You don't hold on ... and then it's gone.
-- James Brown
Those Albany Herald employees like me who have no use, time or understanding of the business world settled into shock Tuesday as our boss, John Hetzler, explained the reality of our situation.
The jobs of 26 of our fellow employees -- for some of us, people we call friends -- were being eliminated, casualties of an economy that just won't get better and of an enemy none of us has the power to fend off: time.
Here's the reality of the situation: The Herald's press -- that amazing behemoth of a monster in the bowels of our building that has never ceased to spellbind me -- is on its last legs, has been for decades but has been magically and heroically patched together with spit, paper clips and bailing wire. To replace it or even do major repairs would cost a whole lot of money. Like million-dollar kind of money.
After some gut-wrenching soul-searching, the powers that be reached the conclusion they had to stop the bleeding. And, thus, it was decided to eliminate the printing component of this newspaper. That part of the equation is now being farmed out to a newspaper in Tallahassee, which has the equipment and the staff to print its paper nightly as well as others throughout the region.
The move makes all the sense in the world from a business standpoint. It lessens the bite of the salary/benefits part of the financial equation, makes talk of repairing or replacing the old press moot and eliminates the need to buy ever more costly paper and ink that are the lifeblood of the printing process.
Sadly, though, the move means that certain jobs in The Herald's pressroom and mailroom will soon be obsolete. And 26 people, for the most part 26 damned good people, will no longer be a part of this paper and its storied history.
There seems to be a good bit of misunderstanding in the community about The Herald's new world order, which was announced in the paper Wednesday. Worried readers have called or come by to ask if The Herald was in danger of closing its doors. That question's easy. Unless there are unforeseen circumstances, that ain't happening.
Others want to know how the Tallahassee paper is going to be able to provide coverage of news happening here in Albany. That's not it at all. The same reporters and photographers and designers and ad sales reps and carriers and everything else will put the paper out on a daily basis. The product that we produce will be emailed to Tallahassee -- I may hate all these new-fangled computers because I really suck at trying to operate them, but they truly are amazing -- every night and trucked up to the carriers here on Washington Street.
From reports I've gotten, the new product will be cleaner with sharper images on a higher-grade stock of paper.
(Incidentally, much of the reader confusion over the changes at The Herald are the product of cheap-shot snipes taken by other local news media, who've offered misleading explanations in an obvious effort to stir up such confusion. Journalists indeed.)
I'd call the changes about to take place here a win-win all around ... if it weren't for those 26 soon-to-be former fellow employees who will no longer load the plates, line up the paper, and pull and push all those magical buttons that disperse just the right amount of ink to print The Herald. And here's what really hurts my heart about those guys: Together they have 364 years of experience here.
Selfishly, I'm excited about the potential of the new-look Herald, excited about the product we'll be putting out and delivering every day. But even in the best of times, I think about those 26 people whose careers were turned upside down. And, damn, I feel a hurt that just won't go away.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.