The Mardi Gras Massacre

February 25, 2009

A friend and I were exchanging e-messages last night when, finally, she had to stop. She said she was exhausted. It was so late already but she didn’t dare go to bed. She was afraid they’d call.

The “they” were the bosses of The Hartford Courant, my newspaper,  who, in a macabre dance of cruelty, were once more laying off people — but this time by phone. Inflicting a heartless companywide infestation of mass, pre-traumatic stress disorder they had already announced 10 days earlier that there would be further cutbacks and layoffs to come but refused to share details. They left the staff to hang in the wind for all that time, not knowing how many would be lost, who would go — leaving each to assume that he or she would be the victim this time.

Then in a particularly dead-hearted stroke the word went out that they would telephone the latest victims to tell them of their demise. They didn’t say who or how many. Every staffer was left with the horrid image of hearing the news in front of the family, of the children seeing the parent wrecked and ruined before their unfathoming eyes. It was not directed to a few but, indeed, made everyone suffer in dreaded anticipation, dignity vanquished as much as would be the careers of those who actually got the shiv in the back. 

This is not good management. This is loathsome and mean-spirited and casually cruel. The bosses there have plenty of experience in laying off the workers so it is hard exactly to imagine why they chose this gruesome way to deliver the news, to punish one and all in the process. Was the old way getting boring? Do they need variety in such things? They won’t say. It is impossible to respect such as that. Impossible.

Today, the surviving staff is looking to find out who is gone, phoning around, checking Facebook messages for clues. They don’t even know at this hour whether it is 10 or 50, six or 60. One is already too many but the cold business of doom by the dark-of-night telephone call is an especially despicable low road to travel.


  1. Nice words, Denis. Thanks for keeping attuned to the demise of the print media. Other bloggers haven’t had the luxury of addressing any of this…

  2. They don’t even have the guts to confront those they are laying off face-to-face? What sheer cowardice.

    If you’re going to fire someone, at least have the courage and compassion to tell them personally. What’s next? Telling everyone to check their e-mail for the next round of cuts? Maybe they should do it by snail mail so everyone has to wait a little longer.

    And why terrorize everyone by telling them a week or so ahead of time that cuts were coming? That’s just cruel.

    The HR rep who thought up this one should, themselves, be fired. Slowly. Maybe by flying a banner over their house, or putting up a billboard that they’ll see on their way to work.

  3. Denis, you have hit this one on the head. How many more funerals for the Courant newsroom before the whole thing is gone? Incredibly sad and a horrible way to handle it.

  4. I know laying off people by phone may seem heartless Denis, but as I think about it, it may actually be heart filled. I participated in a massive layoff years ago. Over 600 people got the ax group by group. We knew a year in advance. Over that year, Each person came in to work as if it was a regular day. Instead, they were called in to HR, given the bad news, had an escort take them to their desk to collect personal belongings, escorted to their vehicle, and told to leave. I can’t tell you how broken people were. Crying, shame, anger, hurt, only begin to describe it. In fact, I lost one of my best friends because of this process. (Carolyn if you are out there, I still love you!) Perhaps if people are given the news in the comfort of their home, they can deal with it in private. I don’t know what is worse. Your family seeing you break down, or a total stranger, your boss or co-worker. Of course, there is no “good” way to lay someone off. But having been laid off 3 times in 8 years, I can tell you that the humiliation of having co-workers stand around and watch you go through the process is not easy. I can truly say, this is one of the few times I have seen grown men cry like a baby.

  5. Yes, there is no “best way” to conduct layoffs, but to be told to wait by the phone on your own time to learn your fate is merciless. I am sure that the managers are under stress, but any HR person with a day or two experience should know better. Good HR people advocate for staff, including how they will lose their jobs. Maybe HR was laid off first…

  6. The ship has been run aground, and in an effort to float her off the bottom, those responsible have tossed overboard anything of substance in what was once a newspaper; now they’re working on the only remaining ballast: the editors and reporters. Informing people by phone wasn’t “heart filled,” as one comment said. It was merciless — just another in a long series of calculated, ill-considered moves by self-absorbed, self-regarding editors at the top who have no idea what it is that they’re really doing: destroying the Courant. Take a look at the paper: It becomes more and more worthless every day, if worthlessness admits of degrees. Decisions are reached by fiat now, and they’re all the wrong decisions, with no consideration given to the readers; to actually covering world, national, state and local news; or to the few remaining editors and reporters who are commtted to their work. Thousands left after the latest redesign, and many more continue to unsubscribe every day. With the present fumbling, destructive crew at the helm, the once proud Courant will be floated off the bottom just enough to be dashed onto the rocks. The helm should have been wrested away from them a long time ago.

  7. Thanks for putting some eloquence into the rage so many of us are feeling.

  8. Last summer, my own Tribune paper told staffers on a Wednesday they would be notified of layoffs by phone that Sunday — this, too, after several weeks of knowing layoffs were on the way. We thought it was an astonishingly insensitive approach, but evidently, other Trib papers have seized on it.

  9. I join my own little 2-cents’ worth to the other outcries against this travesty. I hate what’s happening to the Courant, but continue to subscribe, because I truly would miss it. There’s really nowhere else to go except the Meriden paper, which I didn’t really care for. Oh for an enlightened management to come along and rescue it, but I guess that’s too much to hope for.

  10. RIP to what once was the nation’s finest second-tier news operation, bar none. May the last one out turn the lights off. May the NY times survive so I have something to read each morning.

