One balmy evening last August, my husband Tom and I were sitting in our backyard under the big cedar tree, laughing with dear Southern Californian friends over Tanqueray and tonics and Dungeness-stuffed endive spears.
“How’s business?” I asked our friend, a real estate developer.
He paled, stopped laughing. “I had to lay off three people last week. Things feel…things feel ruined down there.” He’d had to let go a single mom, and was trying to connect her up with something else, anything. Nobody was hiring.
How wrenching, I thought as I rinsed the dishes. God bless Microsoft, I guess. And Boeing and Starbucks. I turned off the lights and went upstairs to bed.
Was it the next week? The next month? It’s hard to remember now exactly how long it took for the contagion to creep up the coast. Did WaMu tank before Boeing announced its 4,500 layoffs or was it the other way around? I do know that something tipped just as the postcard-pretty snows of Christmas were clotting into big dirty piles by the side of the road. That’s when the city stood stunned before news of the P-I’s imminent demise—news that for me conjured a horrifying picture of a suit with a gun methodically taking out every breathing human in the newsroom.
That’s when, in the wake of closing hundreds of stores, Starbucks announced its intention to lay off thousands.
That’s when Microsoft—layoff-proof Microsoft—announced its plan to cut 5,000 employees.
That’s when I began looking over my shoulder.
Paranoia doesn’t describe the feeling, because paranoia implies fear that’s irrational. There wasn’t a journalist in Seattle that didn’t feel the death sentence of the P-I as a blow to their own sternum. And it wasn’t just there-but-by-the-grace-of-God empathy for those—including more than one couple—who now had no idea how they would write their next mortgage check.
No, the P-I’s swan song rang like the death knell of print media itself. So a few weeks later when the email came around to our whole staff—“Company meeting, 11:30am, conference room”—every heart in the office stopped for two hours. Soberly we gathered, to be told that though the Seattle operation was holding its own, employees at our sister publication in Portland had moments earlier been laid off.