Merlene Davis: Gallows humor had no place on Monday

When Steve Kroft of CBS's 60 Minutes asked President Barack Obama why he was seemingly lighthearted Sunday night while talking about this country's financial woes, Obama said sometimes he and his staff use "gallows humor" to get through the day.

I knew exactly what he was talking about because we here at the Herald-Leader have often employed a type of humor that arises when the future looks very bleak, to deal with the stress of pending layoffs and wage reductions, for a few weeks now.

The ax fell Monday, but there was no humor to be heard.

Good friends left work quickly. Dedicated, hard workers all. Not only will we who remain at the newspaper miss them, but so will you, the readers.

In the newsroom, copy editors, designers, reporters and editorial writers tried, and succeeded most days, to give you an accurate view of the workings of government, as well as a peek into the lives of your neighbors and a heads-up about your favorite sports teams and entertainment venues.

Sometimes you lauded them, and sometimes you didn't. Nevertheless, they worked on, continuing to be as objective as they could while overlooking the criticism that sometimes had the power to snatch the breath from their mouths.

In their absence, important events, issues or people won't be covered as thoroughly as before. Some not at all. It won't be because the remaining staff members won't be doing their very best.

I was surprised by the people who commented on the online version of the story reporting the layoffs, expressing pleasure in hearing some reporters would lose their jobs. However, I wasn't the least bit surprised that my name was frequently mentioned as one of those who should walk the plank.

The employees who are leaving this newspaper, not just in the newsroom, but throughout the company, have families, mortgages and bills just like you. They have hopes and dreams, fears and anxieties, just like you. And now they might be wondering how they will make it, just like some of you.

Most never wrote a single word that could court anger or encourage a smile. Most simply worked to keep this newspaper afloat. They came in to work hoping to keep their jobs, and they left hoping to find new ones.

What will they do to make a living?

The possibility of future reductions should make all of us look inward, if the downswing in the economy hasn't already. I know it got my attention.

For the past six weeks or so, I have been faced with the real possibility of not having a job. Not one that pays the bills.

There is all kinds of work I can do at home, chores that have been pushed far enough to the side to block them from my sight. And there is work at my church and in my community that needs a volunteer who knows a few people and a few ways around things.

But to help pay the household bills, what would or could I do for a new job? I've been here nearly 26 years. I know little else.

The unemployment rate is more than 8 percent now, and after Monday my colleagues have increased that.

Journalists are losing their jobs. Most experts blame the losses on a decrease in advertising because businesses don't have piles of money to spend. Neither do consumers.

But there are people who are losing their homes, losing their lifestyles, losing their self-respect.

Nothing about that should be celebrated. Nothing.

It is one thing to share in the hardships and despair of others. It is quite another to point fingers and wish them ill.

Gallows humor? My colleagues and I have shared a lot of it over the past few weeks. None of us knew who would be left standing. Monday was not a day of laughter at the newspaper. It shouldn't have been for anyone in the community we serve.

If there are any businesses out there in need of sharp employees who know how to get a job done well on deadline, there are 53 soon-to-be former Herald-Leader employees who fit that bill.

They are employees who have made a difference in this community, sometimes under difficult circumstances.

They've been there when you needed them. Now they need you.

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