  11. “We’re going to perform at the level we’ve been performing,” said Carver (to the bone, to be sure.) That’s nice — readers can look forward to more news coverage of the sort found in the Weekly Reader in elementary school, and endless feature stories on lovable gangsters (serving up a treasury of Damon Runyon cliches). After all, there’s no real news to cover these days (such as C0nnecticut residents losing their jobs, homes and life savings). Maybe the redesigns will continue, too, offering subscribers upside-down and vertical banners, along with more much-needed white space so the remaining ads aren’t overwhelmed by the “news” (i.e., the ragged columns of 2-inch briefs).

  12. Letting people know by telephone that they are no longer employed? What cowards. I predict within 6 months there’ll be padlock on the building door. Afterall, there’s hardly anyone (anyone good) left there. The least they could’ve done was look them straight in the eye.

    As much as I regret leaving the Courant to travel to Michigan, I truly believe I would’ve been one of the ones to get the old heave ho.

    My thoughts and prayers go out to those whose blood, sweat and tears ran that paper. It’ll never be the same. NEVER.

  13. We have a friend who works for a Wall Street firm. Good guy. Ivy league. Played football. Hank Paulson was at Dartmouth when our friend played for Penn. They faced each other on the field.

    Hold that thought…

    B. has been stressed out lately. Wondering if his job is safe? Sure. But the thing that’s really getting to him is the role he’s been assigned. He has to call people…

    Into his office and give them the bad news.

    He faces them. Makes eye contact.

    Much has been said and written about how heartless and greedy Wall Street players have been and are.

    B. doesn’t pick up the phone and call folks at home. If someone asked him to do that, he wouldn’t.

    The Courant people who do this? Inhuman Resources. How do they live with themselves?

  14. Who’s going to report the whole sordid story of the layoffs and the despicable way in which they were carried out, over the phone after dedicated, longtime editors and reporters were kept hanging in the wind for weeks? Someone might also tackle the ongoing saga of the Courant’s demise: the slow fade to irrelevance with less news and more ads, more briefs and more white space; the inevitable loss of thousands of fed-up subscribers; the ill-considered redesign; the lack of news stories on the front page during a time of war and economic collapse; the superficial coverage of national news with prepackaged fluff wrapped into the back of the shrinking A section; the endless, self-absorbed features about nothing on the wacky front page? Everyone’s been afraid to say anything because they thought they’d lose their jobs. Now they’ve all lost their jobs, so it might as well all be said.

  15. Denis
    I remember you from The Courant. I remember when you were demoted … you were demoted because you had become irrelevant. You were demoted and could not take it quietly and make room for others … others better than you. You whined and complained. How dare you presume to judge others who have had to walk a far more difficult road than you ever did. How many people have you laid off, Denis? How many people have you called into an office to tell them they were done? Until you’ve walked the road of someone who has, don’t you ever judge. You took plenty from that company … took care of your bills; provided a pretty good quality of life from what I hear. And now you just can’t go away quietly. What do you hope to accomplish with crap like this? Rub raw wounds more raw? The Courant is trying to survive … in spite of Zell and his interlopers. Instead of inflaming; how about rooting?
    You’re a coward, plain and simple. A trouble-making s*** stirring coward. Now be brave … post this.

  16. Reading these comments suddenly made me realize why they decided put the redesigned Courant masthead sideways: To make it easier to read after being laid off.

  17. H.B.,

    Yep, the management of this trainwreck (and it sounds like you were a part of it) decided that a lot of people were irrelevant. They also decided that quality news coverage was irrelevant. That is clear from their actions this week and over the past year.

    And now look, the once great Hartford Courant is itself irrelevant.

    Nice work.

  18. C’mon people now
    smile on your brother
    everybody get together
    try to love one another right now.

  19. The Courant won’t survive if it doesn’t start paying attention to its subscribers. Talk to your neighbors about the Courant. What are they saying? I’m sure you know — you hear it every time you talk with anyone about the paper. Everyone knows what people think about it now — everyone, evidently, except those making the decisions about the paper’s future. Readers won’t buy a newspaper that offers less and less news about their towns, their state, their nation and their world. People want their newspaper back — with national and state news stories on the front page (not pointless features); real news stories inside, not pages of briefs followed by a few mismatched pages put together in Chicago; and all the favorite sections that are gone, including business and Connecticut — even things like the TV guide (without being buried in iTowns, something few people read). Does anyone at the top care about what the longtime subscribers think? If not, why not?

  20. Hey, H.B. Watson. Denis was brave, he posted it. He also wrote under his own name. What’s yours?

  21. Nice redesign of your site, Denis. Keep up the beautiful work, with your blogging, your novels and all the other writing you do. You have many admirers, from the Courantosphere and far beyond.

  22. Hannah Bunce Watson

    Mr Horgan, my dear sir, do not be deceived by a Foul Wretch who would use my honest name to besmirch you or your deeds; it is indeed a wicked, pusillanimous turncoat who would hide behind a weak Woman to engage in such scurrilous attacks — desist, snivelling villain, and return to the dull, benighted obscurity from whence thou wert spawned!

    • Dear Ms Watson, Thank you for the disclaimer. It is asad wretch who would try to exploit your good name for low ends. As it happens, the computer world issuch that it is clear who did this and I am comfortable from that that it is not you. Good luck on your page, it is great fun.

      yr humble srvnt

  23. Hi are using WordPress for your blog platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and create my own. Do you require any coding knowledge to make your own blog?
    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  24. I enjoy looking through a post that will make men and women think.
    Also, many thanks for allowing for me to comment!

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