t think they deserve, just to be able to keep their lights on.
No love, and with less-than-zero respect, Me.
You are a better person than I can ever hope to be. Your child is so incredibly fortunate to be able to be raised by you. Thank you for giving me a chance all those years ago. Shine on, rock on, and bloom.
With undying respect, Me.