Saturday, January 5, 2013

No. 516 – I Alone

Performer: Live
Songwriters: Ed Kowalczyk, Chad Taylor, Patrick Dahlheimer, Chad Gracey
Original Release: Throwing Copper
Year: 1994
Definitive Version: None

My hiring by The Columbus Dispatch was, shall we say, something of an arbuous process. In fact, when the job offer came, it wasn’t to be a news copy editor at all, which is the position for which I had spotted in E&P and called in my marker to interview. Instead, the offer was to join the Business copy desk. How that came to pass is a story for another time.

I can’t remember now whether Gerry, the business editor, called first in May 1994 or whether it was Human Resources. I’d like to think Gerry called with the offer and said HR would be in touch with me, but the more I think about it, the more I think HR handled everything. In retrospect, that says a lot about the company itself.

Bottom line: They offered me the full-time Business copy editing position. Good news. Then came the bad: I’d get more than what I made in Flint, of course, but after accounting for the shift differential for working overnights and weekends, it would be only $100 per week more. Being paid more is always better, but it wasn’t the substantial increase I expected, and it certainly wasn’t on par percentage-wise with the increase that got me to move to Flint in the first place.

Then there were the benefits, which is to say the lack thereof. Sure, The Dispatch had health insurance (but no dental or vision), a 401(k) and a pension—everything I had at the Journal, minus the dental. But the one that really jumped out at me was a complete lack of vacation time. I would accrue time to be used the following calendar year. In other words, I’d have no time off the rest of 1994, a week in 1995 (for working half the year in 1994) and then finally the full two weeks in 1996.

This was a major problem. After four years at The Journal, I was up to three weeks off and would get a fourth after my fifth year, which was that year, for 1995. I also would be vested in a pension at my fifth year—six months away. (This ultimately would have been taken away from me or bought out, but at the time, it seemed important.)

To say I was flattered by the offer but disappointed in the terms would be an understatement. In fact, I immediately asked about the vacation, mentioning my tenure at the Journal—in other words, I wasn’t a rookie in this business any more. The woman at the other end said flatly that vacation was the only thing that was absolutely nonnegotiable.

Wrong answer. The fact that vacation of all things was the one thing that was nonnegotiable took me aback. A company that doesn’t seem to recognize the importance of giving employees a break from high-stress work to recharge the batteries probably wasn’t the most employee-friendly place to work.

In all honesty, my first reaction upon hearing this was to turn down the offer right then. Can you believe it? I had been trying to get the heck out of Flint without any success for two years. Now here comes an offer from the newspaper in one of my preferred cities, and I wasn’t going to take it?

See, a funny thing had happened before my second Dispatch interview in April: I had decided that my life in Flint wasn’t so bad after all. Winter had broken, and the weather was nice again. That meant softball season was getting started. Whether it was the weather or the start of softball, or both, I just came to realize that I had a fun job, worked with great people and had a lot of friends.

I didn’t turn down the job, but rather than accepting immediately, as I would have done only a few months before, I told HR I had to think about it. They generously gave me a day to make up my mind. In retrospect, I’m surprised they didn’t tell me to make my decision right then and there, and it told me everything I needed to know about what working at The Dispatch was going to be like.

Back then, however, all I knew was the clock was ticking. I needed to consult with my advisors, fast.

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